Thursday, August 12

Food Spotlight: Butter vs. Margarine

I’ve decided to do a weekly article on a specific food. My "food spotlight" will highlight a particular item and determine, through research, which ones are the recommended product.

This week I decided to tackle butter, because, I love butter. It’s creamy, rich, and decadent. No wonder my mom slathered it over anything green. As a kid it was the only way to get broccoli down my throat.

Even now, one of my favorite delicacies is a mix of butter, flour and brown sugar. Crumble it over a pie or cobbler and you’ve got the yummiest dessert ever. Or better yet, just eat it raw. God, that’s good stuff. Which is also why it’s horrible for you. Because that’s the way the world works. If it tastes that good, you can’t eat it.

Or can you?

There is an entire non-profit organization dedicated to dispelling the myth that butter is bad for you. The Weston A. Price foundation believes that there is no link between saturated fat and heart disease. In fact, their assertion is that butter is better for you. And they make a compelling argument. Add to this their big-industry conspiracy theories and the butter controversy has the makings of a Michael Moore documentary. (Click this link to read more from the Weston A. Price Foundation on this topic.

Maybe they're right? The butter lover in me really wants them to be right. But how are we, the average consumer, to know?

Unfortunately, I have to go with the medical community's advice. And according to the world renowned Mayo Clinic, because butter is high in cholesterol and saturated fat it is definitely a no-no. They recommend margarine, which is made from vegetable oils and is naturally cholesterol free. But there's a catch. (There always is one, right?) Some margarines contain trans fat and according to Dr. Martha Grogan from the Mayo Clinic, “Like saturated fat, trans fat increases blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.” 

Thus, Dr. Grogan advises, “When selecting a spread, be sure to check the Nutrition Facts panel and pay particular attention to the grams of saturated fat and trans fat. Look for products that have the lowest combined amount. Also, look for products with a low percent Daily Value for cholesterol.”

Further research from the Cleveland Clinic gave me even more specific guidelines:
“… keep the total trans fat as close to zero as possible and saturated fat under 2 grams per serving.

Since I have nothing better to do with my time, I decided to stand in the butter aisle at Kroger and read labels. Here are the products I found that had zero trans fat, the lowest level of saturated fat, and the lowest total grams of fat.

  • I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter LIGHT
  • Smart Balance LIGHT
  • Brummel & Brown
  • Smart Balance Heart Right LIGHT
All of these had 0 grams of trans fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat and total fat of only 5 grams per serving.

So, there you go. For now it looks like margarine's the winner, but I'm hopeful that with more research butter might make a comeback. Because let's face it, it really does taste better.


  1. However, what was not highlighted was that the margarines have dye and artifical flavors in them to taste like butter. More artifical can be worse.

  2. True. As with most things, it's all about trade-offs. Butter is natural and rich in flavor, but it's high in saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. Margarine is lower in saturated fat, cholesterol free and lower in calories, but as you mentioned, contains artificial ingredients. Thus, you have to decide what variables are most important to you. If your first priority is an all natural product, then butter fulfills that need. If you're more concerned about the amount of cholesterol in a product, then margarine is a better choice.

    It's kind of a "pick your poison" situation.

  3. a book you might want to consider reading.