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Butter vs. Margarine: Which is Healthier?

Jun 15, 2010

Butter and margarine are typically used to serve the same purposes in the kitchen, from sprucing up a piece of dry toast to sauteing vegetables or baking cookies. Consumers can generally agree that butter knocks margarine out of the park when it comes to taste and texture, but which of the two is a healthier choice? Butter and margarine are made from different ingredients, thus making their nutritional make up quite different. Understanding the differences between the two can help you make a healthier decision before you slather them on or fry them up.

The Basics of Butter

The primary ingredient in butter is animal fat, and thus, it is high in fat content. It isn't just the amount of fat in butter that makes it unhealthy; it is the type of fat that butter contains. Butter is high in saturated fat, which increases the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body. It is important to limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The Makeup of Margarine

The primary ingredient in margarine is vegetable-based oil. While margarine still has some fat content that make it unhealthy, the fats it contains include the polyunsaturated and monosaturated varieties. These two types of fats actually help reduce the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body.

Unfortunately, not all margarines are exactly the same. There are variations on the market that can make it even worse for a consumer than butter. Typically, the harder the margarine is, the higher the trans fat content. Trans fat has been known to reduce levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and increase risks for heart disease. In the stick form, margarine is in its hardest state, meaning it is likely filled with dangerous trans fats. 

The Healthy Choice

It is clear that butter and margarine both contain elements that are potentially harmful to the body. Given the choice between butter and a version of margarine that is high in trans fats, butter is the better choice. On the other hand, a less solid margarine that is fortified with plant-based oils can easily trump butter on the dinner table.

Tasty Alternatives

In summary, choosing the right kind of margarine can be a healthier option that regular butter. The many differences between these two substances makes it difficult to choose healthy options, especially when it comes to baking. If you find that you just can't sacrifice the tantalizing taste of butter for the margarine substitute, there are some tasty alternatives. There are whipped and light butters on the market that are lower in levels of bad cholesterol. Other butter alternatives include a blend that mixes butter with olive or canola oil. The end result with these tasty alternatives is fewer calories and less fat than traditional butter.

No matter if you decide to use butter or margarine, the important thing is to consume these types of products in moderation. When you do spread on the butter or margarine, do so sparingly. This is a healthier decision that will help you follow a low-calorie and low-fat diet.

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