Butter vs Margarine

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I am sure you have seen the email go around forwarded to you by friends or co-workers telling you the harms of margarine and some of the benefits of butter.  Where are the scientific sources?   Some of the info is a bit off track and some is right on.  Let me explain each sentence a bit more with scientific data.

Here is the email in black font – my comments in red font.


DO YOU KNOW.. The difference between margarine and butter?  

We are really talking about the stick version of both margarine and butter.  I know we call the tub versions “margarine” but many have changed the ingredients to NOT include partially hydrogenated oils or hydrogenated oils. Many tub versions of margarine are actually are pretty good such as Promise light or Smart Balance spreads – some of my favorites.  But you still have to turn and read the INGREDIENTS (not the label) and see if you see hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oils are listed – if you do see those words find a different brand!  I will tell why later.

Read on to the end…gets very interesting!

  • Both have the same amount of calories.  

Yes – very close about 100 calories per tablespoons, although I have seen some margarine sticks at 80 calories per tbsp.  Butter is 100 calories per tablespoon.

  • Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams; compared to 5 grams for margarine.

Yes, my label of butter at home says 7 grams of saturated fat and 11g total fat. However, look at the trans fat grams.  You will see butter has 0 grams and margarine has 2 grams!

The big difference is margarine contains partially hydrogenated oils which increases the LDL (lowsy) cholesterol and lowers the HDL (healthy) cholesterol. Butter does NOT contain partially hydrogenated oils. It contains saturated fat(found from animal fat) which increases  BOTH LDL (lousy) cholesterol AND HDL(healthy) cholesterol. The key is the effect on HDL or healthy cholesterol between butter and margarine.  Think of HDL’s as little “Pac-mans”  going around and eating up all the bad LDL’s.  The more Pac-mans we have in our body, the better!

  • Eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in other foods.

If you eat butter with some vegetables such as carrots, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, broccoli and others – the bete carotene and other vitamins are absorbed better with the help of a little fat. Now remember butter still has lots of calories per serving!  It would actually be better if you ate some healthier fats such as olive oil with your veggies instead of butter. Butter is high in saturated fat, coming from an animal,  so I would not eat it by the spoonful!

  • Butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few and
    only because they are added!

Not necessarily benefits but very minimal – Butter contains only 8% of vitamin A.  Nothing I would rectify just to eat butter.

  • Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavors of other foods.

Fat does taste good and butter fat made with pasteurized cream and salt – natural ingredients – it doesn’t get any better than that!

  • Butter has been around for centuries where margarine has been around for less than 100 years .

Yes, this is true.

And now, for Margarine..

  • Very High in Trans fatty acids.

Yes! This is true.

  • Triples risk of coronary heart disease .
    Increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol)


The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of trans fats you eat to less than 1 percent of your total daily calories.  That means if you need 2,000 calories a day, no more than 20 of those calories should come from trans fats.  That’s less than 2 grams of trans fats a day.  Given the amount of naturally occurring trans fats you probably eat every day, this leaves virtually no room at all for industrially manufactured trans fats.

* Remember just ONE tablespoon of margarine contains 2 grams of trans fat!!

  • Increases the risk of cancers up to five times..

Haven’t seen the data but if a person has higher risk for heart disease may lead to more cancer.

  • Lowers quality of breast milk.

Never heard of this, hmm . . . but if it is bad for mom why give it to baby?

  • Decreases immune response.

Have not heard this either.

  • Decreases insulin response.

Have not heard this either.

And here’s the most disturbing fact…… HERE IS THE PART THAT IS VERY INTERESTING!

  • Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC… and shares 27 ingredients with PAINT

Really?!  Just a scare tatic if you don’t believe you should not be eating this – check out this website for more info on this email too.  http://www.snopes.com/food/warnings/butter.asp

  • You can try this yourself:
    Purchase a tub of margarine and leave it open in your garage or shaded area. Within a couple of days you will notice a couple of things:
    * no flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it (that should tell you something)

Have not tried this but margarine does not need to be refrigerated and trans fats are helpful to the manufacture because they INCREASE the shelf life – that is why they were added to many processed foods.  In 2006, FDA finally decided it was important to include trans fat on the nutrition facts label.  But we still have to look a bit further at the label – the ingredient listing.  A product can be labeled “trans fat free” if it contains 0.5 grams or less.  Now for a margarine spread, the serving size is very small and therefore every time you eat that serving in it a day, it could easily add up to 2 grams a day!  That is why it is extremely important to look on the ingredient listing for margarine spreads. I have studied ingredient labels for the past four year after trans fat was put on the label and found that Promise and Smart Balance were about the only two that did not contain any partially hydrogenated oil.  Just this past year in 2010, Country Crock, I Can’t Believe Its Not Butter and Brummel and Brown decided they would change their recipe and throw out partially hydrogenated oils (it used to be the THIRD ingredient) in the listing too.


Well hopefully you learned the ins and outs of the fats in butter and margarine.  You may find yourself spending more time in the dairy section in the grocery store.  And yes when I make homemade cookies I use butter (sometime light butter)!

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