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Butter Vs Margarine

Following on from the battle of the oils, I thought it fitting to look at another ongoing battle amongst friendship groups and families. Everyone seems to think cooking ‘like grandma did’ is a much healthier way, despite the additional 60 years worth of scientific knowledge.


It is a fat derived from an animal source made by churning cream or milk to separate out the ‘butterfat’ from ‘buttermilk’. Butter is high in saturated fats (SFA-63%, MUFA -26%, PUFA- 4%) and has been shown to raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol.

I will repeat that point: The high quality evidence certainly shows a strong correlation between saturated fat and increased LDL cholesterol.


There is no denying that margarine is less ‘natural’ than butter. In fact, margarine is, in layman’s terms, ‘imitation butter’.

With the discovery of the detrimental effects of trans fats in the 1990s, margarines have become scrutinised for their trans fat content, and rightly so.

Margarine is made from vegetable oils. Vegetable oils are liquid at room temperature and need to be hydrogenated to become solid. Historically, this process produced trans fats which have similar effects to saturated fats in the body. However, as nutrition advice has evolved, so too have manufacturers ability to produce margarines with little to no trans-fat.

Margarines made from polyunsaturated fats and oils should be a first choice (corn, soybean, and sunflower oils) with monounsaturated fats and oils (safflower, canola and olive oil) a second choice.

Health professionals will often advise patients with cholesterol or heart issues to swap to a ProActive/Logicol margarine. These margarines contain plant sterols.

Plant sterols have been shown to lower cholesterol by 10%, through a mechanism in which they block the body's ability to absorb cholesterol. In order to maximise the benefit obtained from plant sterols, 2-3g (1-1.5Tbs) should be consumed daily. Consuming more or less than this amount will confer no additional benefit.

Both butter and margarine should be used sparingly in any healthy diet. Furthermore, if you don’t spread margarine on everything you eat, it is probably not necessary to spend $6-7 on a tub of plant sterol margarine.

Quite a lot of information to digest here, but the take home note: "It’s Butter to be evidence based!"


When looking for a good margarine, choose:

  • Avoid ‘partially-hydrogenated’ in ingredients list

  • Predominantly poly-unsaturated oils (corn, soybean, sunflower)

  • <1% Trans fats per 100g

  • Saturated fat content <1/3 of total fat (2g per serve)

  • Sodium <400mg per 100g

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