stop trans fats

MARGARINE: Healthy to eat grey plastic?

“It's just like making margarine.”

This was how, many years ago, a newspaper headline described the achievement of a group of Singapore scientists who developed a new type of plastic that had special properties.

If you look at it the other way around, making margarine is “just like making plastic.”

It is highly artificial. And in recent years, there has been plenty of new scientific evidence showing this artificial butter to be extremely harmful to health. It is a major cause of heart disease the very condition that it is supposed to prevent. It has also been linked with several types of cancers and various other diseases.

In spite of this, fake, artificial butter continues to be widely promoted as a healthy product. This urgently needs to be stopped!

What we have today is entirely different from the original oleomargarine invented by a French scientist in 1870. That was done quite naturally. Today, we get a highly unnatural process called hydrogenation in which liquid vegetable oil is converted into a solid or semi-solid grease.

In the jargon of the chemicals industry, this process of turning a liquid oil into a solid or semi-solid is called plasticisation.

The manufacturing process begins with cheap vegetable oils, which probably have already been rendered harmful by the extraction process involving high temperature and petrochemical solvents such as benzene. Some of these oils, such as cottonseed oil, are not even suitable for human (nor animal) consumption.

The oil is then subjected again to extreme high temperature (about 500ºF) and pressure, and hydrogen is forced into the molecular structure to harden it. This process requires toxic substances, such as nickel oxide, which act as catalysts that enable the chemical change.

Grey, smelly grease

The end result is a smelly, greasy substance. So it is deodorised, again using high heat and chemical additives.

And do you know what is the colour in its original, “natural” form? It is grey!

Obviously, nobody would spread grey globs of grease over their bread. So the grease is bleached white and then dyed yellow. Finally, artificial flavours are mixed in to make it taste like butter. 

The fact that learned doctors, nutritionists, dieticians and other health experts can proclaim such a product to be healthy only goes to show how warped modern-day thinking has become.

Dr Ancel Keys

This might have been forgivable 50 years ago. The exciting new scientific discovery at that time – by Dr Ansel Keys – was that saturated fats “cause” heart disease and so unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils became regarded as healthy.

Today, there is growing realisation that Dr Keys was badly mistaken. Humanity had been consuming predominantly saturated fats, such as butter, ghee, lard and coconut oil, for thousands of years. Yet heart disease became prevalent only after 1920 – following the Great Depression when people took to margarine on a large scale because it was much cheaper than butter.

In fact, heart disease used to be so rare that the American doctor who introduced a German-invented Electro Cardio Graph (ECG, a device for checking heart rhythm) to the US was advised by his colleagues to look for better ways to earn a living!

Heart disease was likewise rare in communities that take plenty of coconut oil and coconut products, even though coconut oil contains 92 percent saturated fats. In these communities, such as in South India, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, heart disease began to rise only after the population switched from coconut oil to margarine and other vegetable oils.

Tans fats

The “new” understanding – which has been around for some 30 years already – is that the real culprit in causing heart disease is not saturated fats, but unnatural trans fats formed during the process of hydrogenation.

It has taken a long time for this new understanding to gain acceptance. Only in 2005 has the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) issued a recommendation to limit the intake of trans fats. And only in 2006 will the FDA require food labels to state the amount of trans fats.

Out-moded thinking

Meanwhile, many health health “experts” remain out-moded in their thinking.

On the Singapore Medical Association website, there is an article which states: “Margarine is preferred to butter… ”

The KK Women's and Children's Hospital has, on its website, an article which advises: “Choose unsaturated margarine…”

The Health Promotion Board's website does have an article about the harm of trans fats, but it stops short of telling people not to take them. It merely recommends choosing soft margarine, which has less trans fats compared with the original, harder version.

Meanwhile, the Health Promotion Board has awarded its “Healtheir Choice” label to several brands of margarine, which contains trans fats.

All this is worrying. There is an urgent need for the HPB, other health authorities and the media to change their mindsets about margarine and trans fats. Otherwise, their misguided advice will only hasten people to their graves.

Health Promotion Blog

Blog archives
Why Singapore refuses trans fat labelling
Trans fats and the HPB
Jan 07: Positive labelling - not always helpful
DEC 06: Trans vs saturated fats -- Health authorities out of touch
OCT 06: New York considers baning trans fats
AUG 06: Saturated fats may actually be good
NOV 05: A big fat movement
Jan 07 – Trans fats affect fertility
Jan 07: Trans fat labelling in Korea
Jan 07: Trans fat labelling in Taiwan
Oct 06 - Jan 07
Jan 06 - Sep 06
Trans fats in Denmark
Trans fats in the US
Trans fats in the UK
Trans fats in Singapore
Heart disease
Obesity / Diabetes
Trans fats and infertility
Cell membranes / immunity / brain function
What is trans fat?
Interesterified fat - worse than trans fat?
Trans fat and saturated fat - the differences
Benefits of saturated fats
Butter v margarine
Margarine is 'plastic'
How is margarine made?
High cholesterol foods – healthy, not harmful!
WHO recommendations on trans / saturated fat intake
Trans fat on nutrition facts labels
No trans fat... but still no good!
Benefits of coconut oil
Do saturated fats cause heart disease?
Saturated fat and cancer - is there a link?
Stephen Joseph
Mary Enig
Walter Willett
Steen Stender
Oliver Tickell of tfX
Uffe Ravnskov
Ancel Keys
Yours truly, Richard Seah