It’s an ongoing debate that has been going on for years. These two ingredients are often used interchangeably but are essentially quite different. Let’s compare the two.
What is Butter?
Butter is a dairy product, a fat made from churned cream. Most times, these come from cow’s milk but there are other types of butter out there that are made from the milk of other animals such as sheep and buffaloes. The butter you buy from stores are at least 80% fat, the remaining percentage consists of water and milk proteins.
What is Margarine?
Margarine, unlike butter, is made from water, salt, oil and other ingredients such as emulsifiers. Margarine was initially created in the 1800s as a cheaper substitute for butter. It usually does not contain any diary/animal products, as such it tends to be a butter-alternative that vegans or people with certain dietary requirements go for. Still, it is always important to check the ingredients list as not every brand of margarine is vegan.
When comparing butter and margarine, butter mostly contains saturated fat and is also high in cholesterol. Both of which are not found in margarine. Margarine contains more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (classified under good fats) but they tend to contain trans fat (classified under very bad fats). The thing about trans fat is that it increases low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – also known as “bad cholesterol”, and decreases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – also known as “good cholesterol”.
Which one should you choose?
Deciding between butter and margarine is largely dependent on your diet and needs.
Both contain fats and incorporating fat into our diets is important as it helps us to function and absorb nutrients. Without consuming fat, you’re bound to feel hungry in a short span of time.
When buying butter, it is better to buy those of the grass-fed variety as compared to those that are of the grain-fed variety as it contains more nutrients.
When buying margarine, find one that has the lowest amount of trans fat, best is those that are 0 grams. Also, look at the ingredients list for partially hydrogenated oils. Bear in mind that companies are allowed to claim that their product has zero trans fat if it contains less than 0.5 grams per serving. So zero doesn’t necessarily mean there is absolutely no trans fat. If you see that the margarine contains partially hydrogenated oils, there IS trans fat – even if the label says 0g.
Another point to be mindful of is cholesterol. Butter, as an animal product, contains a significant amount of cholesterol. Most margarines are made from vegetable oils so they contain little or no cholesterol. So for those who need to follow a cholesterol-controlled diet, margarine is a better option of the two.
It’s hard to say which is “healthier” because it depends on the person’s body. A person’s genetic make up, current health status, general nutritional pattern etc. all affect how they respond to dietary fats.
At the end of the day, it’s the age-old saying, everything in moderation. Make a decision based on your own dietary requirements and health condition. The best thing you can do for yourself is looking after your overall health by leading a healthy lifestyle that incorporates regular exercise. Butter or margarine is just a small component in the grand scheme of things. If you’re generally healthy and without dietary requirements, you can choose to consume grass-fed butter and also trans fat-free margarine in moderation (alternate the two), get the best of both worlds.
If you’re really looking for something that provides more health benefits, consider olive oil over butter and margarine. Also, that does depend on the food you’re preparing.