Locations:
Search IconSearch

Margarine or Butter: The Heart-Healthiest Spreads

Is margarine or butter better for your heart?

pancake with pat of butter

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?

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“Sure, butter is creamy and spreadable, but it provides a significant source of saturated fat which in excess can lead to elevated blood cholesterol,” says preventive cardiology dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD. “Margarine, made from plant-based fats and oils, is supposedly heart-healthier. However, not all margarine is created equal. Most margarines contain unhealthy plant oils in order to keep them solid.”

Zumpano breaks down nine types of spreads that you should keep your eye out for:

1. Butter – 100 calories and 7 grams of saturated fat in one tablespoon

Butter is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can push you past daily limits for saturated fat (10 to 15 grams) and cholesterol (200 mg), increasing the risk of heart disease.

2. Light butter – 50 calories and 3.5 grams of saturated fat in one tablespoon

Light butter has half the calories, saturated fat and cholesterol of butter.

3. Light butter blended with oil – 50 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat in one tablespoon

This blend of light butter and oil has heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (MUFAs and PUFAs).

4. Yogurt butter – 45 calories and 1.5 grams of saturated fat in one tablespoon

Yogurt butter is a blend of nonfat yogurt, vegetable oils (soybean, palm, palm kernel and canola) and water. Low-fat and lowest in calories, it can help you with weight loss.

5. Margarine- 60 to 100 calories with 0.5 to 2 grams of saturated fat in one tablespoon

Margarine may contain trans fat, which raises LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowers HDL (good) cholesterol and makes blood platelets stickier, increasing heart disease risk. Margarine containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats and should be avoided.

6. Light margarine – 40 to 45 calories with 4.5 to 5 grams of saturated fat in one tablespoon

Light margarine contains less saturated and trans fat than regular margarine.

Advertisement

7. Margarine with phytosterols – 70 calories with 1 gram of saturated fat in one tablespoon

A spread with heart-healthy plant sterols or stanols; 2 grams per day can help lower LDL cholesterol if your diet is low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

8. Light margarine with phytosterols – 45 to 50 calories with 1 gram of saturated fat in one tablespoon

This light margarine has fewer calories and fat than regular margarine.

9. Vegan olive oil spread – 80 calories and 2 to 3 grams of saturated fat in one tablespoon

A vegan olive oil spread is a blend of canola, palm-fruit and olive oils with MUFAs that can increase HDL, lower LDL and reduce inflammation if you follow a heart-healthy diet.

What’s better for your heart?

When it comes to choosing between margarine and butter, the real answer is that neither is a good choice.

Advertisement

Avoid solid fats and choose mainly liquid oils like extra virgin olive oil. If you can’t give up the solid fat and are willing to use it in moderation, you can limit to 1 teaspoon of real unsalted butter because it provides 2.3 grams of saturated fat, which is the least processed choice. Otherwise, choose a butter olive oil blend which provides 2.3 grams of saturated fat for 1 tablespoon if you would like more volume. Keep in mind all other butter blends or margarines contain unhealthy plant oils and additives such as food coloring, fillers and gums.

“Replacing all saturated fat in your diet with MUFAs and PUFAs can lower bad cholesterol,” she says. “If you can’t give up butter and don’t have heart disease, make sure you aren’t getting more than 10 to 15 grams of saturated fat per day.”

But what keeps butter and margarine solid at room temperature? In butter, it’s saturated fat (also in full-fat dairy products and red meat). In margarine, it’s trans fat that’s created when hydrogen is used to harden vegetable oil. More often, for tub margarine, plant-based solid fats are used such as palm or palm kernel oils.

Many stick margarines may contain trans fat, so tubs are usually better.

For heart health, try brushing your bread or toast with olive oil. Become an expert label reader at the grocery store and always check ingredients on the label. Be aware that even margarine that’s advertised with zero trans fat may contain up to 0.5 grams.

“The take home message is to use extra virgin olive oil most often, read labels and check ingredients for any solid spreads to minimize saturated fat and unhealthy oils,” says Zumpano. “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.”

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Person in an apron, kitchen carrying a loaf of sour dough bread on tray
July 12, 2024/Nutrition
Is Sourdough Bread Healthy for You?

Sourdough can be healthier than some other bread choices — but that doesn’t give it ‘health food’ status

Bowl of horseradish
July 8, 2024/Nutrition
4 Health Benefits of Horseradish

This spicy root helps fight cancer, bacteria and inflammation

An array of meatless foods in different vessels on table
July 5, 2024/Nutrition
Going Vegan 101: A Beginner’s Guide

The meatless, plant-based eating style has countless tasty and healthy options

Hands cupping bowl of greens, chickpeas, whole figs, halved and tofu
July 3, 2024/Nutrition
4 Health Benefits of Figs

Packed with fiber and nutrients, this flower — yep, flower! — is great for your blood sugar, heart and gut

Assorted whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables and nuts
June 21, 2024/Nutrition
Eating for Energy: Foods That Fight Fatigue

What’s on your plate can either help power you through your day or put you in nap mode

Person standing in front of oversized nutrition label, reading it
June 19, 2024/Nutrition
What Can You Learn From a Nutrition Label?

Information on serving size, calories and nutrients can help you make healthy choices

Piles of sugar alcohol
June 17, 2024/Nutrition
What You Should Know About Sugar Alcohols

Often labeled as ‘diabetes-friendly’ or ‘calorie-free,’ these sugar substitutes warrant caution

Person prepping mason jars with meals
June 14, 2024/Nutrition
Should You Eat the Same Thing Every Day? Learn the Pros and Cons

Repeating your meals can help simplify meal planning and counting calories, but it could also lead to boredom and nutritional deficiencies

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad