Margarine or Butter: The Heart-Healthiest Spreads (Infographic)

Is margarine or butter better for your heart?

Margarine or Butter: The Heart-Healthiest Spreads (Infographic) HealthHub from Cleveland Clinic

Butter. Yogurt butter. Olive-oil margarine. There’s no end to the variety of spreads available today. How do you know which ones are healthy for your heart?

You can’t go by total fat. If most of the fat is heart-healthy monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat, that’s a good thing. But if there is even a miniscule amount of trans fat, that’s a problem.

Heart & Vascular Institute dietitians Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, and Kate Patton, RD, LD, break down nine types of spreads for you below.

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Margarine or Butter: The Heart-Healthiest Spreads (Infographic) HealthHub from Cleveland Clinic


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  • MKennedy

    Can somebody supply the numbers and a recommendation for “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” in tub form?

  • Hezi Green

    What kind of fat is in your brain?
    You recommend margarine ? You must be joking. Margarine and health don’t go together. Do your homework !

    • April Spivey

      Margarine goes with being healthy just as well as diet sodas!!! All that wonderful artificial crap o ly helps to line the pockets of these facilities. As long as you stay sick, they can make money!

    • Rose Gasak

      You are right. Studies have showed that mice and rats will not eat margarine of any kind solid or liquid, soft or hard

  • RMurray

    This really feels like very dated research. Many of the more recent studies have put sugar as the main culprit behind clogged arteries, not saturated fat. And just looking at basic stats can be very deceiving. What I find interesting is that it hasn’t been noted that as the fat etc. decreases as you go from butter to the alternate spreads, the sodium increases significantly. So theoretically fixing one problem but adding another.

    I still feel that butter is a far more natural product – take a look at the ingredient list: Cream. Now take a look at the ingredient list of any of the other products on the list. Butter isn’t as evil as it’s been made out to be over the years.

    MKennedy – Take a look at the USDA website and type in margarine – see which of the products comes closest to the various formulas that show up for you “I can’t believe it’s not butter’ butter substitute. The question is, if it’s not butter, then what is it really?

    • Carolyn Brown

      Well said

    • Janice M Giaco

      AGREED, read “Good Calories Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes. This whole “low saturated fat craze” was never proven! I’ve been eating eggs butter and bacon since I was little, I’m 60 yrs old and 118 lb. never had a weight problem and cholesterol is fine…..Sugar, particularly Fructose is the problem.

      • Kandie Long

        Bacon had nitrates and nitrites that are cancer causing

        • Janice M Giaco

          you can get uncured bacon without the nitrates

        • Rose Gasak

          Besides, how much bacon do you have to really eat in one sitting to worry about it, probably more than you normally would ….so bacon is fine once in a while

        • HonoraryOrange

          Most of the nitrate studies have also been debunked.

    • william C

      sugar and refined carb are the most dangerous culprits. Butter and eggs have gotten a terribly bad rap over the last few years.New research has shown that any hydrogenated oil or fat is far worse. Even pasteurizing milk products, removing the fat, denatures them and makes them less healthy than their whole counterparts

  • Bert

    I’ve looked at this over simplistic graphic. It leaves too way many questions. Way does this graphic nt show the info for unsalted butter. Too many studies have conclusion which bring to question the use of PUFAs in diets..

  • DaRinda Truesdale Baggett

    I think I’ve just lost my respect for this institution……

    • Jonathan Swaringen

      They are stuck in the past…message on repeat as far as cholesterol, fat, etc…its really annoying reading but not sure when they will get a clue.

      They need to read all the articles on saturated fat, heart disease, ketosis, cholesterol, etc.. on Eating Academy and other good sites that set the record straight on these topics.

      Men’s Health Magazine even had a decent article on saturated fat.

      Really hope all these different sources start figuring it out because its bad for those who don’t know any better who latch on to this badly outdated science.

  • Sweetooth

    I have not read anything about sugar, directly, but cholesterol synthesized in the liver has been demonstrated to increase LDL by way of fructose overconsumption. At any rate, it may seem that this oversimplified illustration may have negated many substantial studies of late.

    • Janice M Giaco

      Dr Robert Lustig has brought the issue of Sugar to the fore, and it needs to be shouted from the roof tops! Its put in EVERYTHING now because the companies tried to comply with the “wisdom” of low fat everything. Now we are super saturated with sugar everywhere, even in foods you ordinarily would not associate with sweet, like Ketchup…etc…unless you cook everything yourself from natural foods.

      • Kandie Long

        You’re right . . . and buying whole foods and doing your own cooking is the ONLY way to go

  • lifesaver1

    Margarine has way too many artificial ingredients in it to consider it to be healthy!

  • David Byelick

    Wake up! They are all bad for you. In every case 100% of their calories come from fat. No matter the fat you shouldn’t be consuming more then 10% of your calories from fat. This article is like analyzing which bullet is best to use when shooting yourself in the foot. Who cares. The point is not to shoot yourself to begin with. The Cleveland clinic needs to read some of their own staffs books, like Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn’s Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease before publishing this stuff.

