Past research slammed: Margarine now more harmful than butter

  • February 7, 2013
  • Kate Carey

Previous research which has promoted polyunsaturated vegetable fat such as margarine as a healthier alternative to butter has been quashed by a group of leading US scientists.

The new research findings led by Professor John M Davis (et al) at the National Institute of Health in the United States and just published in the British Medical Journal,  has found that eating margarine instead of butter can double the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

The US researchers analysed a previous study from 1966 and 1973 conducted in Sydney, Australia, because it was the only controlled study that had focused on one polyunsaturated fat, omega 6. The Sydney study analysed 458 men aged from the ages of 30 to 59 who had previously suffered from a heart attack.

Half of the men in the study were given no dietary advice, while the other half were advised to swap from butter and to increase their polyunsaturated fat intake by 15 per cent of their total energy consumption over a three year period.

The re-investigation into the earlier study found that the body converts polyunsaturated fat such as omega 6 into arachidonic acid, which can “spur inflammation” – a leading cause of heart disease.

Leading international nutritional expert, Emeritus Professor of medicine at Australia’s Monash University, Dr Mark Wahlqvist, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s PM program yesterday that earlier researchers “didn’t want to see” the negative link between polyunsaturated fat and heart health.

“The theory about the link between polyunsaturated fatty acids and health outcomes was that it would be favourable, because the cholesterol dropped. Because the cholesterol dropped, people didn’t want to believe that the lowering of the cholesterol would not have improved coronary mortality,” Professor Wahlqvist said.

“But it didn’t and for years the National Heart Foundation and other expert committees have encouraged the view that it was favourable when it was actually unfavourable,” he added.

Professor Wahlqvist said that experts had also made the mistake of telling people to avoid eating many other healthy foods, such as eggs.

“I think it’s a serious question, what was going on in the minds of the investigators at the time, what was going on in the formulation of policy, what was going on with the relationship between the food industry and the medical profession and medical science at the time,” Professor Wahlqvist added.

Omega 6, which is also referred to as Linoleic acid, is commonly found in vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower and soybean and is the most common polyunsaturated fat now used in Western culture for margarine.

Butter is now proven to be a better choice than margarine for heart health.


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7 Responses to “Past research slammed: Margarine now more harmful than butter”

  1. David M Driscoll on February 7th, 2013 9:14 pm

    A wide variety of opinions from experts via the Australian Science Media Centre , especially those questioning the trans-fat analysis and statistics used.
    http://www.smc.org.au/2013/02/round-up-dietary-fats-and-heart-disease-bmj-experts-respond/

  2. Paul on February 8th, 2013 1:36 pm

    This was an interesting article. But one thing was missed.

    This study was between 1966 and 1973. At the time margarines in Australia generally had high levels of trans fat.

    Since the mid 1990s major brands in Australia became virtually trans fat free (less than 1%). Most generic brands became trans fat free in the mid 2000′s.

    So all it suggests is that butter may have been better in 1966-1973. it is drawing a long bow to say that it proves butter is better than marg in 2013. The changes in margarines since then make this study irrelevant.

    It would be interesting to see this study re-done now using the modern products. And perhaps redone with a variety of different types of modern spreads (eg. using a canola marg (which would not have been available in 1966-1973), olive oil based spreads, sunflower spreads (which are high in omega 6 but not trans fat)) and also comparing with straight olive oil.

  3. phyllis hodgson on February 8th, 2013 3:50 pm

    Naturapathe ‘s have been saying this for ever.

  4. Lucy on February 8th, 2013 6:30 pm

    Surprise surprise. That has been obvious for sometime! Margarine has never been real food. Butter is!

  5. Vahan Stepanyan on February 11th, 2013 2:33 pm

    I agree with Paul. There is need for new study, investigating effect of modern butter and different margarines. At the same time, I like this funding just because something scientifically proven before is not proven now, making us to understand that everything in this world is relative. I think, balanced diet is the only good option for healthy lifestyle (in combination with active lifestyle of course)!

  6. SteveOfOz on February 13th, 2013 8:44 pm

    AND, it tastes better. Especially with Vegemite :)

  7. There’s WHAT in my ‘low fat’ snack!? on January 2nd, 2014 3:19 pm

    [...] Resources: Coming Soon! There’s WHAT in my ‘low fat’ snack!? February 8, 2013 By alexxstuart · 6 Comments I don’t believe that fat is the enemy as a general term. The graph above shows what happened in the US when low fat came into popular thinking and government backing in the mid 70s, and the rise in obesity levels. You should see the rise in diabetes and insulin dependence from that same time. They’re even worse. To make things taste good, lots of trans fats were used (because saturated became all of a sudden the bad guy) and loads of sugar, to still make things taste appealing. Other things added were a host of gels, thickeners, preservatives and additives of many kinds. It excites me no end, to see literature being published by many doctors speaking against this doctrine and saying ‘hey, we were wrong. we have to get back to real food and healthy sourced saturated fats are a part of that.’ A great article came out on that today, in fact. Check it out here. [...]