Butter or Margarine: Which is more dangerous to my health?

There must be some scientific comparisons pitting the use of butter against margarine, so I’m looking for data, not anecdotes. I gave up margarine several years ago, and try to avoid trans fats in general, but I still use butter on toast, vegetables, in cooking and generally anywhere that calls for margarine.

Am I doing myself any good, or is butter just as bad, or worse than margarine if used in the same way?

There are trans fat free margarines. I saw a discussion about this the other day. I’ll see if I can find it.
Have you tried olive oil?

There are several things to consider. We were warned off butter for years, because it contains animal fat, which contains cholesterol. Now we are told that hydrogenated fats contain trans fat which is worse than butterfat for our hearts. Vegetable oils are hydrogenated to make them solid and resistant to spoilage, by the way. For cooking, I usually just substitute olive oil, which is about as healthful an oil as you can find. One tablespoon olive oil subsitutes nicely for one tablespoon butter or stick margarine.

Two exceptions! 1) When you are making cookies or desserts, there is no substitute for butter. Anything else just won’t taste as good. 2) Whipped (in a tub) margarines usually contain enough water to screw up your recipe. When you cook with margarine, make it the solid stuff. The stick wrappers are marked for tablespoons, so you don’t have to moosh it into a spoon.

As mangeorge said, there are some trans-fat free margarines, some made from olive oil. I have no info about cooking with them, but the label I just checked (Smart Balance®) lists water among the ingredients. I’ve been using Fleischman’s Premium® for toast and US biscuits. I don’t know what US-style biscuits are called in the UK, but they aren’t anything like the cookie-like UK biscuits.

After my heart attack, I talked this through with the cardiology dietitian at the hospital. Her comment was that both are bad for you in terms of LDL levels, though you can find spreads that are comparatively “cardiac-friendly.” Her advice was that if you enjoy the taste of butter, use it sparingly, and don’t try to substitute; the difference is so relatively little that you can make up in other areas of your diet (e.g., forswear powdered creamer and instead use as lowfat milk as you can stand).

Using a little algebra and a basic understanding of concentrations, you can usually find the amount of 100% vegetable oil to mix with 48% oil/butter (what most tub-margarines contain) to achieve the desired result of 65% oil/butter (what most recipes ask for). Usually, it works. YMMV.

The way I look at it is god [or whoever] made butter and olive oil, not Dow CHemical…better living through modern chemistry isnt always the best. We evolved eating butter and olives/olive oil so I would stick to natural. Besides, margarine tastes just nasty. Just use restraint=)

God (or whatever) also made raw meat, unspoiled milk and unfermented grape juice yet we eat seared steaks, cheese and wine without a second thought.

Apologies to Fear Itself for being anecdotal.

The American Heart Association comparison of butter and margarine doesn’t quantify the effects, but does show the distinction between the problems each presents. The Cleveland Clinic provides some numbers.

[BTW, if olive oil is not reasonable financially, canola (rapeseed) oil is not or little more expensive than normal vegetable oil, and nearly as “good” in terms of minimizing LDL fat intake. As a “table spread” substitute, do one of two things: serve bread dry with a small dish of herbed and spiced oil (basil is common for this) for dipping purposes, or paint the oil lightly on the bread and sprinkle with garlic, herbs, etc., then warm briefly (e.g., in a microwave).]

However, presuming you don’t like dry bread and don’t care for “healthy oil substituting for table spread,” the best advice is to use small amounts of whatever seems to meet your own taste/health-concerns quotient best, and attempt to reduce fat intake elsewhere. For example, a couple of slices of bread slathered in butter eaten with herb-marinated baked chicken is much healthier than dry bread eaten with fried chicken.

Well I think it is safe to credit Him with fire, bacteria and yeast to convert the 1st 3 into the 2nd 3 w/o the assistance of Dow Chemical.

My $0.02 is to stay away from trans fats, and don’t worry about natural fats.

