Advice About Butter, Margarine And Cholesterol

Which Is Best: Butter Or Margarine?

Saturates Versus Trans Fats

We know that butter is high in total fat, including saturates. And we know that over consumption of saturated fat may lead to raised cholesterol in the blood (hypercholesterolemia), a consequent narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), and cardiovascular disease. So many of us stopped eating butter and switched to marfarine. Now, dietitians and nutritionists tell us that margarine is high in trans fat (trans-fatty acids), which is worse than saturated fat. So what’s the solution? Which of the two – butter or margarine – is best for cholesterol levels and heart health?

The Facts About Butter And Margarine

Butter has not changed. Because it is an animal fat, it has a high content of saturated fat and contains dietary cholesterol, both of which may have an adverse impact on serum cholesterol. For example, saturates tend to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.

Margarine, on the other hand, being a more heavily processed food, is being constantly improved from a fat viewpoint. Originally, margarine was made almost entirely from “hydrogenated” fats – typically, low-priced vegetable oils which were then processed to give them better taste, texture and a longer shelf-life. But hydrogenated fats are high in trans fat, which as stated above is considered even less heart-friendly than saturated fat. Which was why nutritionists advised us to limit our margarine intake.

But now, however, manufacturers have started producing soft margarine without using hydrogenated oils. This type of non-hydrogenated margarine contains no trans fats, or almost none, and is much healthier than hydrogenated varieties.

Always Read The Food Label

Although a growing number of soft margarines are low in trans fatty acids, or even trans-fat-free, many hydrogenated varieties are still on the shelves. So please check the label and choose a margarine brand that contains the least “hydrogenated fat/oil”, “partially hydrogenated fat/oil”, “trans-fatty acids” and “saturated” fat. Healthier brands of margarine include: Benecol, Flora Proactive, Becel, Blue Bonnet Soft Spread, Canola Harvest Non-Hydrogenated, I Can’t Believe it’s not Butter and Smart Balance Light.

Bottom Line Advice: Choose Soft Margarine With No Trans Fat

Instead of butter, choose non-hydrogenated soft margarine. It contains zero cholesterol, no trans fat and typically very small amounts of saturated fat. But always check the label, just to be sure. For your information, the American Heart Association now recommends the use of this type of margarine as a substitute for butter.

Table 1. Fat, Saturated Fat And Cholesterol Content Of Butter And Margarines

Food (1 tablespoon) (14.2g) Total Fat Saturated Fat Cholesterol
Butter 11g 7.2g 32mg
Hard Margarine (Hydrogenated) 11.3g 1.9g 0mg
Soft Margarine (Hydrogenated) 11.3g 1.9g 0mg
Soft Margarine (Unhydrogenated) eg. Benecol 4.9g 0.9g 0mg

Table 2. Recommended Daily Intakes Of Fat And Dietary Cholesterol

Type Of Fat Fat Consumed As Percentage
Of Daily Calories
Fat Allowance (grams)
Per 2100 calorie diet
Total Fat 25-30 percent of total calories 55-77g of total fat
Saturated Fat Less than 10 percent of total calories 22g of saturated fat
Trans Fat Less than 1 percent of total calories 2.2g of trans fats
Cholesterol 300mg of cholesterol

Health Note:

If you have atherosclerosis, heart disease, high cholesterol ( hypercholesterolemia) in the upper range 200-239 mg/dL or high triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia), the American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily limit of 200mg of dietary cholesterol, and advises no more than 7 percent of calories be eaten in the form of saturated fat.