Which is best for you? Butter or margarine. The debate is still raging. Discover the eleven areas of debate below and the winner for each round.
2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the discovery of margaric acid, the ancestor of modern margarine. Most of those 200 years has been a struggle between these two ‘foods’, with the battle now fought between two powerful food lobbies and marketing campaigns.
Recently it looked like margarine was a clear loser. It’s high level of trans fats got it labelled as “just one molecule away from plastic’ with the ability to quickly block your arteries and cause heart attacks and more.
Now though margarine has reinvented itself, decreasing trans fats and adding new healthy ingredients.
Cost was the driving factor behind the development of margarine and for many price conscious consumers it turns out to be significant factor.
100 grams of margarine in Canada Safeway costs 35 to 90 cents depending on the quality.
100 grams of butter starts at 90 cents and goes to $1.50.
In most countries the dairy industry is either regulated or subsidies so consumers pay extra either at the till or in their taxes. In Canada we are lucky to pay both: )
Although this is a more subjective topic, there is no question of the winner.
Even when margarine seemed to be the latest ‘health trend’ most people dug in their heals to stay with butter on this aspect alone. There is something unique about the taste of butter. Many artificial flavorings try to copy it but never totally succeed.
Just the fact that we have phrases like “melt in your mouth like butter” shows its profound attraction.
3. Heart Healthy Saturated Fat Levels
This area was and is margarine’s strongest attempt to look healthier.
Butter has more saturated fats (averaging 50 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams) whereas margarines range from 10 to 35 grams depending on the quality.
Saturated fat for a long time was directly associated with higher incidence of heart disease and other health problems.
It turns out this association may be wrong!
Many studies now can’t find a connection between the two. For example a study published in the March issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that risk of heart disease or stroke were similar between people who consumed the highest and lowest amounts of saturated fat.
Some saturated fats are now known is be extremely healthy for you. Virgin coconut oil for example has been shown to increase the absorption of other good essential fatty acids and even helps you to lose weight. When we test for the best oils for individuals, often coconut oil comes up highly recommended.
If saturation is a concern for you please note that all margarine still has some saturated fat and the cheaper margarines may contain significantly high levels of saturated fat, so you have to read labels carefully.
Winner: Margarine (by a slight margin
4. Vitamins and Minerals
Remember that butter is a major part of milk – the only food a young cow thrives on.
Butter contains an easily absorbable vitamin A, E, K, and D.
Butter has higher levels of selenium, a trace mineral and powerful antioxidant than even garlic. Butter also supplies iodine, needed by the thyroid gland.
5. Cholesterol Content
Margarine contains NO cholesterol while all animal products (butter) contain cholesterol since the body creates its own cholesterol for essential functioning. Too high levels of blood cholesterol is associated with heart disease so major health associations warm against consuming over 300 mg./day.
Many researchers and nutritionalists maintain that blood cholesterol is dependent not on dietary cholesterol levels but how much we produce. They also point out that dietary cholesterol is necessary for intestinal health and that human breast milk is high in cholesterol.
6. Essential Fatty Acids
Butter has small, but equal, amounts of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. This for most people is a much healthier ratio than what we normally consume.
Margarine has started adding omega 3 fatty acids to its higher priced brands. Caution: The inexpensive margarine that most people buy does NOT have these healthy additives.
7. Trans Fat Content
Margarine originally created it’s ‘hardness’ with it’s unsaturated oils by a hydrogenation process that fills up certain molecular bonds. This caused high levels of trans fats. Modern nutrition has now discovered that these artificial fats with their unnatural bonds have very strong negative consequences. So much so that manufacturers are required by law to declare the amount of trans fats on their labeling.
These health risks include:
- Triples risk of coronary heart disease …
- Increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol)
- Increases the risk of cancers up to five times..
- Lowers quality of breast milk
- Decreases immune response.
- Decreases insulin response.
Some margarines are now ‘hardened’ with different methods. Again, this is with the more expensive brands.
8. Specialized Fatty Acids
Butter contains a number of health giving fatty acids:
- Butyric acid- anti-carcinogen used by colon as energy source
- Lauric acid – potent antimicrobial and antifungal
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – prevention against cancer. (higest in grass fed cows)
- Glycospingolipids –protect against gastrointestinal infections, especially in the very young and the elderly.
