Many of us have heard a few margarine myths over the years. Like any urban myth, it's difficult to decide what to believe - the section below outlines the facts behind many of these myths to separate fact from fiction.
Fiction: Margarine is artificial
Fact: No. Margarine spreads are predominantly made from Plant seed oils, Water, Milk and Salt. In fact, about 99% of the ingredients in MeadowLea, a leading brand of margarine spreads, are naturally sourced and can be found in the pantry of most Australian homes. The remaining <1% is the preservatives to keep MeadowLea tasting fresh. MeadowLea also contains No Artificial Colours & Flavours.
Fiction: Margarine is processed
Fact: Processing is often necessary to ensure that ingredients are combined to form a final product; much like baking at home is a form of processing. The nutritional benefits of foods are not generally determined by whether or not the foods have been processed but rather by their nutritional composition once processed. Margarine processing is necessary to ensure the natural canola and sunflower oils are combined with other ingredients such as milk, water and salt to develop a smooth consistency for spreading. In fact, there is only one additional step for making margarine versus the process to make butter. This is the upfront step of extracting the oil from seeds.
Fiction: Margarine starts off black
Fact: The main ingredient in most margarine spreads is natural canola and sunflower seeds. These seeds are naturally dark in colour. In order to release the oils from the seed, the seeds are crushed and the dark colour shell is removed.
Fiction: Macular degeneration is caused by eating margarine
Fact: No. Eating margarine does not have any negative effects on consumer's eyesight. There is no scientific proof of a link between margarine and macular degeneration or any other eye condition. The Blue Mountains Eye Study, a large scientific prospective study involving hundreds of participants, showed that there was no association between margarine or oil intake or eye disease. Fiction: Margarine is one molecule away from plastic
Fact: No, this is an urban myth. All materials are made up of molecules including margarine spreads and butter, but they have a very different composition to plastic. This misconception has come about because of the technical definition of 'plasticity' which scientists use to describe the physical characteristics of a substance. It refers to any substance that can be moulded or shaped when pressure is applied. This is true for both butter and margarine. In other words, both butter and margarine show 'plasticity' in termsof how they can be shaped but it does not mean that they are plastic nor does it mean that their molecular composition is similar to plastic in any way. In fact 99.9% of the ingredients in MeadowLea margarine spread are from natural sources.
Fiction: Margarine is high in trans fact
Fact: The levels of trans fats in all margarine spreads in Australia are now amongst the lowest levels in the world and cannot be compared to those available in other countries, especially not the US where most of the debate on trans fat occurs. MeadowLea was a leader in reducing trans fat in table margarines back in 1996. Now all leading margarine spreads in Australia are 'virtually free of trans fats' (contains less than 1% trans fatty acids). Butter on the other hand contains 3.2% trans fats. Trans fats are found in natural sources such as meats, milk and cheese. A key point to note is that saturated fat is the key issue in Australian Diets. Saturated fat is the unhealthy fat which comes mainly from animal products. This is one of the key reasons why health organisations such as the Heart Foundation and CSIRO recommend using Margarine Spreads over Butter.
Symantha Perkins, mum to Georgia (11), Harrison (10) and Charlie (7) is one of Australia's most well-known celebrity mums. A spokeswoman for positive body image and wife of former Olympic swimming champion Kieren Perkins Symantha is conscious of her family's health and well being. She is devoted to her three children and husband, ensuring her family's needs come first, as she juggles a busy career with motherhood.
Alongside a panel of experts including nutritionist Tara Diversi, cardiologist Dr. Andrew Wilson and Heart Foundation's Susan Anderson, Symantha recently helped embark on a campaign with MeadowLea to 'lift the lid' on spreads - educating Australia's Mums on the need to reduce saturated fat intake, and recommending healthier spread alternatives for the family.
Symantha Perkins has provided us with tips on how to make easier and healthier choices for the whole family. Symantha's simple message is to reduce saturated fats by swapping from butter to margarine.
What healthy snacks do you give your children?
Symantha Perkins: As a family we do have a healthy attitude towards food which I think is important because children tend to mimic your eating habits. The children aren't too bad when it comes to eating lots of fruit, we just try to be creative and choose as many different varieties as possible, sometimes adding a flavoured yoghurt to dip in. If I'm out and about, then it's a healthy snack bar that contains lots of fruit and nuts.
Does it matter how you present food; for example will kids eat broccoli if it has cheese sauce on it, rather than on its own?
Symantha Perkins: It is not so bad now that the kids are a little older, but I did find that pureeing helped to hide vegetables and then there's the silly things like vegetable faces, where we'd get as creative as grating carrot for the hair - young kids love that sort of thing.
How do you stop kids from wanting to eat lollies and other bad foods in supermarkets?
Symantha Perkins: We do the supermarket shopping once a week and the children now understand that they can each choose just one treat - so they spend the whole time there making this very important decision for themselves - leaving me in peace to concentrate on the shopping, which is a task in itself! It's all about finding the right balance.
Do you have any tips for other mums that you've found useful in getting your kids to eat healthy?
Symantha Perkins: I have a fussy eater and I really sympathise with other mothers as it can be so stressful after a bad day at work or even a night up with other children. To have a child that then doesn't want to eat what's put in front of them can be tough on parents, so I try including them in the choice of what they're eating and explaining to them how important it is to have a healthy diet and what that does to their bodies. Do you encourage your children to help out in the kitchen?
Symantha Perkins: That's another thing we like to do is to let the kids help set the menu for the week and get them to help cook and prepare the meals with me - when they feel part of the process of deciding what they eat they are more likely to embrace the food they eat as well!
What tips would you give other mums on how to reduce saturated fats from their diets?
Symantha Perkins: The easiest way to reduce saturated fat is to swap from butter to a margarine spread, like MeadowLea. It's a small and simple change you can make everyday. I am all about making life as easy as possible. So a little thing like swapping butter for margarine and knowing how much of a difference that can make means a lot to me. Not just on toast and sandwiches, but also for cooking and baking. A simple rule I was once taught is that when cooking, if the end product is meant to be soft like a cake or frittata, then margarine can be substituted for butter with no difference to the end result - just as tasty but healthier. So if we are baking cakes or cooking a risotto for example, we simply replace butter with MeadowLea, as it contains 65% less saturated fat and offers a range of spreads including Salt Reduced, Light, Extra Light, Canola, Lactose Free and Original.
What meal is a favourite for your kids?
Symantha Perkins: As a family we try to spend as much time as possible outdoors with the children - so I'd have to be very Australian in my answer and say nothing beats a good old family barbeque, but if the weather isn't on our side, it's a heart warming risotto.