Butter Vs. Margarine: Which is Healthier

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

The butter vs. margarine debate seems like a never-ending discussion. It does not stop at which one is superior, or simply healthier, but also how each one can be made better.

Butter Vs. Margarine

The two products, albeit coming from different sources, are usually used as substitutes for each other. Thus, the butter vs. margarine debate assumes more significance, without a definite win in sight. However, it is always possible to make an informed, conscious choice on the basis of the differences between the two.

Which is Healthier?

While butter is notorious being mainly composed of fats, that is no reason to completely eliminate it from the diet. Butter is the fat content of milk, traditionally separated from it through the churning of sour milk. While cow’s milk is usually used for the process, other varieties could also be used. ‘Entirely fats’ might sound like a cause for concern, but don’t throw it out already. [1] [2]

Pictures showing a block of butter and a tub of margarine

Butter or Margarine: make an informed choice. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The origins of margarine, also known as oleomargarine or simply as oleo, lie in beef fat. It is now also made from plant sources or occasionally from animal fats or both, along with some other additives. Being one of the closest substitutes for butter, margarine can be used as easily for all the purposes served by butter such as baking, frying, poaching, or as a spread. The use is best decided by the composition of the margarine available. [3]

Almost all varieties of margarine are prepared by the process of hydrogenation. This makes it rich in trans fats. These fats can have adverse effects on cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, and even increase the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as coronary heart disease. Butter is composed of saturated fats, which are said to be the ‘good’ variety, especially when compared to the unsaturated kind that is found in margarine. [4]

However, the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health sums up the moderate inclusion of butter in the diet as being neutral. Overall, discretion and moderation are essential in planning your diet to make it healthier. [5]

Which is Better: Butter vs. Margarine

One of the first few parameters of judging the butter vs margarine debate is the fat content. It is generally assumed that butter is fattier, but margarine has a significant fat composition, too. The trans fats and unsaturated fats in margarine are said to be comparatively more harmful to the heart and the overall health, as compared to the saturated fats in butter.

On the other hand, butter contains trace amounts of lactose whereas margarine can be sourced from plant derivates alone. So, if lactose intolerance is a concern, or you are looking for vegan options, carefully picking your margarine variety could be a helpful option.

Nonetheless, the key is to not overdo either of them. You can make a choice between the two, but neither of the options allows you to overdo it.

Options for Butter and Margarine

Butter, margarine, or any other fats, can cause significant harm when consumed in excess. Since the butter vs. margarine debate is not one with an obvious conclusion, it is advisable to switch to the variety of options available for these two every once in a while.

  • Ghee: It is clarified butter which is essentially devoid of the milk part of butter. While it is primarily substitutable for frying and cooking purposes, it can also be used as a topping or a spread.
  • Nut butter: Based on their primary ingredient, they come in a variety of flavors and can also be made at home. They are best used as a spread or even had standalone as a snack, or a dip.
  • Olive oil: Can be used as a base to prepare dips and spreads with herbs.
  • Coconut oil: While it gives a much different flavor, it could be a refreshing change for some dishes when used for frying.
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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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