Butter vs Margarine

by Kent McGroarty
Tuesday Feb 1, 2011

"Which is better for you ... butter or margarine?"

Butter is made from animal fat and therefore contains cholesterol and high amounts of saturated fats.

Margarine is made from vegetable oil, and while it does not contain cholesterol it does contain trans fat, a double dose of bad stuff for your heart.

Ironically, margarine is often touted as the heart-healthy spread choice because of the lack of saturated fats. However, some versions of margarine are worse for your health than butter.

The facts are, neither spread is the best choice for spreading on your bread, muffins, vegetables, etc., and either one should always be used in moderation.

Butter contains a whopping 33 milligrams of cholesterol and 7 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.

Considering healthy intake for saturated fat is 10-15 grams per day, butter is a often a huge contender in raising your saturated fat consumption and therefore harming your heart.

Saturated fat, which is found mainly in animal products including beef and cheeses, greatly increases your levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease.

Butter can also contain remnants of environmental toxins and pesticides. Such compounds generally end up stored in fat, making high fat butter all the more dangerous than low or non-fat selections.

Another concern is the fact that butter contains trace amounts of the hormones and antibiotics administered to farm animals to make them appear fatter and to produce more milk.

Margarine begins its journey to your table as a chemically-extracted, refined vegetable oil.

The oil becomes damaged due to the high heat with which it is extracted, including the destruction of the vitamin E present in the oil. Hydrogenation also results in toxic metals remaining in the finished product.

These toxic ingredients are utilized as hardening agents during production and include nickel, cadmium, and aluminum. The presence of excess nickel in the body can cause kidney disease, lung cancer, and depression. Cadmium is the most toxic of the heavy metals and can contribute to hypertension, malignancy, and arteriosclerosis.

Another health risk of margarine is the possibility of pesticides, chemical additives, and other residue toxins remaining in the oil. This is generally a matter of where the oil was processed.

What type of margarine you use is also important.

Solid, stick margarine generally contains significantly more trans fats than tub and spray versions as they contain a higher concentration of hydrogenated oils. As with saturated fats, trans fats increase the bad cholesterol in your blood and put you at greater risk for heart disease.

Unlike saturated fats, trans fats also lower the amount of good cholesterol in your blood.

Trans fats are a completely unnatural substance that the body cannot break down properly. They are essentially poisonous to critical cellular reactions and wind up in cell membranes, deforming the cell’s protective structure and function.

Normal transportation of minerals and nutrients across the cells is impaired by trans fats, leaving the cells more open to disease and the effects of toxic chemicals. For these reasons health experts deem solid margarine worse for human health than butter.

If you must cook with margarine look for those products with the lowest combined amount of saturated and trans fat.

Also look for a low percentage daily value for cholesterol in the product. While there are some margarine versions that are lower in saturated fat and free of trans fat they are still high in calories.

Butter is arguably the lesser of two evils, but should still be used sparingly.

Look for whipped butter as opposed to stick versions as it provides fewer calories and fat per serving.

Healthier options such as olive and canola oil are always recommended by health experts as they are sources of mono and poly-unsaturated, or "good" fats. Both of these fats can help lower your cholesterol levels when used in lieu of saturated and trans fats. And fortunately, to many people, the healthier choice of butter over margarine is also the better tasting choice!

References and further information:










Kent McGroarty is a freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor to EDGE’S Style, Travel, Health, and Fitness channels. Contact her at kentmcgroarty@yahoo.com.


  • Anonymous, 2011-02-10 07:58:22

    This is a thoughtful article on butter versus margarine, bringing up a number of important points - specifically the health risks of poor and unethical industrial practices that have critically compromised the quality of meat and dairy products and the seriously unethical introduction of hydrogenated/ partially hydrogenated oils in the food supply - which should be banned. I couldn’t agree more. However, the author needs to be clear that organic butter from grass fed cows is a rich source of vital fat-soluble nutrients, like vitamins A, E, K and D and short- and medium-chain fatty acids that are used by the colon as an energy source and are potent antimicrobials and antifungals (butyric and lauric acids respectively). Where organic butter is 50% saturated fat, it is also 18% monounsaturated fat. We need clean sources of naturally-derived saturated fats in order to be healthy - saturated fats allow for optimal absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, notably Omega 3s, Vitamins E, D, A, K, and others. Saturated fat from naturally derived, unprocessed sources is NOT causally linked to cardiovascular disease - regular ingestion of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, excessive consumption of refined oils high in Omega 6 fatty acids (e.g., soybean oil, canola oil), consumption of oxidized cholesterol and oxidized fats, deficiencies of fat soluble vitamins (Vitamin E, C, B6, B12, folic acid, Omega 3s), and deficiencies of magnesium and selenium are strongly linked to heart disease - if you don’t believe me, look it up. For an in-depth understanding of dietary fat, read Dr. Mary Enig’s book, "Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol" (2001). Dr. Enig is a world-renowned PhD researcher in lipids chemistry with 40+ years experience publishing scientific literature on dietary fats and oils. With that said, I do not personally eat much butter because it is hard on my digestion. "Melt" is the only butter substitute I eat - it’s really rich and creamy, organic with a great oil blend, and doesn’t have artificial colors, weird chemicals, or garbage oils. It’s the real deal for great taste and optimal nutrition in dietary fat. You can check them out at www.meltbutteryspread.com.

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