Thursday, 15 July 2010

Butter and margarine.

I was intrigued by this 'which is best' article on butter and margarine. It seems the answer is neither. Both are bad for you, but in different ways.

As always, the argument about how bad these things are misses one important point. It depends entirely on how much you consume.

The fats in these things will raise blood fat levels immediately after you eat them but unless you eat them continuously, those fat levels will fall again. It's not a problem unless you fry every meal in butter then add butter to the fried bread and put the whole lot in a heavily buttered sandwich.

I prefer butter. There is no margarine that tastes just like it. I know people who prefer the taste of the margarines and the low-fat spreads. All of them are bad for you in excess but none of them are bad for you in moderation. You don't balloon into something that has to wear a mumu round the house and scours eBay for Bernard Manning's old clothes after one ham sandwich, no matter what it's spread with. Eat what you like, just don't eat too much of it, and you'll be fine.

The butter/margarine argument struck me as being similar to the tobacco/Electrofag argument. I prefer tobacco, but I like Electrofag too. Menthol Electrofag is, to me, pretty close to a roll-up with a menthol filter. Not quite the same but closer than, say, margarine is to butter. If my tobacco source dried up I could be happy with Electrofag for a time, just as I could cope with margarine if I couldn't get butter. In both cases, though, I would miss the original.

Some people prefer Electrofag to tobacco. Just as when butter-simulating margarines appeared, and some people took to them straight away while others stuck with butter. Oh, they liked butter, but the new margarine was something they liked more. In the same way, some smokers liked tobacco but didn't like all the ash and smoke that goes with it quite so much. Electrofag fitted them perfectly.

Both have a convenience aspect. Butter can be a pain - if you leave it in the fridge, it gets too hard to spread and if you leave it out it can melt into a pool of revolting partially-clear yellow stuff. It has to be in a cool place but not too cold. The modern spreads are far easier in that respect. Just take it out of the fridge and spread it. Pity I don't like the taste.

Electrofag means no ashtrays to empty and less general dust - the ash coming off the tip in fine particles adds to the general dust load of the house. Not as much as a coal or log fire, but it's there. You don't have to carry more than one Electrofag, perhaps enough spares for a second one in case something wears out, you don't have to light anything and you don't have to go outside to smoke it. Electrofag has lots of advantages over tobacco, just as margarine has advantages over butter, in terms of convenience.

I just like the taste of tobacco. I also like the way the smoke hangs on still air. It's relaxing to watch. Nowadays I can only watch it at home or at Smoky-Drinky evenings because people who have never entered the pubs I went to decided they didn't like it and could smell it from a hundred miles away.

The last couple of days, it's rained as if the clouds were having a stock clearance. The lab has no outside shelter at all although I notice Tesco are currently selling a gazebo for £15. That might be fun. So, at the lab, in that rain, I get my coffee and I puff away on Electrofag. If I can't have butter, margarine will do.

Imagine being ordered not to eat butter. Or even margarine. Imagine you are ordered on pain of fines and imprisonment to eat only one sort of low-fat spread. The butter ban extends further and further, you can't eat it outside because it offends someone, then you can't have it at home. Only the most insipid low-fat spread is tolerated and even that is frowned on. You should eat your bread dry like the Righteous. Why do you need this fatty stuff? It's bad for you. You must be an addict if you can't eat your bread without fat all over it. We Righteous don't like it so you can't have it. And no, you can't have something that looks like it either. There's already a Righteous in the comments to that article who insists that nobody should buy butter or margarine - because he doesn't use them.

This butter ban hasn't happened, and there's really only one reason it hasn't happened. It's not because there's no such thing as 'second-hand butter'.

It's because it's not in the interests of business to make it happen. In fact, it is in the interests of business to make the opposite happen. Fat people can be blanket-defined as 'unhealthy' and therefore in need of treatment. Just like smokers.

I have some overweight friends. One in particular is very overweight indeed, but he's always been that big and he's always been fine with it. He doesn't smoke, but he does like a drink and he likes to eat a lot. Is he 'costing the NHS money'? He's in a well paid job, paying lots of tax and NI into the system so whatever costs he incurs, he's covered them.

He went to see his doctor because he has asthma. Now he has pills that stop him absorbing fat, pills that stop him absorbing glucose, pills for all sorts of things that weren't troubling him before and he's had the UFO-style anal probe sessions. It seems to me that meddling with your internal metabolic functions like that is not a good thing. Especially when it's happening not because you consider yourself unhealthy, but because someone else does.

If you feel okay, then there's probably nothing wrong with you. If things start to hurt or swell or spontaneously bleed, get them checked, but otherwise, why trouble a doctor when you're not feeling ill?

Well, if we all did that, the NHS couldn't justify its huge budget. We have to be ill to make the targets work. We have to be ill so Big Pharma can make money. We have to have something wrong with us, all of us, all the time, or the flow of cash will slow down.

So if we eat butter, we are eating saturated fats that mess with our cholesterol. Only briefly, only for a short period after the butter-eating session. If we eat margarine instead, we are eating trans-fats that mess with our cholesterol. Again, only briefly. Yet cholesterol has become the one great thing that we must all have checked. Why?

Because there is a test for it. Because there is medication for it. Because few people will fall within the 'guidelines' for how much the BMA Standard Human should have in its blood. There are perfectly healthy people on perfectly healthy diets buying cholesterol-lowering products. They don't realise that too little cholesterol will kill you faster than too much. All they hear is cholesterol = bad and they seek to eradicate it. They'll do the same with salt and all forms of fat. They won't last long.

If someone is seriously obese, and I mean can't get through doors obese, they have a problem. It's not my problem, it's theirs. Help should be available to them if they want it but if they like being the elephant in the room, and are happy, help should not be forced on them. There are very, very few people in that situation. The 'economy' can cope with them for less than the cost of resurfacing an MP's tennis court.

Some people are what the rest of us would call 'very fat' but function perfectly well. Sure, they might be shortening their lives but it is their life. Their choice. If they are happy being that big and aren't worried about missing out on spending their last few years being treated like an idiot in a nursing home, why should the rest of us force them on to medication? Why live long and be miserable when you can live for less time but have much more fun? Again, if someone is fat, doesn't like it and wants to change, help should be available and it is. Weight loss groups are everywhere. The NHS does not need to monopolise or even perform that function. All it needs is a list of groups that do.

Now, even a slight rounding of the belly gets you classed as 'overweight' and the little pots we used to call 'beer bellies' are enough to push you into 'obese', and then you're on treatment for something that really doesn't matter at all.

It's not butter that makes you fat. It's loads of butter that makes you fat. It's not butter, nor is it margarine, that pushes your cholesterol far too high and keeps it there for too long. It's loads of butter or margarine that causes it.

Small amounts of tobacco smoke can't hurt you. The claim that even second-hand electrosmoke can harm bystanders is claiming that homeopathic amounts of nicotine cause cancer. Nicotine has never been shown to cause cancer, and there's nothing else in Electrofag. It's the tars in smoke that gum up your lungs, and even then you have to smoke a hell of a lot of very high tar tobacco, for a long time, for it to kill you. The only way a nonsmoker could get anywhere near that level of tar would be to take up smoking. The nicotine in smoke does nothing dangerous at all.

Not every fat person dies of a heart attack, and not every smoker dies of cancer. Thin, fit and healthy people also die of heart attacks and non-smokers also die of cancer. The relationship between cause and effect is not as clear cut as we are supposed to believe. If all tobacco products vanished tomorrow, people would still get lung cancer and the rate might drop, but not by much. If everyone woke up tomorrow at the body weight defined by the BMA Standard Human, people would still die of heart attacks and stroke. While something might increase the risk of a particular illness, it does not guarantee it will happen. The absence of a specific risk does not guarantee it won't happen. Life just isn't that simple.

Sure, if you chainsmoke, you're hitting your lungs with a continuous blast and that's not good for you - but it's your life, live it how you choose. You are not killing anyone else, no matter what the Righteous say. If you lock yourself in your house and never open a window, well you're going to create an atmosphere that would drive most smokers away. If you like it that way, go for it. Very few people are in that situation and the economy can cope with them for less than the cost of an MP's moat - with or without a duck house.

Most smokers don't chainsmoke. In the lab, considering what I work with, any hand-to-mouth movement would be unwise. I have to wash my hands before rolling a cigarette and I wouldn't smoke in there even if it was allowed. In the old days, we'd have a room separate from the labs for coffee and smoking.

My situation does not allow chainsmoking. Most other people's working situation is the same, whether it's because of flammable materials, poisons, or simply being too busy. No smoker has lungs anywhere near as blackened as a coal miner's, which is why it's a coal miner's lung on the packs.

You are going to die. Whether you smoke or not, whether you are fat or thin, whether you live in a remote croft or in the traffic fumes of town, whether you eat only Government approved foods or live entirely on lard sandwiches. In the end, you are going to die. The medical profession seems to be in denial of this. Life at any cost is the slogan now. Live long and be miserable, you know it's good for you.

You are going to get sick sometimes. No matter how careful you are, once in a while you'll catch something. Some might be minor, some might be serious, some might be life-threatening. There is no way to totally insulate a complex organism in a complex environment from all the milllions of things that could go wrong. Continually worrying about it leads to neurosis and high levels of stress. Stress wrecks the balance of your body and makes it more likely that you'll get sick.

Keeping your life spotlessly clean means that your immune system gets no challenge and builds up no experience. Just like any other part of your body, it needs exercise. I'm convinced that many autoimmune diseases are the result of an immune system with nothing to do but attack random targets.

Everyone is scared of death, disease and dirt now. Sure, people have always been scared of those things but these days it's an obsession. There are children worrying about these things. We never worried about death or illness or cleanliness, that was a mother's job. We just went out, made a mess and ended practically every day in the bath.

We didn't get worked up over what was in food. Only what it tasted like. We'd eat wild raspberries and blackcurrants and hazelnuts and crabapples, we'd eat peas from the pod if a farmer was incautious enough to plant them too close to the fence. We'd eat just about anything. Balance? Who cares? We didn't even know what was supposed to be in a 'balanced' diet. I still don't.

You don't have to get the right balance per meal. Reasonably close, over a month or so, is fine. Your body will tell you if you're too far wrong and until it does, don't worry about it.

Worrying gives you cancer.

UPDATE: It just never ends, does it?


Anonymous said...

Managed to totally flummox my GP once:

GP:" If you stop smoking you'll live longer"

Me: "Why would I want to do a stupid thing like that?"

GP:" !!!??!?!?! What do you mean?""

Mr Civil Libertarian said...

Don't mock it, it's an important issue.

People get hurt....

Amusing Bunni said...

I like butter better too! I think it's a bit better for you, no crazy chemicals (or less the the fake stuff).

At this point I'm like, WTF, we're gonna die anyway, might as well have a bit of fun. The lefties would have us munching twigs living in a gulag, then killed for our organs before we die of starvation or worse, so who cares ;-)

Anonymous said...

I know a person who runs a healtyh food shop, but believes firmly in the benefit of real food and balanced diet. She had a cistomer once in a blind panic because he had cut his fat intake down to zero and still had "high cholesterol". Meanwhile she observes, in an apocryphal way, that she's never known anybody with MS that hadn't been on a low fat diet at some point.

Anonymous said...

healtyh . . . hmmm. . . health

Stewart Cowan said...

Spiritual wellbeing is more important.

Anonymous said...

Over here in Canada the McDonalds restaurants stopped using butter (this happened several years ago). They now only use "Becel" brand margarine which turns to insipid liquid and drips all over the place when spread on a muffin.

Ever since this time, I have taken my own butter with me whenever I visit McDonalds for breakfast.

Butter is one of life's best small pleasures (as is salt). Since the "Wacko Puritans" want to demonise these things, I have countered their efforts by tripling my personal consumption of these delightful items. The puritans can stick all their nasty vegetables where the sun don't shine.

Expat Brit living in Canada.

microdave said...

This should cheer you up!

opinions powered by