When choosing a healthier fat for your diet, you need to pay attention to the fat profile. Butter is made from animal fats and contains a high amount of cholesterol and saturated fats, while margarine is made out of vegetable oils, making it cholesterol-free and high in unsaturated fats. However, some margarine can contain high amounts of unhealthy, synthetic trans fats. Always check the label to find out what you are buying.
Although the amount of calories and fats is identical between butter and margarine, their lipid content differs extensively. Butter is naturally high in cholesterol and saturated fats, while margarine is made up of to 80 percent of heart-healthy poly- and monounsaturated fatty acids. According to the Department of Agriculture, 1 tbsp. of butter has around 100 calories and 11.5 g of fat of which 7.3 g are saturated fats and 3 g are monounsaturated fatty acids. In addition, 1 tbsp. of butter contains 30 mg of cholesterol, while margarine contains no cholesterol, 2.2 g of saturated, 5.5 g of monounsaturated and 3.5 g of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The typical American diet is usually too high in saturated fats and cholesterol, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. While your body needs small amounts of these fats to perform some essential functions, too much can be detrimental to your health. Saturated fats and cholesterol may increase your blood low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, levels and increase your risk of heart disease. The unsaturated fatty acids in margarine, on the other hand, help lower your blood LDL levels by increasing your blood's “good” high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol.
Margarine can also contain synthetic trans fats. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, trans fats are not essential for your body, although they are found naturally in some foods. The synthetic trans fats found in margarine are formed during processing and are not natural. Consuming either type of trans fats, natural or synthetic, can drastically increase the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and other heart problems, including high blood pressure. A tbsp. of regular margarine contains around 2 g or 17 percent of trans fat. Butter contains little to no trans fats.
Generally, margarine is a better choice than butter because it contains higher levels of healthy unsaturated fats and lower levels of saturated fats. However, not all margarine varieties are the same and some may contain high levels of trans fat. In general, the more solid the margarine is, the more trans fats it contains. According to MayoClinic.com, margarine sticks have more trans fats than tubs of margarine. If you’re trying to be health-conscious, check the nutrition facts on packages of margarine or butter to see what they contain.