You Asked: What's better, Margarine or Butter?

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
8/27/2008 10:29 AM   :  161 comments

See More: nutrition, health, , you asked,
SparkPeople.com member Eboston421 recently asked about margarine versus butter and which is better nutritionally. The discussions of margarine versus butter began in the 1990s, when research related to trans fatty acids in margarines was coming out. Both butter and margarine derive 100 percent of their calories from fat. Although we all need a little fat in our diets (but not more than 30% of our total daily caloric intake), we should all try to choose fats of the healthiest variety whenever possible.

So which is the better choice for you?

Most studies and health experts agree that neither is ideal. Here are the highlights of each:

Margarine:
• Is made from vegetable oils, so it contains no cholesterol
• Is typically (but not always) higher in healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats
• Is often processed through hydrogenation, which adds unhealthy trans fats. The more solid the margarine is at room temperature, the more trans fats are usually present

Butter:
• Is made from animal (milk) fat and contains cholesterol
• Is higher in saturated fat, which is considered unhealthy
• Is non-hydrogenated, and so it is free of trans fats

Most health organizations recommend margarine over butter for heart health reasons. However, not all margarines are created equally, and some can be worse for your cardiovascular health than butter.

With so many margarine brands on the market, how do you know which are healthy? To start, remember that the most "solid" margarines contain the most trans fat. So stick margarine contains the most trans fat, followed by tub margarines then whipped varieties. Liquid margarines have the least trans fats and are good choices.

Here are some helpful guidelines to help you as you navigate the grocery dairy case. Select a margarine that has:

• Liquid vegetable oil (such as "olive oil" or "canola oil") listed as the first ingredient
• 0 grams trans fat per serving (or the lowest trans fat content possible)
• Less than 2 grams of total saturated fat PLUS trans fats per serving (So if it has 0 grams of trans fat then it should have no more than 2 grams of total saturated fat per serving.)
• If you have high LDL (bad) cholesterol (over 160 mg/dL), you may also want to select a margarine that has been fortified with plant sterols as recommended by the American Heart Association.

These guidelines can be found in basic spreads (I Can't Believe It's Not Butter), canola spreads (Weight Watchers Canola Spread), olive oil spreads (Bertoli Light), polyunsaturated spreads (Melrose Omega 3 Care) and cholesterol-lowering spreads (Flor Pro-activ Light). With so many categories and choices in each category, which is the best? Well, the last deciding factor has to be taste preferences. Which one do you think tastes the best?

So, there you have it Eboston421, margarine over butter except on those special occasions, when only the taste of butter will do!

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Comments

  • 161
    It's butter for us too, though I do often buy the kind with olive oil blended in to lower the saturated fat. Butter tastes so much better to me. - 9/2/2013   12:13:15 PM
  • CHRISTINASP
    160
    I use butter. Won't touch margarine. It's not food to me. - 12/3/2012   11:10:03 AM
  • AGRENANCO
    159
    Take a stick of butter and a stick of margarine. Put them both outside during a Spring/Summer morning. Bugs and animals won't touch the margarine. Doing that little experiment was enough for me to know I need to stick with butter and just use sparingly. Applesauce, pure pumpkin and combining olive oil and butter together are great butter substitues in recipes. - 11/29/2012   8:53:23 AM
  • BEST_LIFE_NOW
    158
    Better is better, in small quantities. I can't believe they said margarine. - 1/10/2012   8:34:18 AM
  • NEWSUSAN2119
    157
    I use only real natural products that my body knows how to process. If that means olive oil instead of butter and butter only occassionally, then thats okay! - 7/9/2011   4:56:52 AM
  • NJ_HOU
    156
    sorry for you .... real food means butter = cream separated from milk versus ... margarine kzillion ingredients. Your very vague statements sounds like you work for the FDA ... " Most health organizations" who are these dudes? do you ever question their basic motivation? . Reminds me of those who think b vitamins are a waste -- why do you think we don't have so much spina bifida here in the us anymore ??? duh folic acid -- wow what a concept . spinabifidaassociation.org - 6/24/2011   2:05:46 PM
  • STACIBUK
    155
    I heard butter was better for you but I don't know! - 6/21/2011   4:55:18 PM
  • 154
    Despite all the research, I can't help but think that butter, which is a natural product, must be better for you than a trumped up margarine. - 6/21/2011   3:20:41 AM
  • CARRES1973
    153
    Count me in as a butter user. I am striving to only eat "real" foods. Margarine is just not real!

