Butter or Margarine. Which is the healthier option?

Understand the nutritional difference between butter and margarine to make the best choice for you.

Butter or margarine? Is one really better for us than the other? This topic has received a lot of attention, yet there still doesn’t seem to be a clear answer. There are pros and cons to each, but what it comes down to is comparing the nutrition facts of each spread product and your own dietary needs.

Butter and margarine are condiments that are used for cooking, baking, and spreading. They are similar in look, taste, and calorie count, however, the differences can be found in the ingredient lists. An article published by Mayo Clinic describes the makeup of both spreads. Butter is natural and made from milk or cream. Margarine is a butter like spread that is made of vegetable oils, preservatives, and artificial flavors and colors. It may seem like the obvious choice to choose the natural product over its processed counterpart, however, there are benefits and drawbacks to each spread.

MyPlate explains the difference in “good” fats, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and “bad” fats, saturated and trans-fats, in these two spreads. Butter contains more saturated fat because it is made from animal fat. Margarine contains more of the “good” fats because it is primarily made from vegetable oils, however, some margarine products contain more trans-fat in order to keep the consistency more firm. Both spreads are good sources of vitamins such as vitamin A and D, but butter contains these vitamins naturally while margarine is fortified with the vitamins to reach the same levels as butter.  

In summary, while butter contains more of the “bad” fats, it is a natural spread typically with little to no additives. Margarine, on the other hand, contains more of the “good” fats, but contains artificial preservatives and colorings.  When choosing a spread, always read the nutrition facts and look for products that have the least amount of saturated fat and preferably no trans-fat. Most importantly with whatever spread product you choose to use, use it in moderation. Michigan State University Extension recommends that you always check with your health care provider to determine what the best option is for you.

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