9. Dairy Allergies and Sensitivities
IF you have a strong sensitivity to dairy products butter MAY be a problem.
Butter has small amounts of milk proteins which some may be allergic to and it also contains small amounts of lactose. Cultured or fermented butter has less but still has traces.
10. Level of Processing and Naturalness
Butter has been a staple for many cultures and is created with minimal processing while margarine is a new ‘product’ which keeps reinventing itself based on popular nutritional beliefs.
For many people the naturalness of butter is a deal breaker which is more important than any new research or nutritional orientation that might emerge.
Comparing butter to margarine for them is like comparing honey to refined white sugar or a gourmet home made feast to a drive though at MacDonald’s.
Margarine has succeeded in avoiding the huge negative publicity it gained from trans fats but how do we know that some new health factor related to its processing will not emerge that is just as unhealthy or even more so?
Even if the better margarines are not subjected to the same high heat process of hydrogenation, the oils that go into margarine have already been subjected to high heat and processing.
Butter is not one of the foods you MUST eat organic but it is a good idea. You can also find organic margarine although it is much harder to find. Most better margarine is made with canola oil which is GMO.
Although margarine has made great improvements, it has not yet proved itself safe over time.
The ‘healthy’ margarine cost is now reaching and sometimes exceeding butter.
There are some specially margarines available in health food stores that are made with very high quality ingredients. They are very expensive and perhaps should not be categorized as margarine.
Some people also just can’t stand the taste. Perhaps that is an indication of its true value?
Personally, I don’t have problems with dairy but even if I did, I would not use margarine.
What about you?
Other Healthy Oils
Ghee is butter that has been heated at low temperatures until all the solids (proteins and sugars) are separated out.
For many people this will eliminate the dairy sensitivity.
- Ghee has been used within the Ayurvedic health system for thousands of years for its curative properties.
- Ghee thus has all of the benefits of butter without many of its problems and it tastes wonderful!
- I consider it a powerfood that should be in your kitchen.
- It is my personal favorite over butter.
Coconut butter is a saturated oil with many health benefits including:
- Lowers cholesterol
- Causes weight loss.
- Has anti-cancer effects.
Because it lends a sweet taste it is great for many baking situations.
Cold pressed, first press olive oil is another healthy oil that has been used for centuries with known health benefits including cancer prevention, reducing inflammation and cholesterol and stabilizing blood sugar levels.
- Ideal for salads.
Sesame oil is one of the oldest condiments known to man. Read it’s 17 Health Benefits.
What is YOUR favorite oil?
19 thoughts on “Margarine vs Butter – Which is Better?”
This is SO Timely……..I,too, have been conflicted about this subject–and even tho I have used “ICBINB”….light and saving butter for special occasions, it wasn’t until my niece actually
woke me up when she reminded me that “Margarine is only 1 molecule away from PLASTIC”…..YES, EVEN the afore mentioned “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter-LIGHT!!”…….So I moved into buying “Spreadable” Butter……..and loved that it was made from 3 simple ingredients-butter,canola oil, and salt.. so after a little while, I decided to have complete control over the salt level by attempting to make my OWN….Well my life has changed….I take organic chilled SWEET butter (1/2 lb.) and about 1/3 cup canola oil and use my immersion stick blender till
smooth…..then add my sea salt and switch to a covered glass container and chill for awhile—-WHOA……I am forever empowered……I have also made with Olive oil and have a wonderful healthy new staple! It spreads beautifully, and since a little bit goes a long way, I am totally satisfied and going back to the basics, works-for-me!
****PS…….I forgot to mention that the bowl you use to mix MUST BE CHILLED…..I put in my freezer for 1/2 hour prior! (makes ALL the difference)…..
I prefer Butter over Magarine. I also use Ghee,Coconut and Olive Oil.
Magarine we call that at Home “Fake Butter” is not healthy
I think it is very easy to find the winner : organic butter is natural food and margarine has been processed. There is no benefit to eat processed food. We need “living” food!
Put some butter in a dish, put some margarine in a dish, put both out where the birds can get at them. The results will prove to you that margarine is not food. As posted by Hazelgreen Marg is almost a plastic. Why would you eat plastic when you can eat health foods like coconut and olive oil.?
Thank you Hazel, Barbara, Johanne, and Stella.
Your views and information are much appreciated.
When I wrote this article it was hard NOT turning it into a rant against typical margarine.