    Carrie - 6/20/2011   10:10:25 PM
  • RUBYVUE
    152
    My husband doesn't like butter so we use 'I Can't Believe It's Not Butter'. If I had a choice I would use butter, but a lot less. - 5/4/2011   8:24:15 AM
  • 151
    Butter is awesome! Since I don't eat much meat and have read enough to know that saturated fats (in moderation) are an essential part of a balanced diet, I prefer to use butter over a processed product containing unhealthy trans fats. Plus, butter goes a long way when you use it correctly.

    I am not fat because I ate butter and other real foods. I am fat because I ate too much processed foods and chose to be sedentary. Obesity in the US has risen in direct relation to the availability of processed and fast foods. The same rise is also happening in other countries with the increased consumption of processed foods and movement towards a "Western" diet. - 5/3/2011   8:35:09 PM
  • 150
    I rarely use either, but prefer the taste of margarine. Everything people have been saying about how at least butter is real has got me thinking, though. - 5/3/2011   2:24:04 PM
  • 149
    I love butter but I have cut way back now and rarely use it. It is a real treat when I do. - 2/8/2010   4:30:08 AM
  • NIBLITZ
    148
    For me, the main issue is portion control. I'll bet I'm not the only one who has a hard time envisioning what a teaspoon or tablespoon looks like. So when I'm using butter or margarine from a tub, I get out the measuring spoons. If what I'm spreading it on is sufficiently warm, a little bit goes WAY further than I would have eyeballed. - 1/29/2010   1:36:38 AM
  • 147
    organic (wish I could get raw as I understand it's better) BUTTER. I grew up on I Can't Believe it's Not Butter, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but knowing what I know now, I'd never touch it again. - 1/18/2010   4:04:57 PM
  • KEDMUNDS1
    146
    For reasons of both health and taste, I choose to keep real butter and olive oil at my house. We have some canola but there's not much flavor there. - 12/29/2009   8:30:51 AM
  • 145
    I use spray butter myself and real butter only sparingly. - 12/24/2009   2:16:00 PM
  • MRSKRISTINA
    144
    I eat real butter too- when I can. I really try to cut back on it all together. - 11/12/2009   10:35:35 PM
  • 143
    Butter in small quantities, great on corn on the cob.I heard that margarine left in a garage for a year, even the bugs won't eat it. - 11/12/2009   7:56:11 AM
  • ALLIEWIGGY
    142
    I eat butter, just a lot less of it. I also like seasoned olive oil and I've tried Smart Balance - not too bad.All other substitutes I've tried so far are just nasty. My Mom raised me on margarine and as soon as I tried real butter margarine went out of my diet. Mostly though if I can't have just a little butter, I'd rather do without all of it. Thanks for the butter/olive oil tip, we are going to try it. - 11/11/2009   7:58:36 PM
  • 141
    Always better to use a little of the real thing than a lot of something artificial. Rember the damage we are causing to our planet by the over production of all that stuff that goes into artificial products.
    - 10/20/2009   3:33:16 AM
  • 140
    My food philosophy is eat the real stuff. Margarine is fake food. You might as well nibble on the plastic container it comes in. I don't eat a lot but I eat butter. - 10/19/2009   3:07:16 PM
  • 139
    CAUTION: The FDA allows for foods that are labeled trans fat free to contain up to .5 grams of trans fat. Because 5 grams of trans fat is extremely damaging to your body, it is best to avoid foods that could and probably do contain trans fat. I use olive oil for everything, never cook with either butter or margarine!

