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Butter vs. Margarine: Which is Better?

By Amber Charles, MSPH, RDN

February 15, 2021

Have you ever stood in the dairy aisle of the grocery store and deliberated about which of these spreads to purchase, but you weren't sure what is the difference?

Or maybe you’ve been told to replace butter with margarine because it is healthier.

Put your worries aside, it is heart health month and in this blog you will learn about the the similarities and differences between butter and margarine to help you make an informed decision at your next grocery haul!

PS: margarine may not be as healthy as you think.

In this blog:

  • Butter and Margarine: What you need to know

  • The Major Difference

  • Replace Fat with Fat

  • What can I use instead of butter or margarine?

  • Takeaway

Picture: Wix/stock image

Butter and Margarine: What You need to Know

While butter and margarine are both 80% fat, the basic difference is that butter is made from cow's milk (dairy) and margarine is made from vegetable oils.

Butter is naturally high in saturated fat - the 'unhealthy' kind of fat that has been the subject of controversial findings related to heart disease and the risk of cancer (1,2).

On the other hand, margarine is rich in un saturated fats - the 'good' kind of fats that are associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease (1).

At the surface, choosing margarine seems like the obvious healthy choice...right?

Not necessarily.

The Major Difference

Although butter is demonized for being high in saturated fats, in some cases it is actually the less processed of the two.

Vegetable oils - the stuff margarine is made from - are naturally liquid at room temperature.

To make these oils a solid imitation of butter, they undergo quite a lot of processing, namely, partial hydrogenation, a technique that become popular in the early 1900s as vegetable fats replaced animal fats (1,3).

A by-product of hydrogenation is trans-fat - the type of fat that exerts twice the deleterious effects as saturated fats and death by heart disease! (1,3) (ouch).