There have never been more butter and margarine options. But do you really know the difference between them? Or which one is the best health choice in diet?

Butter and margarine taste a lot alike, and are very similar nutritionally and in calorie. Both contain about 100 calories in each tablespoon. Since so many versions of regular butter and margarine are available, it’s often difficult to determine which the best option is.

The butter vs margarine debate

Butter is a dairy product made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk mammals, including cows, sheep, goats, buffalo and yaks, to separate the butterfat from the buttermilk. Typically, the color of the butter is pale yellow, but can range from white to deep yellow, depending on the animal’s diet.

Once you’ve tasted really good butter, it’ like a light has come on. Good-quality butter tastes amazing.

According to Harvard University, butter is rich in saturated fats can drive up total cholesterol, harmful LDL cholesterol, and leads to blockage of arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body. For that reason, most nutrition experts and dietitians recommend limiting foods contain saturated fat.

As butter is an animal fat, it contains cholesterol and is higher in saturated fat than margarine and it can raise your cholesterol, increase your chance of heart disease. Therefore, replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat may indeed reduce risk of heart disease.

Types of butter

Unsalted butter (sweet cream butter): Made from only milk or cream and contains at least 80 percent milk fat. It can be seen in every cooking job, from baking to sautéing.

Salted butter: It is an original butter with the addition of salt. It is used for buttering bread.

Organic butter: Comes from cattle raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and given 100% organic feed grown without toxic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. It is available unsalted and salted. It is better to opt for unsalted butter.

butter vs margarine_2Whipped butter: This variety has air or some other gas, such as nitrogen, added to it to make it less dense than standard butter. Therefore, it has about half of calories per tablespoon and a lighter texture. Best for spreading on toast and finishing dishes, but it is not recommended for baking or cooking.

European-style butter: It is loaded with extra milk fat and has less moisture than standard butter. It can be used for all cooking tasks.

Spreadable butter: A combination of regular butter and vegetable oil. It is not recommended for baking or cooking.

Light butter: This option has half the calories of standard butter because it contains less milk fat. The rest is made up of water, lactic acid, and other fillers. It is low in calories. It is not recommended for baking or cooking.

Butter like spread (Vegetable-oil blends): This contains about 5% to no butter and it is made substantially from a blend of vegetable oils (canola oil, olive oil). Its benefits include, less saturated fat, and trace amount of cholesterol. But it is not low in calories. It is not recommended for baking or cooking.


Modern margarine is a non-dairy product that made mainly from refined vegetable oil, water, salt, emulsifiers and sometimes milk, and used as a substitute for butter. Different brands can have variations so reading the label before buying is important.

Similar to butter, Margarine has a minimum fat content of 80%.

While butter and margarine are used for many of the same purposes like cooking, baking and spreading and commonly used as an ingredient in many food products, like pastries and cookies, they are very different in types of fats contain.

The difference in fat content

Since margarine is produced from vegetable oil, unlike butter, it lacks the cholesterol and saturated fat, and has a higher percentage of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

It may however contain the worst fat – trans-fat

The Harvard School of Public Health indicates that trans-fat, even in small amounts, can increase the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduce the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol.

It also increases risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Types of margarine

Traditional stick margarine: It’s the least healthy version of all margarines because it’s highest in trans- fat and partially hydrogenated oils. It can use for spreading, melting, baking and sautéing.

butter vs margarine_3Regular tub margarines/spreads: Contain about 70% vegetable oil and many are now labeled as trans-fat-free, though they may still contain some partially hydrogenated oil. Several tub margarines now have added calcium which provides 10% of the daily value recommendation that can be helpful to calcium boost. It is good for spreading, melting, sautéing. But, you should not use in baking.

Light, low-fat and fat-free spreads: These contain from 0-40% vegetable oil and according to College of Human Environmental Sciences in University of Missouri these are most healthy choices and include a large quantity of water, which greatly affects potential use. It can be used in spreading. Do not use for baking.

Plant stanol and sterol ester spreads: These spreads include plant sterols and stanols that are proven to lower blood cholesterol, which can quickly add calories to your diet. It is good for spreading. Don’t use for baking.

These are not recommended for children, pregnant women, and people who do not have high cholesterol.

Spray/pump products: These are extremely low in saturated and trans fats. It is very good for topping and sautéing.

Tips for choosing the healthiest margarine/spread/butter

Use olive or canola oil instead of butter or margarine for cooking and baking. The American Heart Association suggests buying light, soft, trans-fat-free spreads and yogurt butters instead of regular butter or stick margarine.

To cut calories choose lower-calorie light butter, light margarine, or yogurt butter. Scan the ingredient list for partially hydrogenated oil.

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