29 August 2016

Why margarine is a bad choice : “Its what you do with it …”

Many I meet still seem to think that margarine is a healthy choice. And better than butter. So this week we examine how margarine is made. Once you know about the raw ingredients, and “what they do with it” - the 9 steps involved in its manufacture - you will understand just how unhealthy margarine really is, and what to eat instead, but first

Thought for the day

Every spiritual tradition 
Has stressed that this human life is unique 
And has a potential 
That ordinarily we do not even begin to imagine. 

If we miss the opportunity 
This life offers us for transforming ourselves, 
They say it may well be an extremely long time 
Before we have another.

Sogyal Rinpoche

Ah yes, The Castle.

That iconic Aussie film.

The classic line : “Its what you do with it…


What you do with it … 

Margarine may look all smooth and glistening. It may come with its attendant marketing pitch of being the healthy alternative, but do not be fooled. Understand the manufacturing process and all will be revealed.

Here are the 9 steps that turn a simple seed into an unhealthy spread

1. The raw ingredients - commonly flawed
Most margarines start out as seeds, from which the oils are extracted and refined. However, some margarines are made directly from animal fat (this is how traditionally margarine was first made).

Of the oils, commonly safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed, rapeseed, and olive oil are used. Of these, the only really healthy raw ingredient is olive oil, yet it too has limitations. Safflower and sunflower are particularly rich in Omega 6 fatty acids that are bad news for the immune system; soybean, cottonseed and rapeseed not quite so bad but still not good.

Olive oil is rich in Omega 9 fatty acids that are neutral for immune function, although it does have some other benefits in its own right.

Animal fats, including skim milk or milk powder that is often added to margarine, are all heavily saturated and known to have many health disadvantages. Hence best to avoid butter too.

None of the above oils are rich in Omega 3s that enhance immune function, and quite simply, if you are to eat an oil, why choose one that depletes or is neutral for immune function, when you could be eating something that is easy and pleasant - and actually adds to your immune system?

What to do is coming soon…

2. Oil is extracted from the raw seeds under heat and pressure

Oil can be extracted from seeds with pure pressure. This is how virgin oils are extracted.

However, commercially heat is commonly used as that leads to more oil being extracted.

Problem? Oils oxidise under heat and pressure making them rancid. This is bad for short term health, and in the long-term rancid oils are carcinogenic.

3. Solvents are used to extract more oil
You start to realize just how processed margarine is. Solvents are also commonly used as they lead to the extraction of even more oil. Then they are subtracted – hopefully removing the chemicals, but concerns are there for any residues.

4. Oils mixed with nickel catalyst and hydrogen gas in high pressure, high temperature reactor
More opportunities for oxidation and rancidification. So why do it?

Vegetable oils are unsaturated, which results in them being liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are much better for your health than saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature.

So for margarine to be solid, the unsaturated fats are treated pretty harshly. By forcing extra hydrogen into the oils under heat and pressure, they are turn from unsaturated to saturated, from liquid to solid. From healthy to unhealthy.

To be fair, this hydrogenation process is monitored to minimize the amount of saturation while still accomplishing the solidification.

However, the high temperatures and pressures used in this process also have a nasty tendency to create what are called trans fats. These are well known now to be very bad for health; being especially tough on the cardiovascular system.

Therefore, partially hydrogenated fats are used less frequently. Instead more saturated fats such as palm oil and coconut oil are being used as being saturated they are semi-solid to begin with. Problem? Saturated fats are clearly opposed to good health, while palm oil has also been disastrous for the environment

5. Emulsifiers are added
Purpose? Use a soap like product to blend the water and oils into an homogenous mass. Emulsifiers generally do remain in the finished product – just check the labels.

6. Oil steam cleaned again to remove strong, unpleasant smell
At this stage of production, margarine is generally a pretty foul looking, foul smelling sludge. Solution? Steam clean the smell away…

7. Bleaching used to remove grey colour
Strong bleaches are used to produce a neutral colour.

8. Natural colour added, commonly along with vitamins and artificial flavouring
By now what exists still looks and tastes very ordinary, so next step? Add colour and flavor. Probably some preservatives and salt. Maybe citric acid, carotenoids, vitamins and milk powder of some form.

9. Resultant product packaged and sold as a health product


Healthy for whom?

More like the profit of the producer than the health of the customer.

Variable fat content
Margarines and vegetable fat spreads these days can range from 10 to 90% fat. Depending on its final fat content and its purpose (spreading, cooking or baking), the level of water and the vegetable oils used will vary.

Three types of margarine are common:
Soft vegetable fat spreads, high in mono or polyunsaturated fats, which are made from safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed, rapeseed, or olive oil.

Margarines in bottle to cook or top dishes

. Hard, generally uncoloured margarine for cooking or baking. (Shortening – lard or hydrogenated vegetable oil)


1. Try nothing!
Sandwiches or toast without margarine or butter can be tasty as is; just add whatever spread or fillings you delight in.

2. Use avocado, hummus or another dip as a spread
– excellent on sandwiches.

3. Use good quality oil.
Best is Flaxseed and it goes well on toast or sandwiches.
Olive oil is another option.

4. Learn to cook without margarine or other oils.
Not at all difficult once you begin. Add the oils to things like pasta after the cooking.

Do more sauteing starting with a little water, abandon frying.

Simple rule : take the oils out of the kitchen, have them on the table.

5. Remember, coconut oil is a saturated fat and best not to use it – see the reasons why on this earlier blog : Coconut Oil? Are you nuts?

Avoid margarine thoroughly. 

Margarine is a highly processed, highly refined food and there are much healthier, more satisfying options for doing anything it can do.

Ruth and I will personally lead our next 7 day meditation retreat in New Zealand in October.
                                                                 Next Aussie one, April 2017 in the Yarra Valley.

Meditation teacher training in the Yarra Valley in October.

Specific cancer residential programs8 days In Wanaka New Zealand in November
                                                                  5 days in the Yarra Valley in November.



  1. What about Nuttelex? Is anyone aware of the manufacturing process and is as nasty as what is described above? Sunflower is still the main ingredient, so not great from that perspective but is it an improvement on margarines that contain animal fats? The 'Lite' version contains 0.1g of trans fats / 100g.
    From the Nuttelex website, "Sunflower Seed Oil as the main ingredient, which is a golden colour just like the liquid vegetable oil that you may use in your cooking at home. To make the table spread, the vegetable oils are mixed with water, salt, emulsifiers made from vegetable oil, and a very small amount of vitamins and flavour. The total mixture is then rapidly cooled and packed into the tubs".

    1. Nuttelex is a margarine with its big selling point being that it is made without any animal products. It is still very much a margarine, so manufactured in similar fashion, and as you point out Beau, it is made primarily from sunflower oil.
      I would not touch it.