Four steps to better health

A four part series on improving yourself through better nutrition.
Part 3 - May 15th from 4 - 5 pm. 
Clear up carb confusion. The good, the not so bad and the ugly.
Led by Michelle Mozel MSc. Holistic Nutritionist .. Please RSVP to

Our skills challenge is coming up this will be our 7th Annual Skills Challenge and is always a ton of fun.

The format is unlike most other Karate Competitions and is a great way for young students to get an introduction to competitive Karate ina supportive environment.

More information and a signup package are available on the Skills Competition page.
Spring is in the air

We are Announcing a new BEGINNER YOGA Session  Starting April 26th.
Full details are on our Yoga page.

Four steps to better health

A four part series on improving yourself through better nutrition.
Part 2 April 3rd from 4 - 5 pm. 

Led by Michelle Mozel MSc. Holistic Nutritionist .. Please RSVP to

Which is the Better Choice: Butter or Margarine?

Written by Michelle Mozel, MSc, Holistic Nutritionist

The debate has raged on since the first version of margarine was developed for Emperor Napoleon III in the late nineteenth century. The name margarine is derived from French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul’s discovery of a new fatty acid in his lab that he named acide margarique in 1813.  Decades later, Napoleon was looking for a substitute for butter that would be cheap and easily accessible for his poor subjects and his navy. That butter-like substance, developed by French pharmacist and chemist, Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés  in 1869 was a mix of beef tallow, salt, sulfate of soda, gastric juices of a pig, and cream. 

Today’s butter substitute we all know as margarine has a different list of ingredients, but the idea behind it is the same: manufacture a product to replace butter in order to fulfill a consumer need.  These days margarine replaces butter in many households due to a fear of eating animal fats and concern over dietary cholesterol.  But how and why have we come to believe that saturated fat and cholesterol found in meat, eggs and dairy should be avoided?

Why fear butter?

The case against butter is based on two misconceptions that have been perpetuated in the media over the past 60 years.  One is that eating saturated fat leads to an increase in blood cholesterol levels, which clogs arteries, and leads to heart disease.  The second misconception is that dietary cholesterol increases blood cholesterol, again clogging arteries and resulting in heart disease.  We have all come to believe that saturated fat is bad; however, the science upon which this principle is based is heavily flawed.  In 1954, Ancel Keys published his Seven Countries Study, which demonstrated a clear link between saturated fat intake and heart disease.  The problem with his conclusion is that Keys presented data from populations that showed this positive correlation while neglecting evidence from populations that showed no such correlation.  He just discarded the data that didn’t support his hypothesis!  The dietary cholesterol misconception is based on more flawed research done in rabbits.  It was shown quite dramatically that feeding cholesterol to rabbits caused fatty deposits to accumulate in their arteries.  The major flaw in this study is making the leap from results seen in rabbits and applying them to humans.  There is no evidence that what was observed in this population can apply to humans; not only are rabbits herbivores not designed to eat animal products, but the amount of cholesterol they consumed is equivalent to eating 100 eggs/day!  Studies like these and others in the 1950s and ‘60s, none of which proved a correlation between dietary fat and heart disease, formed the basis of government recommendations to avoid saturated fat and cholesterol.

Trans fat

Sales of margarine soared, and surpassed the consumption of butter in the 1950s. Margarine from that era was made by partially hydrogenating vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, and safflower oils to convert fats that are liquid at room temperature to a solid, spreadable form of fat resembling butter.  Hydrogenation converts polyunsaturated fats to saturated, monounsaturated, and trans fatty acids.  These early versions of margarines contained as many as 3.5 grams of trans fat per serving. But it wasn’t until 2006 that trans-fat-containing products were required to be labeled as such.  And even today, a product can be labeled as ‘trans-fat free’ if a single serving contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat.  Today, trans fats are well known to raise levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of heart-healthy ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL), increasing risk of heart disease (1).  They are also known to contribute to autoimmune disease, cancer, and diabetes (2, 3).  So an alternative to trans fats was needed and food manufacturers set out to find one.

As early as the 1950s, scientists had begun to recognize a correlation between trans fat intake and chronic disease.  Rates of coronary heart disease (CHD) were rising exponentially at the same time.  It is interesting to note that the CHD curve closely resembles the margarine consumption curve, and is inversely correlated with butter consumption.  We cannot conclude from these data that a shift to margarine was involved in the CHD epidemic.  However, there is a case for heart protective properties of butter along with known damaging properties of trans fat. Butter from pasture-raised cows is one of the highest sources of Vitamin K2, which plays a role in protecting against arterial calcification; arterial plaques are now known to be a strong predictor of heart disease death risk (4).

