Blog Banner

Mission: Nutrition

Providing the most up-to-date information on health and nutrition is my mission!

The Bitter Butter versus Margarine Battle

Happy Holidays! Other than all the snow and cold weather that goes along with the holiday season, one of my favorite activities is holiday baking for family and friends. One question I've been asked on several occasions is which is better margarine or butter?

What's the Difference?

Butter comes from an animal source, and in the United States and Canada consists of 80% milk fat with the rest being milk solids and water. Unsalted or sweet butter has a sweeter and fresher taste, but is more perishable. Margarine is a man-made product derived from a plant source, thus contains no cholesterol. Similar to butter, margarine has 80% fat; with low fat or diet margarine containing more water and less fat. Flavors of margarine vary from product to product. Both margarine and butter contain the fat staple of 9 calories per gram.

Let's Talk about Fats

First, it is important to understand the differences in fats. Foods that contain high amounts of saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature. A diet high in saturated fat has been linked to chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease. Saturated fats raise low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) or the "lousy" fats that increase the risk of heart disease. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend less than 10% of calories come from saturated fat. Butter typically contains a higher amount of saturated fat compared to margarine.

The American Heart Association recommends most of the fat consumed come from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Poly- and monounsaturated fats assist in reducing LDL levels in the bloodstream and can provide essential fatty acids that the body can't make, such as omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats not only reduce LDLs but they also raise the high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) or the "healthy" cholesterol.

When comparing butter with margarine, margarine contain more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and less saturated fat.



1 Tablespoon Butter: 7 grams saturated fat plus 0.5 grams trans fat

1 Tablespoon Margarine: 2 grams saturated fat plus 2 to 3 grams trans fat

* Duyff, Roberta Larson. American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide . New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

Not all margarines are equal. Remember to read the nutrition label. Margarine can contain trans fat. Trans fats are formed when vegetable oil has hydrogen added to the oil (hydrogenation) to increase shelf life. Like saturated fats, trans fats cause an increase in LDL levels and decrease HDL levels ("healthy" cholesterol).

If unsure if the product has trans fats, look at the ingredient label. If the ingredient label has "partially hydrogenated oil" listed that's a sure fire indicator trans fats are present. Also options that say "trans fat free" still can contain 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Stick margarine typically has more trans fats than tub margarine.

Decisions, Decisions

When in the grocery store, there are a few things remember when deciding between butter and margarine:

  • Aim for spreads without trans fats
  • Look for the spreads with the least amount of saturated fats present
  • Try to find a product with a low daily percentage of cholesterol

When baking instead of using margarine or butter, try using a healthy substitute like a fruit puree, for example applesauce or pureed plums.

Skip the Margarine & the Butter

Another option when attempting to lower the amounts of saturated fat in the diet is to use other oils. Like previously mentioned, fats that are hard at room temperature have a higher amount of trans/saturated fat compared to unsaturated fats that remain liquid. Below is a table of options for different types of oils when cooking provided by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:


Cooking Use

Canola Oil

Works well for sautéing and stir frying and can replace margarine and butter when cooking and baking.

Olive Oil

A good replacement for butter. Olive oil has a lower smoking point, so when making a stir fry or sautéing, food will brown faster.

Sesame Oil

Has a strong nutty flavor and great in Asian and Thai cuisine

Flaxseed Oil

Does not have a high smoking point, so not ideal for cooking but works as a salad dressing or other options that do not require high amounts of heat

Grapeseed Oil

Has a higher smoking point, so works well for frying and sautéing.

Peanut Oil

Has a nuttier flavor, and can reach high temperatures. It is often used in dressings and stir fry.

Walnut Oil

Walnut oil, like peanut oil, has a stronger and nuttier flavor. It does not have a high smoking point and is best used in dressings and flavor enhancers.

Want to learn more about lowering fat in the diet and living a heart healthy lifestyle? Be watching for "Meals for a Healthy Heart" series offered in the New Year! Each session will cover information on following a heart healthy diet, easy exercises, and participants will receive recipes, watch cooking demonstrations and get to taste foods to meet dietary needs. Watch for times and dates on our main page:


"All about Oils" Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Accessed 04 Dec. 2014.

Duyff, Roberta Larson. American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide . New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt , 2012.

Gisslen, Wayne. Professional Cooking. New York: Wiley, 1999. Print.

Nelson, Jennifer K. "Nutrition and Healthy Eating."Butter vs. Margarine: Which Is Better for My Heart? Mayo Clinic, Accessed 03 Dec. 2014.

"Polyunsaturated Fats." American Heart Association, Accessed. 04 Dec. 2014.

"Saturated Fat." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Accessed 05 Dec. 2014.

Please share this article with your friends!
Share on Facebook Tweet on Twitter Pin on Pinterest