The History of the Debate
Much of the impetus for the invention of margarine was actually to have a cheap, butter like substitute that could be used by the armed forces and the lower classes in the 19th century. The butter industry, recognizing this new, cheap butter substitute for what it was, was not shy about lobbying government to tax margarine, outlaw it altogether, and often, force margarine producers to use food coloring, like pink, to make the margarine appear unpalatable.
Despite these measures though, margarine has always been popular because it is a cheaper butter substitute that most people don’t mind the taste of.
What should really matter though is which one is healthier.
Margarine Vs. Butter
The primary difference that separates the health aspects of butter and margarine is fat content. It’s not just as simple as total fat percentage though, because there are good fats and bad fats, and even within the bad fats category there are fats which are worse than the others.
The primary thing that butter has going for it is that it’s a natural substance, which means that it does contain a certain amount of naturally occurring trace nutrients that are beneficial to one’s health. But, the fact is, butter is fat. It is mostly comprised of saturated fat, which is a bad type of fat, with a limited amount of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, both of which are good kinds of fat.
Margarine, on the other hand, generally contains less saturated fat than butter. It also contains, like butter, limited amounts of polyunsaturated fat and monosaturated fat. Where margarine has generally lost out though is it also contains significant amounts of trans fats, which are a man made fat that is even worse for the consumer than saturated fats, which, historically speaking, has made butter the healthier choice.
There is a caveat though. Margarine producers, recognizing this fatal flaw in their product, engineered a new margarine that is trans fat free, making trans fat free margarine the best overall choice, at least until something better comes along.
There is, of course, something to be said for a natural product like butter. Many people consider engineered products like margarine, well, unnatural. There isn’t a great deal of scientific evidence to back up this point of view as being healthier, but it is just one more thing to consider.
So ultimately, the winner is trans fat free margarine. Really though, the healthiest choice of all is neither, because really, both substances are more or less, fat.