Both margarine and butter have the same number of calories and fat grams. Butter is a good source of vitamin A and margarine is a good source of vitamin E. Margarine may add unhealthy trans-fats to the diet, while butter adds saturated fats, which have been associated with an increased heart disease risk. Some margarines have been created without trans-fats and may be healthier than either regular margarine or butter.

Margarine is made from vegetable oils, so it contains no cholesterol. Margarine is also higher in “good” fats – polyunsaturated and monounsaturated – than butter is. These types of fat 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 cholesterol and high levels of saturated fat.

But not all margarines are created equal – and some may even be worse than butter. Most margarines are processed using a method called hydrogenation, which adds unhealthy trans fats. In general, the more solid the margarine, the more trans fats it contains – so stick margarines usually have more trans fats than do tub margarines. Like saturated fats, trans fats increase blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. In addition, trans fats can lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol levels.

When choosing a margarine, try to find one with the lowest trans fat content possible and less than 3 grams total of saturated plus trans fats. Manufacturers are now required to list saturated and trans fats separately on food labels.

There are also spreads – such as Benecol and Take Control – that contain phytosterols, natural plant compounds that have been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 6 percent to 15 percent when eaten in recommended amounts.


Butter, which is an animal product, is high in both artery-clogging saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, increasing our risk of heart disease and stroke. There is also some concern about butter containing traces of hormones and antibiotics fed to animals. On the plus side, butter is a good source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.


Margarine is made from vegetable oil, is low in saturated fat and has no dietary cholesterol. But because the liquid vegetable oil in stick margarine is hardened through a process called hydrogenation, it is high in trans-fatty acids.

Trans fatty acids, or trans fat, are thought not only to raise levels of bad cholesterol, but also to lower levels of good cholesterol, the kind that offers a defense against artery-clogging fats. This makes trans fats worse than saturated fat.


The problem with butter is that it contains two cholesterol-raising ingredients: dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. Dietary cholesterol is found only in animal products so you won’t find any cholesterol in a plant-based food or food product (such as margarine). Some of us are more affected by cholesterol in the diet than others, meaning some people can consume a diet high in cholesterol without blood cholesterol levels being affected; but others need only eat a little dietary cholesterol and their cholesterol levels soar. Overall, it is recommended that healthy persons consume no more than 200 milligrams cholesterol each day. Butter has 33 milligrams of cholesterol in one tablespoon alone!Cholesterol aside, butter’s biggest trouble is its saturated fat content. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found largely in red meat, high-fat dairy products (like butter) as well as coconut and palm oils. When eaten in excess, saturated fats increase the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) as well as the “good” cholesterol (HDL). Despite the fact that saturated fats raise good cholesterol, they don’t raise it enough for us to warrant you eating it. Saturated fat intakes are associated with increases in heart-disease risk. A healthy range of saturated fat is 10-15 grams each day. Just one tablespoon of butter contains over 7 grams of saturated fat!

Margarine is by no means void of artery clogging fat. The controversy with margarine lies with its level of trans fat, largely a man-made fat. Trans fats are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils, making the oil more solid and less likely to spoil. This process is called hydrogenation or partial hydrogenation and allows stick margarine to be firm at room temperature. Trans fats have been shown to increase the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) similarly to saturated fats, and they tend to lower the “healthy” (HDL) cholesterol when eaten in large amounts. What’s more – trans fats may make our blood platelets stickier. While no standard intakes of trans fat have been set, one tablespoon of stick margarine packs a whopping 3 grams of trans fat and 2 grams saturated fat.

But a little margarine “know-how” will help you reduce the amount of trans fat you eat. The more solid a margarine is at room temperature, the more trans fat it contains. For example, stick margarine contains the most trans fat, 3 grams in one tablespoon. Switch to tub or liquid margarine and you’ve cut that by almost 2/3, from 1-2 grams trans fat. And the good news is margarine manufacturers are now cutting their trans fat levels even further, to less than 0.5 grams per serving! This low level is allowed to carry the claim “trans fat free or zero-trans fat”. How do they do it? They switched their first ingredient from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil to water or liquid vegetable oil. It’s best to keep the total trans fat as close to zero as possible and saturated fat under 2 grams per serving.


The main problem with light spreads and tub margarines is their unsuitablility for cooking and baking. Because they contain only about 25% fat compared with at least 80% in butter and margarine, they would ruin most recipes. For cooking, choose heart-healthy canola or olive oil instead. Better still, if you can use cooking sprays or broth you will save additional fat calories.

Sources: Health Castle, Low Fat Cooking

No related content found.