Butter or margarine on your Thanksgiving table?

When you think about butter versus margarine, you may automatically think margarine is better, healthier.

But as it turns out, there is quite a bit more to the story you might want to know if you’re trying to decide which may be better for your family.

For starters…

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Butter is a more natural substance

For centuries people have been milking cows, goats, and sheep to produce butter. Once the milk is obtained, the fat (buttercream) is separated from the liquid. This buttercream is then churned until butter is formed — plain and simple.

For margarines it’s not that simple…

Margarine is made from unsaturated fat, which in its natural form is a liquid. To make margarines solid the liquid oil needs to be hydrogenated, which changes the structure of the oil. This means they may contain trace elements of heart-destroying trans fats, which distort cell membranes and elevate risk of coronary heart disease. Margarines also contain the addition of various additives and preservatives.

With margarine, you’re consuming a highly processed product…

Quite simply, it doesn’t matter what the health authorities try to make you believe, because the truth is, the more processed a food sources is, the more unhealthy it is going to be, period.

So in this regard alone, butter wins hands down — it is just buttercream churned!

Butter contains natural vitamins and minerals

One tablespoon of butter contains 3 mg of calcium, phosphorus and potassium; small amounts of B vitamins and vitamin K; and substantial amounts of vitamins A and E.

Margarine contains “added” vitamins. For instance, America’s most popular margarine in 2016 — Country Crock Original — contains “added” vitamin D, A, while being devoid of all other nutrients.

Natural vitamins and minerals are always more bioavailable to the body because they are being consumed the way nature intended.

So again, butter wins the race in terms of nutritional quality.

Butterfat is healthy fat

While we’re all told that unsaturated vegetable fats are better for our health, we aren’t getting the whole story here either.

There are two main types of unsaturated fat — omega-3 and omega-6. It’s the omega-3 fats that are known for their anti-inflammatory, heart-protective capacity. And although these fats are lumped under the same “unsaturated fat” banner, the same does not ring true for omega-6 fats.

Unsaturated fats used in margarines are predominantly proinflammatory omega-6 fatty acids such as soybean, safflower, peanut, or other generic vegetable oils.

During the processing of these oils, they are usually heated to high temperatures, which increase the oxidation of the sensitive unsaturated fats, and therefore promotes free radical damage and further increases their inflammatory potential.

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On the other hand, butter is a very stable fat, which does not easily oxidize. And although it is a saturated fat, there has been no conclusive evidence to show it contributes to heart disease.

Butter happens to contain healthy short chain saturated fats such as butyric acid, making up around 11 percent of its composition. Butyric acid is a fuel source for the cells lining your intestine, supporting their healthy function, and preventing inflammatory processes that may lead to colon cancer and other health conditions.

Butter is also a rich source of conjugated linoleic acid, a family of ruminant trans fats that have been associated with various health benefits.

When you sum all this up, the evidence does point toward butter as the better choice.

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  1. German JB, et al. “A reappraisal of the impact of dairy foods and milk fat on cardiovascular disease risk.” — Eur J Nutr. 2009;48(4):191-203.
  2. Ginter E & Simko V. “New data on harmful effects of trans-fatty acids.” — Bratisl Lek Listy. 2016;117(5):251-3.
  3. Sales of the leading margarine and spreads brands of the United States in 2017 (in million U.S. dollars) — Statista.com. (2017). Retrieved 24 May, 2017
  4. Country Crock, Original, 40% Vegetable Oil Spread. — Usda.gov. (2017). Retrieved 24 May, 2017
  5. Butter, without salt. — Usda.gov. (2017). Retrieved 24 May, 2017
  6. Dilzer A & Park Y. “Implication of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in human health.” — Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2012;52(6):488-513.
Jedha Dening

By Jedha Dening

Jedha Dening is a qualified nutritionist (MNutr), researcher, author, freelance writer, and founder of type 2 diabetic nutrition site Diabetes Meal Plans. Her masters thesis on nutrition and inflammation was published and then presented at a national scientific conference. She has millions of words published in the health industry across various print and online publications. Having been in the field for over 15 years, she’s incredibly passionate about delving into the latest research to share the myths and truths surrounding nutrition and health. She believes when armed with the right knowledge, we’re empowered to make informed choices that can truly make a difference.