    • me

      At least 50%, possibly 70% of your calories should come from fat. No more than 20% of your calories should come from carbs. The reason we are so fat and sick is because we are told to eat 50-60% of our calories from carbs, and to keep fat below 20%. Fat is filling, satiating, helps with the absorption of vitamins and minerals, does not spike blood sugar, and the right fat keeps our cholesterol profile healthy (carbs increase triglycerides, polyunsaturated fat reduces HDL, but saturated fat (butter!) increases HDL and butter contains steric acid whcih helps lower triglycerides). Eating predominantly mono unsaturated and saturated fats, while restricting sugar and starch is the bet way to keep your cholesterol levels in healthy ranges, reduce the production of VLDL, and keep your blood sugar stable. And we’ve known all this for a LONG time now.

  • The_Beating_Edge_Team

    I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to write – I have discussed your comments with our dietitian who sees patients in our Preventive Cardiology Clinic. She stated – This article is strictly discussing spreads. It is not addressing sugars or fructose. This article was written to aid consumers when navigating through the grocery store attempting to make a healthy choice when choose a spread ONLY.

    Butter is a source of saturated fat. despite recent research on fructose, butter and saturated fat ALSO do play a role in elevated LDL cholesterol. If your total saturated fat is mainly within range, butter can safely be used regularly. Although if you are having other regular sources of saturated fat (red meat, cheese, eggs, dark meat or skin, whole milk dairy products) then the amount of saturated fat from butter should be reduced or modified to keep within the restriction of 7 % of total calories from saturated fat.

    That being said the best spread to choose would be the one with the lowest in saturated fat and LEAST amount of artificial ingredients (hydrogenated oils). Such as a butter blended with oil or a yogurt butter if you prefer to stick to butter. We also included non-animal based spreads for those who are vegan and some vegetarians whom choose NOT to eat animal products. In the end it all depends on how much and how often you use it. This article is not endorsing a specific product but just comparing the difference between the various spreads on the market.

    • Fernando Domeniconi

      I love the answer, most people think that everyone is the same. Each person is different and you are just providing general guidelines, here. I had a heart attack 2 years ago and decided to become vegetarian and follow a low saturated fat diet. In conjunction with physical activity and medication, my LDL has never been this low (53 last month), so it’s been working for me… but I would never try to be the owner of the truth like some people here and force my lifestyle on others. Research (but use good sources, please), find the best for you and be happy with that. Some comments are so harsh that it makes me think they are not so sure about their points of view.

  • Terry

    Seriously????? Margarine is like one molecule away from being plastic and it is better for you than butter? UUhhhhhh, no thanks!

    • Fernando Domeniconi

      Sorry, I am a chemical engineer and this is the most absurd misconception I’ve ever read. If you think this way, then water is one molecule away from being sulfuric acid…

      • Jonathan Swaringen

        Yeah that alone doesn’t make it bad there are much better arguments against margarine than that. People latch on to that one because its sounds so nuts.

      • Jimm

        water is one atom away from being rocket fuel , pure hydrogen peroxide

  • Lisa Muzic

    Organic grass fed butter on anything BUT bread. Bread is the culprit here, especially the so-called healthy whole grain bread. Stay away from grains- they cause a myriad of problems especially clogged arteries, elevated blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, elevated triglycerides, visceral fat & glycation. 2 slices of whole wheat bread raise blood sugar more than 6 Tbs of sugar!!!

    • Christina Quick

      bread made homemade can help this problem, then you control what goes in it. Still should be in moderation but MUCH better for you…with butter :)

  • Roger Glynn Richardson

    What about sodium content?

  • George

    The Harvard group has published that diary fat is not necessarily bad. Not all saturated fats are the same. I agree with prior posts that these are facts but not based on outcomes.

  • knockdoodle

    They say use margarine instead of butter…I have read for a couple of years now that margarine is made from plastic…In the beginning it was fed to animals and they wouldn’t eat it so they made it into margarine for us humans…

    • justme

      Margarine is produced from vegetable oils, such as soybean and corn. In order to produce margarine in a solid form, the vegetable oil must undergo hydrogenation, which is a process that adds extra hydrogen to the oils. This process changes the chemical composition of the vegetable oils resulting in the oils becoming a solid at room temperature. The hydrogenation process also produces trans-fatty acids, which converts the healthy unsaturated fats of the vegetable oils into solid saturated fats. This characteristic makes many of the margarines on the market no better or worse than butter in terms of nutrition and health.

  • Susan

    Hmmm. Look at the sodium content. Looks like butter is my go-to spread for more than just taste!

  • Stephen cohen

    This is a joke. Real food. Butter is heart healthy. Get with the times. Margerine is frankenfoods that promotes imflammation.

