Monday, October 15, 2007

Myth: Margarine is One Molecule Away From Plastic

I get emails from people about this topic all of the time so I will continue to post articles that address the myth that margarine is one molecule away from plastic. Here’s one reporter from the Montreal Gazette’s explanation of the myth:

This is no joke!" As soon as I see that phrase pop up in an email, I know what's coming. I'm going to be warned about some nasty substance that is unravelling the very fabric of society. Like margarine. It is "one molecule away from plastic," a widely circulating email proclaims.

Even flies are smart enough to stay away from it. We also have to be on the lookout for mouldy pancake mix, which apparently is lying in wait to kill us. Sodium benzoate, a common preservative, can trigger Parkinson's disease. And the MMR vaccine for children? Trading in mumps, measles or rubella for autism is not an attractive proposition.

These warnings, often forwarded by good Samaritans looking out for our welfare, are generally based on some sort of misinterpretation of scientific research. But not always. Margarine being "one molecule away from plastic" is just plain nonsense. Plastics are composed of long molecules called polymers, while margarine is a blend of fats and water. There is no chemical similarity between the two. In any case, being "one molecule away" is a totally meaningless expression.

Substances are made of molecules, which in turn are composed of atoms joined together in a specific pattern. I suppose one might say that hydrogen peroxide, H2O2, is one atom away from water, H2O, but even this is meaningless. That extra oxygen atom changes the properties of the substance dramatically. Stick your finger into a bottle of pure hydrogen peroxide and you will quickly experience the effect of that extra oxygen.

Even if margarine had some chemical similarity to plastic, which it does not, its properties could still be dramatically different. Slight alterations in molecular structure can account for very significant changes in properties. As far as flies staying away from margarine goes, I have yet to see a study confirming the allegation. In any case, our dietary decisions should not be based on the dining habits of flies


Anonymous said...

Good article in one sense: "one molecule away" makes no sense, and the molecular similarity between a hyrdocarbon and a hydrogenated oil is simply not there.

However, the article falls flat in that it does not even mention that margarines made from hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated contain transfats, which have been proven to have a devastating effect on the heart. I think that if it is true that flies will not eat margarine made of these scientifically altered and deadly unnatural fats, the article should go on to applaud the eating habits of flies.

It should finish with a warning to avoid transfats and margarines which contain them, as there have been many studies showing strong direct correlations between the consumption of transfats and heart disease. Readers should also be made aware that there are now many butter substitutes which contain no transfats.

Asacom said...

Wow, the previous comment poster is totally ignorant and misinformed. There is no such thing as "hydrogenated transfat". If you actually did your research, you'd learn that hydrogenated fat is saturated fat. There cannot be a cis or trans fat in this category because there are no double bonds between carbons. Not that hydrogenated oil is good. And it is total nonsense from him/her that a fat contains a fat. Seriously.

Anyway, non-hydrogenated fats are unsaturated fats. Now these have 2 branches: cis and trans fats. Obviously trans fats are the bad ones of the 2, and the worst between it and saturated fats. Margerine/butter has SATURATED FATS.

Oh and newsflash, "Anonymous", this article isn't focusing on the health impact of margerine; it's about the myth involving margerine and plastic. Moreover, don't think flies avoid margerine because they know it's unhealthy. Now you just made yourself out to be another intelligent wannabe.