[hijack] Anyone else notice that Mangeorge’s sig is “slicker 'n snot”? Just noticing that this is rather funny in light of the current subject :smiley: Not that this is a particularly good alternative for cooking purposes… [/hijack]

And on-topic: Unless you use a ton of either, I can’t imagine it makes a huge difference either way. I’d bet that hidden fats (in prepared foods, movie popcorn etc.) pose a much bigger risk. Can’t come up with a good cite for that, though. Personally, I do without either, most of the time; if I’m going to add fat to something I just go ahead and add the real stuff (butter) and enjoy. Yum.

The record regarding better living through ancient chemistry isn’t terribly reassuring either. We may have evolved (whatever) eating butter, but coronary disease hasn’t exactly been separated out of the human experience, despite our evolutionary adaptation. Your point on Dow Chemical is well taken, however. :wink:

Didn’t God make Dow Chemical, too?

Anyway, in terms of health benfits, the healthiest option is ostensibly a sunflower or olive oil margarine with no trans fats. These are expensive, though, and I much prefer the taste of butter, so I have butter. Butter contains no trans fat (or vanishingly small quantities at most), although obviously it is higher in saturated fat overall.

In the FAR past, we didn’t live long enough or eat well enough to worry about cholesterol, etc. If you die at 50, you don’t have to worry about the heart attack that would have killed you at 65.

And, in fatc- there are many things that are still very good for you taken in moderation- butter, red meat, etc.

If your choice is “butter or regular marg”- i’d take butter. But there are several new spreads far better than either. One company makes a spread that has some butter mixed with a canola oil spread. It’s tasty and far more healthful that either “butter or regular marg”.


Try putting two pats (equiv) of butter on one biscuit instead of on two biscuits. Net savings = one biscuit. Really! Same for other uses, such as baked potato. Put a allowable serving of butter on 1/2, and olive oil (or nothing) on the other 1/2.
Instead of 2 cups of low fat ice cream, eat 1 cup of regular yummy ice cream.
I know an insulin dependent diabetic woman who savors her occasional mini peanut butter cup.
In other words, don’t gobble. :wink:

Maybe what we call crackers? Savoury biscuits often eaten with cheese?

I tried margarine once, in 1980 … soon went back to butter. It’s The Real Thing!* :slight_smile:

Strangely, my daughter was brought up on butter until she tried some “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” :rolleyes: at a friend’s house. Now she’ll eat nothing else … little heathen. :smiley:

BTW I cook with either butter, olive oil or sunflower oil, depending on the recipe.

  • Yep, my cholesterol level is fine - thanks for asking.

Steak tartare…yummy! Though I confess to hand chopping my own beef after washing off the surface with seriously hot water. Sounds like tome to make it again=)

A long time ago, I heard a talk show on the radio with a nutritionist. This very subject came up. He said “look at the ingredients on a pound of butter. Milk or cream. Salt. That’s it. Look at the ingredients on your tub of margarine. Oils, chemicals, and a bunch of stuff as filler. Which one would you rather put in your body? Just be sensible about it.” I went back to butter. Margarine is just ick.

Here’s the problem: this statement contains no facts. “Which one would you rather” is opinion. Your opinion, it’s true, but not fact. If your family is prone to heart attacks, you should consider how much fat of various types you consume. Keep an eye on the latest research, since the current medical opinion on what is important to watch may change.

Me, I eat popcorn with olive oil on it and I love it. As others have said: “Yummy!”

Pardon? That butter contains milk or cream and salt, and that margarine contains oils and chemicals and filler are not facts but what? Anecdotes? I agree that people should watch what they eat, and if they are in a high risk group they need to be extra careful. But I’m having difficulty understanding what you meant by the first part of your statement.

Heavens, no. US biscuits are made with a dough based on the quick-bread chemistry. There are three kinds: drop, rolled, and fried. The drop is made by dropping lumps of biscuit dough on a cookie sheet or bake stone. For the rolled, you roll the dough into a sheet, and you cut biscuits with a round biscuit cutter. For the fried, you deep fry either a drop or rolled biscuit in hot oil.

That’s Alton Brown’s take on Biscuits. You can also get by nicely with a box of Bisquick®. Mrs. Nott tinkers with the basic Bisquick recipe by adding some yellow cornmeal and a little more water. If a batch is destined to be covered by beef stew, a little chopped rosemary is a good idea.