I’m happy you are all butter lovers.
I want to start using organic butter & thought if I could buy organic cream, I could make my own. I don’t know how hard it is to do, mind you, but since we are now buying organic milk & half n half, it only makes sense. I like Hazel’s idea of a spread made with butter, but would use extra virgin olive, not canola ( not a healthy choice ). That way, we would get the benefits of good butter & olive oil blend. Thanks for the info!
OK GUYS….so we ALL vote for butter!…..I have also created a spread by combining coconut
oil and sweet butter—used it in baking…..WOWIE! So I have tried combining sweet butter with 3 different oils—Canola, EVOlive Oil, and Coconut………….SO FAR…..:)…..Thanks again,Randy for a most interesting subject……Here’s to everyone’s good health!
I am not sure, but I’m leaning towards Butter.
I vote for butter, but I have just recently started using coconut oil to cook with, and I love it! My friend uses a coconut spread instead of butter, and that also tastes wonderful!
That settled it, Margarine is out!
I’ve been using using half coconut oil & half butter for baking, instead of strictly butter. I recently got organic to use, but I haven’t tried it. I wouldn’t want a coconut flavor in everything I make, so I guess the “Louana” brand would ok too.
AS many people are expressing, we prefer butter, or coconut oil or ghee. It’s good to have variety – both for your taste buds AND your body.
I have been living in Mexico for approximately 3 months and have used only coconut oil for cooking..can’t do any baking as I have no oven. As long as one doesn’t overheat the oil int maintains it’s health properties. No olive oil or any other vegetable oil while I am here. I am very happy to be able to use locally sourced organic coconut oil, also as a lovely skin cream and hair conditioner- just a bit of this goes a long way to keep my hair looking nice.
When I return to Canada I will try the butter and coconut oil combination for baking, it sounds like just the thing! My pies made with just coconut oil did not work out too well so am looking forward to trying this out.
s/b “it”, not “int”
Long ago I did for a time try margarine, from the health food store, but found it unsatisfactory in the taste category. These days I use sweet butter, extra virgin, first press, olive oil, coconut oil and for frying, grape seed oil that is extra virgin and organic. Because I like variety in my diet, I like a selection of mouth tastes, which these all provide. I guess, if I had to pick one for cooking, it would be butter, but it doesn’t go well in salads!
I like the idea of making a spread that is healthy and good tasting, so I may try to combine a couple and see what happens.
Oh yes, I also make ghee, which is like getting the very best of the butter taste, along with all the other goodies that come from using it. I primarily make all my East Indian food with ghee or oil, as recommended.
Mr Fritz, quite well argued, at least in trying to straddle the claims of both worlds. Indeed, our food world is changing, again. Dr Atkins is more popular than ever, vegans and vegetarians haven’t changed, ketogenic and paleo have entered the common lexicon, and I continue to eat only what seems to come from the land, as unadulterated as possible.
I am so old fashioned that I make my own lard, collect for free discarded beef fat from my friendly butchers at the SuperStore, use butter in my coffee and continue on with the ketogenic diet I have practiced for nearly fifteen years. Health wise, I am very fortunate but truly, fortune as little to do with it. Common sense with study is my key. I spend moderate amounts on food as the foods I eat are not heavily processed and full of filler. It can be done.
I find it pleasing that butter now outsells margarine in many European countries, for the first time in many decades. I believe Canada and the US are following this trend.
I honestly cannot see one positive health aspect to frankenfoods such as margarine. Virgin coconut oil is the only healthy alternative, I suspect, for those who have allergies to dairy or have political or personal reasons for not eating animal products.
The trick I discovered early in life was to experiment, using my body as my personal laboratory and following the experiments up with medical tests suggested by my good doctor. However, commercial (& govt & medical) pressures (lies, ignorance and propaganda) are the bugaboos that took the most time for me to slay. Now I am a warrior against anything adulterated and processed for such process is the witch I refuse to greet without a sneer. Margarine wears the tallest hat in this sphere.
Namaste and care,
NB. Re Extra virgin olive oil. To me, it is processed. It stinks and I suspect often rancid.
WOW! Thank you for that very complete and insightful comment. I have to say I am in agreement with all of your sediments. I particularly like the idea of using your body as a laboratory. when we first start out to eat better we have to use outside information as guidelines but once we create enough balance in the system we can and should use our own body to k now what is good for us.