When It Comes To Your Heart, Is It Margarine or Butter?

Should you eat butter or margarine? What are the real facts about each? There is lots of back and forth discussion on the drawbacks and benefits of different types of spreads. Here are the facts about eating heart healthy spreads.

Oils, such as butter or margarine, contain various types of fats. The common fats found in oils are polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, trans fats, and saturated fats.

  • Polyunsaturated fats can help your heart by reducing the amount of bad cholesterol in your body.

  • Monounsaturated fats also can help your heart by reducing the amount of bad cholesterol in your body.

  • Trans fats lower your good cholesterol levels and raise your bad cholesterol levels. Trans fats are formed when liquid oils are turned into solid fats. They increase your risk for heart disease.

  • Saturated fats raise the levels of bad cholesterol in your body, increasing your risk for heart disease.

While polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats can help your heart, they should both be eaten in moderation.

Margarine Nutrition

Margarine was developed in 1869 as a substitute for butter. It was intended to be a low-cost alternative for those who couldn’t afford butter. Margarine was originally made from animal fats, but now it is mostly made from vegetable oils. There have been many debates over whether margarine is healthy or not. The truth is margarines are not all created the same. Different types of margarines have different fat contents and nutritional facts.

Some margarines contain high levels of trans fat and saturated fats, while other margarines contain half the amount of trans fat and saturated fats of others. There are differences between margarine and light margarine, as well as tub margarine and stick margarine.

Margarine sticks are the worst kind of margarine for your heart. This is because most margarine sticks contain trans fats and saturated fats. One serving (1 tbsp.) of stick margarine contains 3 grams of trans fat and 2 grams of saturated fat.

Margarine from tubs is a better option than sticks of margarine because many tub margarine varieties contain 0 grams of trans fat. Trans fat is used to make margarine more solid. Sticks of margarine are more solid than tubs of margarine. Tub margarine contains 0 grams of trans fat per serving (1 tbsp.). It contains 3 grams of saturated fat, one more gram per serving than margarine sticks. 

Light margarine found in tubs is an even better option. Light tub margarine does not usually contain trans fat. It also contains less saturated fat than regular tub margarine. If you prefer margarine sticks over tubs of margarine, look for sticks of margarine with 0 grams of trans fat

Butter Nutrition

Butter has been a long time favorite of people for many years. Butter is made by churning fresh milk or cream. Similar to margarine, stick butter and tub butter contain different amounts of fat. Stick butter is very dense. A serving size (1 tbsp.) contains about 7 grams of saturated fat, however it does not contain any trans fat.

Butter found in a tub is less dense, especially if the butter has been whipped. A serving size (1 tbsp.) of tub butter has around 4 grams of saturated fat. This is a healthier alternative to stick butter because it has about half the amount of saturated fat.

Different brands of margarine and butter may have different nutritional facts.

Margarine vs. Butter

Tub margarine without trans fat is the healthiest alternative in the debate between margarine and butter. However, it is important to look at the nutritional facts. Look for options that have 0 grams of trans fat and the least grams of saturated fat. Eat all fats in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 16 grams of saturated fats and no more than 2 grams of trans fats per day.

Substitutes for Margarine and Butter

There are several substitutes for margarine and butter. To avoid margarine or butter while eating bread, consider dipping your bread in olive oil. When cooking, butter or margarine can be replaced with applesauce, avocado, olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, or Greek yogurt.

The discussion between margarine and butter will continue. Regardless of which you decide to eat, read the nutritional labels and eat it in moderation. Follow the American Heart Association’s guidelines for daily recommended amounts of saturated fats and trans fats to maintain a healthy heart. For more questions related to your heart health, talk with our cardiovascular disease experts in our Heart Care and Vascular Services department.


This article was originally published on Oct. 29, 2014.
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