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Butter vs. Margarine

This question has been the source of frustration for those trying to embrace healthier lifestyles. In classical cooking, butter is the finishing polish for meats, soups, stews and sauces. As more people become conscience about their health, is turning to margarine the best option?  Or, has butter become the ultimate condiment? Understanding the pros and cons of butter and margarine can help you make the best dietary decision.




The problem with butter is it contains two cholesterol-raising ingredients; dietary cholesterol and saturated fat.  Dietary cholesterol is found only in animal products. Overall, it is recommended that a healthy person consume no more than 200 milligrams of cholesterol per day.  Butter has 33 milligrams of cholesterol per tablespoon.


Butter’s biggest downside is its saturated fat content.  Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found largely in red meats, and high fat dairy products like creams, coconut and palm oils.  When eaten in excess, saturated fats increase low density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol.  However, studies have proven saturated fats slightly increase the good cholesterol; known as HDL, high density lipoprotein.  However, the increase in HDL isn’t enough to warrant eating for butter for health purposes.


A healthy daily intake of saturated fat is 10-15 milligrams per day. One tablespoon of butter contains 7 grams of saturated fat. With all the consequences of eating butter, how does margarine rate in comparison?




Although margarine has been around for over a century, it has not always been the preferred spread at the table. Margarine is made from vegetable oil so it contains no cholesterol. Margarine is also higher in “good” fats, such as polysaturated and monounsaturated, compared to butter. These types of fat help reduce LDL when substituted for saturated fat.


Even though margarine sounds like a better choice for overall heart health, certain brands have their drawbacks.  Some are worse than butter!  Most margarines are processed using a method called hydrogenation, which adds unhealthy trans-fats to the spread. Like saturated fats, trans-fats cause a rise in blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. In addition, trans fats can lower HDLs.


In general, the more solid the margarine, the more trans-fat the spread contains.  Margarines in tub form are usually the best for heart health. Margarines with a total fat content (including trans-fat) of 3 grams or less are good purchases.  Manufacturers are now required to list saturated and trans-fats separately on food labels.



So, which is better?


For heart health, margarine with less than three grams total of saturated and trans-fats (totaled) is best.  Also, varieties that contain plant extracts are good choices as well.  If you want to continue using butter, always remember moderation.  As mentioned before, one tablespoon of butter is sixteen percent of the average daily allotment of saturated fat.  Educating yourself and others about healthy diets is the key to living and eating healthier.