The trouble with margarine, by L

…or, L’s opinion on everything in moderation. (See also: Enable your body to do its own thing.)

I’m sure many people have come across the myth that margarine was originally created as a turkey feed, and that when the turkeys didn’t fare so well, they had to come up with a solution as to what to do with the investment. Result: feed it to people, they’re stupid.

This has since been labeled as an incorrect rumor, however, the principle of the thing remains. Be careful about your alternatives – what you think may be better for you may in fact be doing you more damage in the long run.

Having my father and stepmother as naturopaths (natural health practitioners) has exposed me to a variety of interest quips and facts about the food market. My mother was a good cook with an eye for quality ingredients. Put these together, and you can bet I try to pay attention to what I’m eating. Of course, I’m not the type to jump on health-kick bandwagons, so I also try to do my research first before I believe what my parents tell me. Call me disrespectful, paranoid, or whatever, but with previous experiences with things my parents believe turning out not to be true,  it’s only fair as an adult that I form my own opinion.

So! Let’s talk about diet sodas, butter V margarine, artificial sweeteners, and oils. I will try to reference my findings.

Butter V margarine

In my opinion, no matter the food’s content, it’s better to have it as close to the natural source – with as little alteration – as possible. Sure, people’s pulses rush at the idea of butter-rich recipes, but there are two things working in their favor:

  • They’re not one nudge away from plastic. In other words, your body is more capable of breaking down natural fats/enzymes than ones that are engineered not to be broken down (decay).
  • They taste infinitely better.

Diet sodas, artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup

Similar to the above, but with sugar. In short, if you’re going to have sugar, have sugar. I’m not that big of a fan of carbonated drinks due to the bloating and enamel-eroding aspect, but they’re everywhere and I’m partial to a rootbeer sometimes. Again, just think about what you’re drinking:

  • Syrups! Boiled-down, processed and flavored sugars!
  • Artificial sweeteners!
  • Caffeine! Caffeine doesn’t just give you the buzz and the corresponding come-down (including major ones involving a migraine from hell, shakes and being a nervous wreck if you’re a caffeine junkie and try to quit). It affects your skin because of its affects on your body as a whole – namely sleep deprivation, dehydration, leeching of calcium. However, research is in fact being done towards the benefits of caffeine for skin, which I will cover elsewhere. My personal opinion, though, is to stay away from caffeine as a means of ‘waking up’ any part of me.

Again, at the risk of sounding like a hippy, get as close to natural as you can. Obviously that’s tricky with sodas, so the easiest thing would be to limit consumption of them, period. In my opinion though, stay away from the diet sodas. Sometimes even ‘sugar-free’ can try to trick you. If they have to take all sorts of backwater routes to reduce the supposed effect of the sugar on your body, well, put it this way: what an excess of sugar does to you is straightforward; what an excess of complex preservatives and non-natural flavors/colors does to you is not so straightforward and your body has to work harder to process them.

Likewise with caffeine, though that’s a dead horse nowadays. Think about it in portions – coffee used to be traditionally served in demitasse size for a reason – try half a cup instead of a full one. There are teas like redbush/rooibos that are naturally decaffeinated and taste no different. Also, be conscious of what you put in your tea/coffee – too much sugar? Artificial sweeteners? What’s in that creamer?

Oils

I am not an oil fan but I will acknowledge its uses and benefits (if it’s the right kind). Again it’s an issue of moderation and understanding what oils actually do for your food and thus your body. Organic oils have a low level of oxygen content, high in carbon (as we can better imagine with mineral oils, being essentially condensed remains) and refuse to dissolve in water / adhere to other substances, as we all know, and take various forms that are more correctly-termed lipids.

A positive function of some lipids/oils is to facilitate your absorption of certain vitamins found in soluble ‘good’ fats. Other needed lipids aren’t naturally found in the body and cannot be produced by it, and so need to come from elsewhere. Most of us also have heard of the benefits of fish oil and the corresponding omega-3 fatty acids, or linolenic acid in things like flax seed oil. Not to mention an oil’s practical function in cooking!

What most people are concerned with though are the trans-fats, the ‘bad’ ones that clog up one’s arteries. Pay attention to what kind of oil – and how much – you’re using. This will affect what it’s actually bringing to the table in terms of nutrition or risk, how easily it will break down – if at all – in the body, and what affect it will have on the absorption of other nutrients.

  • Olive oil is touted for a reason, particularly virgin/extra-virgin: it’s high in the monosaturated fats that you want for heart health. Virgin / extra-virgin varieties are pointed to for one main reason – they are the least processed. (FYI – the more virgin the oil, the more you should avoid high cooking temperatures with it as this will wreck the flavor. Also, the fresher the better.)
  • Flax seed / linseed oil isn’t commonly on the table but has been used as a nutritional supplement – highest level of those omega-3s around. My parents have taken it with cottage cheese for this reason in their cancer-combating way.
  • Canola oil, similar to the above: high in omega-3s and monosaturated fats.
  • Coconut oil seems to be getting more and more popular. My father and stepmother swear by it for both cooking and cosmetic uses, lasts a long while and comes as a solid rather than a liquid. The high lauric acid content helps the body deal with viruses and harmful bacteria and improves heart health (though you’d think at first it wouldn’t, with its high saturated fat content). It also breaks down a lot more easily and generally helps in the digestive process – breaking food down, dealing with digestive upsets and absorption of nutrients.

I seem to make everything complicated for myself but with food, sometimes it’s best to keep it as simple as possible. I’m also a big fan of simply enabling my body to do its own thing that it was born to do – but that’s another topic entirely. In short, use the above in moderation, make informed decisions – because it’s the little ones that can have big knock-on effects.

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