Butter vs Margarine

Maine SNAP-Ed encourages everyone to follow the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations; limit saturated fat (<10 % of total calories) and trans fats (as low of intake as possible). Since butter is high in saturated fat, and solid margarines often contain artificial trans fats from hydrogenated oils, use moderation with either spread.

Here are a few tips on how to limit your saturated fat:

  • Look for a spread without trans fats and that has the least amount of saturated fat. When comparing spreads, be sure to read the Nutrition Facts panel and check the grams of saturated fat (2 grams or less) and trans fat (0 grams). Even margarines advertised as “0 grams trans fat” may contain up to 0.5 grams. The key word to look for on the ingredients list is “hydrogenated” which means the product contains trans fats.
  • Limit the amount you use to minimize calories. For heart health, try lightly brushing your bread or toast with olive oil.
  • If you have a high cholesterol level or a family history of heart disease, check with your doctor about using spreads that are fortified with plant stanols and sterols, such as Benecol and Promise Activ. These may help reduce cholesterol levels.

Background Information

We all know butter is creamy and spreadable. It is also an animal product, which means it has saturated fats that can clog arteries. Margarine, made from plant-based fats and oils, is marketed as heart-healthier. However, not all margarines are created equal.

Since margarine is made from vegetable oils, it contains unsaturated “good” fats — polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These types of fats help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol when substituted for saturated fat.

Butter, on the other hand, is made from animal fat, so it contains more saturated fat.

Some margarines contains trans fat. In general, the more solid the margarine, the more trans fat it contains. So stick margarines usually have more trans fat than tub margarines do.

Trans fat, like saturated fat, increases blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. In addition, trans fat lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol levels. So skip the stick and opt for soft or liquid margarine instead.