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What Price Health?

“I got some new margarine,” she said.

“Uh hum," he replied.

“They say that margarine is better for your health than butter, less fat and all,” she said.

“Uh hum,” he replied.

“It says on the label it’s non-hydrogenated, so that means less trans fatty acids and that’s good,” she said.

“Uh hum,” he replied.

“But what I don’t understand is how this new margarine I bought contains 50% less fat,” she said.

“Maybe you should read the label,” he replied.


The husband in this conversation may have been more interested in the morning paper while his wife informed him about her efforts to buy foods that are good for health, but his last advice - to read the label - probably caused his wife to gasp.

It is true that normal margarine contains the same amount of fat per gram as butter, so there is no health advantage there if you are counting calories. But margarine is higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids than butter, which is good. That's because margarines are made from vegetable oils, which are good sources of polyunsaturates. Margarine that is non-hydrogenated contains no trans fatty acids, which again is good because trans-fatty acids have been found to be more detrimental to cardiovascular health than saturated fatty acids. But again, read the label. Not all margarines are non-hydrogenated. How does this "new" margarine contain half the amount fat?

The answer is on the label. The manufacturer has found a way to whip water into the margarine - and not just a little water. Up to 58% of the fat reduced fat margarine is water. So, yes, if you spread the normal amount of margarine on your toast there is half the fat, but check out the price. Non-hydrogenated margarine sells at $1.98 while the fat reduced margarine is also $1.98. Considering that more than half of that is water, that's pretty expensive water.

If you spread (regular) margarine on 1 slice of toast, you have added about 33 calories to your diet. It will take 5.5 minutes light walking or 10.6 minutes bowling or 4.5 minutes jogging or 2.6 minutes of squash to burn off the extra calories.

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