Butter vs. Margarine

The battle between butter and margarine has existed since the day margarine hit grocery store shelves. “Butter is full of bad fat that can clog your arteries!” “Margarine helps lower your bad cholesterol!” “Butter is a natural product!” “Margarine is so fake it’s basically just melted plastic!” Who is right here?? Let’s break it down!

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Butter

Butter is made from the cream that separates from the top of whole milk. Once separated, it is churned vigorously until it thickens. Any leftover liquid (buttermilk!) is drained off, salt may be added in, and the butter is cut, wrapped and chilled to become the butter we know!

Pros:

  • Made from only one ingredient (cow’s milk), which means it’s a natural product!
  • Contains all kinds of vitamins and minerals, including keratin, omega-3 fats and vitamins A, D, E and K.
  • No trans-fatty acids (bad heart-fatty acids)
  • Tastes better than margarine!
  • People who can’t tolerate most dairy products can manage butter because it doesn’t contain many of the allergens found in other milk products such as the milk protein (casein) or milk sugar (lactose). I actually didn’t know this! 

Cons:

  • High in saturated fat, which can increase cholesterol levels and increase risk of heart disease. A healthy daily saturated fat intake should be around 10-15g. One tablespoon of butter has 7g of saturated fat!

Margarine

Margarine begins as refined vegetable oil that is chemically-extracted at a high temperature. The oil is then hardened by a process called hydrogenation, where hydrogen is bubbled through the vegetable oil at a high temperature. Sounds appetizing doesn’t it?

Pros:

  • Lower in saturated (bad) fat than butter
  • Lower calorie count than butter. Some margarine companies actually lower calorie counts even further by whipping water or air into the margarine.
  • Added omega-3 fats and plant sterols help protect our arteries and lower cholesterol

Cons:

  • Long-list of unfamiliar ingredients (For example, check out Becel’s Original Margarine ingredient list here. It’s quite a mouthful!)
  • There are some added polyunsaturated (good) fats, but margarine is an otherwise insignificant source of vitamins and minerals.
  • HIGHLY refined

So which one is better?

Well based on the pros and cons, butter certainly seems to be the better choice. However, the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada actually encourages margarine over butter! They follow Canada’s Food Guide which recommends choosing soft margarines that are low in saturated and trans fats and to limit butter, hard margarine, lard and shortening. The American Heart Association also promotes margarine over butter.

Like most things though, you can find all kinds of information to support both sides of the argument. My nutrition-studied perspective says go natural, which means butter is better. However, no matter what you choose I would be wary of overall daily consumption, because I think society greatly overuses butter/margarine. You know, it actually just occurred to me that since going gluten-free I have no need to butter things anymore. Cool! All in all, I’d say the butter vs. margarine debate really comes down to just personal opinion.

So tell me, are you Team Butter or Team Margarine?

One thought

  1. Based on the information you have provided in your posts on butter vs margarine, butter gets our vote. Like you, since having made some dietary changes we use very little butter/margarine but now when a need arises, our choice is unsalted butter!

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