    On bread, which I never eat plain anyhow (and always 100% whole grain), I put a peice of avocado or olive oil and roasted pepper. Healthy and tasty. - 10/19/2009   2:55:42 PM
  • TEMPKIKI
    138
    yes i agree, bummel and brown tastes really good - 10/5/2009   10:50:33 AM
  • 137
    i was raised on butter but, i LOVE brummel & brown's spread... has anybody tried that?? - 10/4/2009   10:57:04 PM
  • 136
    I say butter at least it is natural. Our grandparents didn't have all the problems we do. Think it might be that most things they ate were natural. Even their meat. Why do we mess with what isn't broken. Sorry about ranting on. - 10/4/2009   4:22:46 PM
  • 135
    REAL is always the best for me personally. - 10/2/2009   4:05:53 PM
  • 134
    I don't use margarine. I have (organic) butter in the house; for baking, and for putting on certain things, it's the ONLY way to go. As a daily bread spread, I'm more likely to use neufchatel cheese or lo-fat ricotta, or peanut butter. As a pp suggested, I've been a pepper-and-dash-of-salt on my baked tater person for years. If it's well baked, it already has a smooth texture.
    Good article, but, as all the posts show, presenting only part of the picture (that post about margarine being 'one molecule away from plastic' made me shudder; I hope the poster is inaccurate.) - 9/7/2009   8:42:44 AM
  • 133
    I think butter tastes like nothing but grease. I don't find butter to have any noticeable milk or dairy taste at all. Then again my mother raised me on I Can't Believe It's Not Butter almost my whole life. To me ICBINB actually has a flavor. I don't eat a lot of butter. I hate to butter sandwiches I think its gross. Most of the time I will butter a corn muffin or toast, I just don't eat a lot of either. I bake with it all the time very few recipes can't take ICBINB so I use normal butter. Then again I don't bake a lot. For a spread its always ICBINB.
    It has no trans fats its made with very little cream buttermilk, it contains vitamin A. Besides the fact that its processed a bit I really can't see the harm.
    I go to the doctor regularly, and have a almost perfect blood pressure, cholesterol rate and my heart beats at a normal strong rate. My doctor is always surprised because of my weight. I've been told its not normal to have such good health with having my weight problem for so long. My mothers side of my family has heart problems, but for some reason my mother and I haven't been affected even though most of my younger cousins have. My mother is in her mid fifties. My mother lived in the country and was raised most of her life on butter and she has a elevated blood pressure and cholesterol. She believes this was from her high intake of butter as a child. She regulates the problem by staying away from butter. My grandfather died of heart failure and he believed before he died that it was caused by butter. I think I will stick with my ICBINB. - 8/19/2009   12:16:55 AM
  • MOSSIE7
    132
    I use real amish butter and mix with virgin olive oil to make it more spreadable for breads, etc. I use it sparingly, but give me real over man made anyday!! - 8/18/2009   11:13:38 AM
  • 131
    No chemlab "food" products for me, thanks. Give me real butter, sparingly. - 8/18/2009   6:02:51 AM
  • 130
    I found that the majority of margarine contains soy. Since I avoid soy like the plague, only real butter will do. - 8/17/2009   2:22:15 PM
  • AMARANTHA2
    129
    For me, totally real butter is the best choice in moderation but I actually use Land o' Lakes light canola oil butter most of the time to save calories. I have issues with it as a healthy product though as the only canola oil I think is good for me is expeller pressed and that is very hard to find in a normal grocery.

    Pure olive oil is my ideal thing to eat as a "butter" but it is very high in calories. - 8/1/2009   8:36:19 AM
  • 128
    As a vegan, I use Smart Balance Light--no dairy, no trans fats. - 7/30/2009   8:54:23 PM
  • 127
    I don't eat dairy so I use vegan, organic, non-gmo, unhydrogenated margarine. Earth Balance all the way for this lady. It bakes well, makes great frosting and didn't harm any cows. I use it very very rarely and most often when making frosting for the rare lowfat cupcake.

    I love all the "margarine is unnatural" crap.
    Do you think the cow milk used in your butter isn't full of hormones? Unless you're eating all organic dairy, you're eating synthetic hormones which, in some cases, are GMO. Yum.

