Butter vs. Margarine


butterBoth are sources of fat. Butter is made from animal fat and contains more saturated fat than margarine, which is made from vegetable oils.

The Truth: Both are common sources of fat in our diets but margarine usually tops butter when it comes to heart health. Margarine is made from vegetable oil, which contains both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, or “good” fats that help lower bad cholesterol.

However, not all margarine is created equal. Some margarine spreads contain trans-fat, which is a type of fat that increases bad cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Generally, the more solid the margarine, the more trans-fat it contains. A good rule of thumb to follow is choosing a soft or liquid spread instead of the stick form.

Butter is made from animal fat, which contains unhealthy saturated fat and cholesterol. Saturated fat also increases bad cholesterol levels.

The Verdict: Margarine, especially varieties with no trans-fat and lower amounts of saturated fat, is healthier options than butter for heart health. Since both have similar calorie contents, limit the amount you use to limit the calories overall.

It is important to note there are many healthy substitutions for butter and margarine. Applesauce can be used as a fat source in baking to ensure a moist baked good. Use olive oil in mashed potatoes, stir fries or  todip your bread or toast in instead of spreading it with butter. Try a squeeze of lemon and a dash of salt and pepper on steamed vegetables instead of melted butter.

Tip: When purchasing margarine, look for spreads that are fortified with plant stanols and sterols. Both may help reduce cholesterol levels.

Julia E. Salomón, MS, RDN, CD; Community Health Improvement Leader, Affinity Health System
Courtney Immel, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Dietetic Intern - Affinity Health System