  • william C

    Crap. Natural, unprocessed foods are best. Reduce sugar and processed grains is the best policy

  • BillB438

    Marketing propaganda more than research. Harvard Nurses Health Study, 1996 American Heart Assoc Annual Conference White Paper, revealed 75% increase in heart disease and death by heart failure by people who consumed margarine rather than butter. Most margarine contain some level of soy, which is not fit for human consumption. Cholesterol is not a boogey man, it is a vital nutrient and it doesn’t stick to artery walls unless there is something else going on. Artificially lowering Cholesterol leads to Alzheimers, Low T, Menopause complications and a host of other problems.

  • Lou

    I use a light margarine for most things but sometimes it has to be butter. I don’t eat a lot of toast but when I do I dislike the margarine’s water content making the toast soggy.

  • Ktb

    Was this written 20 years ago and recycled on a slow news day?? Saturated fat is NOT bad for us and does NOT cause heart disease. Margarine is toxic crap. Sugars and grains are the culprits for the obesity and heart disease epidemic.

    • horseless722

      Have you been to the Cleveland Clinic lately? Since Toby has been in charge you can not get anything that had not been deemed “healthy” esp ” heart healthy” Just try to get a regular pop there. Even the McDonald’s changed their menus there. And the patients food, if your ever there go you have some one coming in the Times a day to bring real food. Because even if you don’t have to you will lose weight because you really can’t stomach it.

  • Tim Weeks

    I am a physician that helps people get off their cholesterol medication. As long as you’re doing margarine you will NEVER get off. The reason is b/c its a rancid cheap oil that is a MASSIVE free radical in the body. The body produces cholesterol to repair the damage caused by the fat/free radical. That’s good for the Cleveland Clinic and big pharm b/c they make more money.

  • tbmuch

    I’m just eating as I please, don’t care too much for studies, seeing how it’s this today and that tomorrow.

  • See Paris

    You definitely must find what is best for you. At Thanksgiving, I used only “Smart Balance” (lured by the “guaranteed no GMO”) and about 30 minutes after eating, I suffered a severe allergic reaction. I spent three hours in the emergency room. Scary! On the bright side, I did get out of doing the dishes!

  • Barry Obama is a Crackpot

    Margarine tastes like shìt. Butter isn’t bad for you.

  • Rebecca McGinley

    I’m sticking to butter and spreads with no trans-fat. the fact is, we are all going to die of something. It’s good to be healthy, but let’s not go to extremes.

  • william C

    The most dangerous substances you can put in your body are transfats, refined sugar and refined carbohydrates. Stay away from highly processed cooking oils as well, which include Canola (which does not occur in nature), corn oil and soy oil (which are highly processed from sources that are mostly GMO based, thus containing lots of herbicide and pesticide residue), not to mention safflower oil and cottonseed oil, which are also loaded with chemicals. As much as I would love to use peanut oil, it is suffering the same fate as soy and corn oils. Go with organic as much a possible. Virgin olive oil, coconut oil, walnut oil and a few others.The saturated fat myth, and the sodium myth have been busted. Most people with blood pressure problems are NOT salt sensitive. And natural fats have not been proven to clog arteries or raise blood pressure. Of course one can overdo anything, that is why the expression “all things in moderation” holds so much truth.

  • parsontg

    It’s interesting to see the variety of opinions. More interesting is how certain we are of our opinions. I realize that you can’t be expected to lay out your whole case in a comments thread. That being said, the tones are just so aggressive over a topic that is obviously not completely understood. It’s just amusing how little we trust healthcare professionals. I guess we just feel that we’ve been lied to or something, I don’t know.

  • LazloTu

    I’m of the thinking that it depends on how much one consumes. Overall, I eat healthy, but I prefer butter on certain things, and my labs always look good.

  • Lisa Muzic

    Grass-fed butter, olive oil, avocado oil and walnut oil are the healthiest for your brain & heart health.

  • OhOhSayCanYouSee

    A family member (who is a Doctor) did a comparison between butter and margarine as a student. Details aside, she found that the makeup of margarine posed far greater risk to your body than butter. Also… after placing margarine in the trunk of her car for one year, it didn’t decompose, rot, or mold. And … after placing open butter and margarine side by side in a shaded area that was out-of -doors, fly’s NEVER landed on the margarine. Nature seems to tell an interesting scientific story.

  • John A. Anderson

    I’m 60 years old, and the animal fats vs. vegetable oils recommendation has flip-flopped every 10 years my entire life, like clockwork. People thrive on a variety of diets. No one will ever agree on what’s best. Eat what you like.

  • Kdougherty

    Wow! I can’t believe a medical faculty would push margarine. More and more research has shown its the worst choice you can make.

  • Judy West

    I can’t believe that they are so far behind with current research on sugar and butter!

    I buy Kerrygold grass fed butter and it is the best! There are many heart experts on the subject of sugar and saturated fats that are trying to get the word out but the food industry pays big dollars sooooo need I say more????

  • Kyle

    How about dry toast..the best bet!