    - 7/30/2009   2:19:41 PM
  • HEATHEER
    126
    I like to keep things as natural as possible. I would never eat margarine and I try to stay away from any foods that are created in a science lab. I make my own butter with fresh cream from local grass fed Jersey cows. It only takes a few minutes in a stand mixer or food processor and the flavor can't be beat. As far as the fat and calories go, everything needs to be in moderation and butter is no exception. I find it easier to stay on track if the indugences I allow myself are the most satisfying they can be. - 7/18/2009   1:30:10 PM
  • 125
    i'm partial to Olivio spreadable butter.
    ( sweet cream/olive oil/canola oil ) - 7/6/2009   7:46:13 PM
  • 124
    If I'm going to use something, I'd still rather have butter. I'm trying to learn to eat my baked potato a la Julia Child: with a bit of sea salt and fresh ground pepper. - 7/6/2009   4:00:54 PM
  • SWEETDIGIRL
    123
    last i knew most margarine is a single molecule away from being plastic. I'd really prefer butter (very sparingly, of course). - 7/4/2009   11:24:59 PM
  • 122
    Hey, Strawberry Moon, do you store that whipped butter in the fridge?
    Have you figured out the nutritional facts per tablespoon? - 3/31/2009   9:47:04 AM
  • 121
    I use both, good or bad I love butter. - 3/24/2009   11:19:52 PM
  • ROSSOLILLE
    120
    I prefer smart balance. No trans fats - pleanty of omega fatty acides and no saturated fat. (It's not good for baking though) - 3/14/2009   11:35:08 AM
  • 119
    I rarely use margarines and butter, since I try to avoid empty calories and get my fats from sources like walnuts, avocados, and natural peanut butter instead.
    When I do, I prefer non-hydrogenated margarine, but when the only options are hydrogenated margarine or butter, I choose butter.

    (Animal fats like butter naturally contain trans fats, too. Butter is not trans-fat-free.) - 3/10/2009   4:56:08 PM
  • 118
    The only downside listed is hydrogenated oil in margarine. Well surprise! Not all margarines are made with hydrogenated oils. I really can't think of a downside to margarine's made with non-hydrogenated fats. No cholesterol, and I think they taste great. My favorite brand is Earth Balance (made by the makers of Smart Balance). It tastes wonderful on just about everything. I use it for cooking, baking, spreading, etc. - 3/10/2009   4:54:24 PM
  • 117
    I think I'll stay with my butter in hand thank you~ :)
    I'm pretty sure it's healthier than margarine... hehe
    - 2/17/2009   7:56:35 PM
  • 116
    We use butter for toast, etc, not margerine, and olive oil in cooking and try not to cook in butter....butter is more natural, that's how I usually choose things to use. - 1/19/2009   7:46:43 AM
  • 115
    After reading the various studies that show there is no link between the ingestion of high cholesterol foods and heart disease or cholesterol levels for that matter (cholesterol is controlled by the liver and if you don't eat enough your body produces more to make up the difference and get levels up to normal), I made the decision to stop using margarine and other spreads which contain transfatty acids and now only use butter and olive oil (cold pressed) in cooking.

    Low cholesterol levels have been linked to increased levels of depression and increased levels of aggressive behaviour. The level set by the AHA as being healthy is below this threshold level.

    Give me real butter over something containing even a trace of transfatty acids. I liken it to manure. If I looked over a list of ingredients and it said it now contained 50% less manure over the leading brand, I still wouldn't want to eat it. - 1/11/2009   6:23:54 PM
  • 114
    I must say I disagree with this article advice to choose margarine over butter. trans fatty acids are extremely harmful to a person's health, and it is advisable to avoid them completely. Unfortunately, a margarine may report 0g if it contains 0.5g or less; additionally, all margarines do contain trans fats - there is no question about it. If the product list "hydrogenated" anywhere on it's label, it contains trans fat. Although butter contains cholesterol and more saturated fat, these are not as harmful to one's health as trans fatty acids, although none of these are ideal. It is like choosing the lesser of two evils. I believe the best option would be to brush with olive oil or another liquid vegetable oil to minimize saturated fat and eliminate cholesterol and trans fats. - 1/9/2009   2:33:37 PM
  • 113
    I still have my butter, just a lot less. I use olive oil and canola oil too. - 1/8/2009   12:15:13 PM
  • ANNIEMARIE6
    112
    I have both butter and smart balance in my home. I use the smart balance everyday. My husband needs his butter. I think he needs butter too much. - 12/28/2008   5:20:54 PM

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