Interesterified fat

The trans fat in most margarine today has been replaced with oils that have undergone a different chemical alteration.  Similar to partial hydrogenation, the process called interesterification hardens fat resulting in a more stable product with a longer shelf life.  So, while this process results in a product that may be trans fat-free, it still contains chemical residues, hexanes, and other toxic waste products. Not to mention the fat molecules created through this highly industrialized process do not exist in nature and very little research has been done on the effects of these fats in humans.

Saturated fat

So now we go back to saturated fat.  If government policy recommending North Americans avoid consuming animal fat was based on bad science, what has better research on saturated fat and cholesterol shown?  Saturated fat has not been shown to increase blood levels of total cholesterol, nor has total cholesterol been shown to increase risk for heart disease (5678).  High-fat dairy consumption has not been shown to increase risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, or metabolic disease and studies suggest an inverse relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and obesity (910).  The necessity of saturated fat and cholesterol in the body cannot be underemphasized.  Saturated fatty acids constitute over 50% of our cell membranes and are vital for proper nerve functioning.  Our brains are made up almost entirely of fat and cholesterol and saturated fats are the preferred energy source for the heart.  Saturated fat is required for calcium to be effectively incorporated into bone, and saturated fatty acids improve immune function by boosting the activity of white blood cells.  In fact, cholesterol is so vital to the proper functioning of our bodies, that 80% of the cholesterol circulating in our blood is manufactured by our liver; only 20% comes from our diet.

So let’s compare the nutrition information of a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of margarine:

Salted Butter    (1 Tbsp)
Margarine (Becel Original,non-hydrogenated) (1 Tbsp)
Fat (g)
Trans fatty acids
Cholesterol (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Vitamin A (IU)
Vitamin E (mg)
Vitamin K (mg)
Canola oil
Sunflower oil
Modified palm and palm kernel oils
Whey protein concentrate
Soy lecithin
Vegetable monoglycerides
Potassium sorbate
Vegetable colour
Artificial flavor
Citric acid
Vitamin A palmitate
Vitamin D3
Alpha-tocopherol acetate (Vit E)
With similar amounts of calories and fat, the difference lies is in the type of fats, ingredients, nutrients, and how they’re made.

What’s in them?

Butter is made by churning cream from cow’s milk. Sometimes salt is added to preserve freshness. Margarine is a highly processed food made from modified vegetable oils, emulsifiers, colorants, synthetic vitamins, and other artificial ingredients.


Butter is a good source of Vitamin A (necessary for maintaining eye health and for your immune system) and also contains all the other fat-soluble vitamins: D, E, and K.  It is also rich in trace minerals like selenium, a powerful antioxidant, and iodine, which, along with Vitamin A is important for proper functioning of the thyroid gland.  Most brands of margarine are fortified with Vitamin A, D and E; however, these synthetic formulations are not as easily absorbed as naturally occurring vitamins.

Fatty acids

We’ve discussed the different types of fats above, but a word should be said about the trans fat found in butter. These naturally occurring trans fatty acids are created in the stomach of ruminant animals like cows and sheep.  Their effect on human health has not been well studied; however research to date has not shown an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer in humans (11).  And, at 0.2 g/serving, it may still be lower than the amount of industrially hydrogenated trans fats in margarine, since less than 0.5 g/serving do not need to be listed on the label.

In Conclusion

The choice between butter and margarine becomes simple when you compare them side-by-side: butter’s natural ingredients, long list of vitamins, and heart healthy properties, vs. margarine, a manufactured pseudo-food, long list of chemically altered and man-made ingredients, and unnatural and unstudied fats. It seems clear which product belongs in our bodies and which doesn’t belong on grocery store shelves.

Better Butter

While most people can eat moderate levels of saturated fat and cholesterol with no ill effects, some may want to reduce overall saturated fat in their diet.  For those people with a predisposition to cardiovascular disease (i.e. high blood pressure, high LDL, low HDL levels) replacing saturated fat with unrefined, high omega-3 polyunsaturated fats may help lower LDL and raise HDL levels in the blood, thereby lowering their risk for heart disease.  These folks may want to give “Better Butter” a try.  Combine 1 pound salted butter with 1 cup unrefined flax oil or walnut oil in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Spoon this mixture into a covered glass container and store in the fridge for up to 2 months.  It will remain soft and spreadable, and contains half the saturated fat as butter, with the addition of heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids.