University of Minnesota Alumni Association



"Margarine for the Win," "Renewable Bio-Petroleum," and "Conflicting Health Advice"

Photo credit: ds_30/Pixabay

Margarine for the Win

For years, people who wanted a heart-healthy lifestyle have had to wade through confusing and conflicting information about whether butter or margarine is the better choice. Now research from the U of M’s School of Public Health shows that the answer is . . . margarine.

But only because margarine has changed. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration banned partially hydrogenated oils from food products to help reduce people’s consumption of artificial trans fats, which raise bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and lower good cholesterol levels (HDL). Using information from the Food and Nutrient Database at the Nutrition Coordinating Center, U of M researchers looked at the fatty acid profiles and vitamin and mineral compositions of 83 margarine and butter-blend products. The study was the first in the country to examine the differences between butter and margarine since the FDA banned trans fats.

They found trans-fat-free margarine now has significantly less saturated fat and cholesterol compared to butter. And margarines in soft tubs and squeeze tubes contain less saturated fats than stick margarine.

“The findings are particularly important for registered dietitians and other nutrition-related health professionals so that they can update their advice and offer people the best options in order to promote heart health,” says Cecily Weber, a public health nutrition student who is the study’s lead author.

This study was originally published in the November 2021 issue of Public Health Nutrition.

Renewable Bio-Petroleum

As a growing number of states and cities ban single-use plastic bags, chemical researchers at the U.S. National Science Foundation Center for Renewable Polymers, based at the U of M, have invented a green alternative to the fossil fuels that are used in everything from plastic containers and bags to car tires and soaps.

Using plants as a source for plastics is difficult because they are made up of glucose, which has a different molecular composition than petroleum. To solve this challenge, University of California Berkeley researchers discovered a new technology that both ferments the glucose to remove oxygen and combines molecules together to distribute olefins, which are the building blocks of plastics. The process paves the way for chemical engineers to “grow” non-petroleum molecules from sugar.

U of M researchers fine-tuned these molecules to match those that occur in polymers used to make plastic and rubber products. Moreover, they were able to combine fermentation molecules to produce larger ones that can be used for the soap-like molecules in cleaning products.

This hybrid approach is more sustainable, environmentally and economically. It’s also a more efficient way to make chemicals.

These results were first published in the November 22, 2021 issue of Nature Chemistry.

Conflicting Health Advice

Researchers have long thought that conflicting messages confuse the public, making them less likely to believe health advice.

Now, researchers at the U of M have data to back up that hunch. Using an online survey of 3,000 adults, researchers had participants view health news about six topics, including mammography screenings and whether it’s OK to eat carbs.

Over a month, participants viewed two different sets of articles. Some contained information that contradicted what they previously read. One week after their second viewing, participants were asked to evaluate ads for health information for which there are no conflicting viewpoints, such as eating fruits and vegetables, exercising, or being screened for colorectal cancer.

The results were sobering: Participants who were exposed to conflicting messages were less likely to believe health ad campaigns.

“These results are worrisome, particularly given a Covid-19 landscape that is increasingly fraught with seemingly conflicting science,” says Rebekah Nagler, study lead and an associate professor in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The group is now working on strategies to better communicate with the public about evolving science.

This study originally appeared in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine in August 2021.

Huge thanks as always to the team at the University’s News Service.

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