A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Butter vs. margarine: Is one healthier?

Butter vs. margarine, two popular ingredients that people use regularly.  There has been an ongoing debate over which is better, or if either is any good at all. Is margarine healthier than butter? Both have a place in moderation.

Butter is made from cream or milk. Margarine is a blend of oils that are mostly unsaturated fats. While both butter and margarine have fat content, the amount and type vary. They have a similar calorie and fat content, but butter is typically higher in saturated fat because it’s made from animal products.

Unsaturated fat is good for your heart, reducing heart disease and lowering cholesterol levels. Saturated fat raises “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and should be eaten in moderation. Replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Trans fat is something else to consider, although the FDA has taken major steps in the last few years to reduce the artificial trans fats in food items. “We have realized that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are not good for us,” said Samantha Moore, Marshfield Clinic Health System registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. “Margarine sold in the U.S is no longer allowed to have added trans fat.”

How to choose: pay attention to saturated fats

A good rule of thumb when comparing is to consider choosing “less solid” products. Generally, the more solid the product is, the more saturated fat it has. A butter or margarine in a stick form for instance, is more solid than a tub margarine. The best way to make your choice is to compare food labels. Look for lower calorie, lower saturated fat choices.

“Don’t forget about other alternatives as well, such as olive oil or canola oil. These products contain heart healthy fats. You could also experiment with different sprays,” Moore said.

Oils have less saturated fat than butter and don’t contain trans fat, so using a good quality oil to replace either spread provides the biggest benefit. Minimally processed oils such a “cold pressed” are generally better quality.

Is margarine healthier than butter?

In the end, it is important to remember the value of moderation. If you use large amounts of either butter or margarine, simply reducing your portion size can aid in reduction of fat and calorie intake. For reference, the portion size of butter is one teaspoon, which is about the size of the tip of your thumb.

Consider your personal preferences and think through your options. Perhaps a change to a brand-new product is worth making, or perhaps reduction in portion size is valuable. The ultimate goal is to reduce overall intake of saturated fat, increase intake of unsaturated fat and promote general good heart health.

“For butter or margarine lovers, I encourage them to choose where they absolutely need to use spreads, such as on their toast in the morning, and replace all other fats with oils,” said Karla Arrigoni, registered dietitian at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Think outside the box, it may seem strange at first, but many people enjoy olive oil on their vegetable instead of butter.”

Read the infographic below to identify the best choice for you. Butter vs. Margarine Infographic

Print butter vs. margarine graphic

For questions about fats and cholesterol, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

Schedule appointment Message your provider

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