While both margarine and butter contain saturated fats, margarine is the healthier option since it also contains “good” unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
Both margarine and butter contain saturated fats. Hence, why neither of them is a healthy option. However, it is better to use healthier (unsaturated) fats, such as canola, safflower and olive oil, while cooking.
If you want to use any of the two, margarine or butter, for that “buttery” flavor, margarine is a healthier choice provided you choose the right type. Butter is a dairy product made from animal fats, which contain more saturated fats (unhealthy fats). Margarine is usually made from vegetable fats, which are rich in unsaturated fats (healthy fats). Saturated fats increase your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) level, whereas unsaturated fats, including polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) and monounsaturated fats (MUFA), reduce the LDL level.
There are different types of margarine available in the market, and some of them are higher in saturated fats and may even contain trans fat. Some margarine may contain products, such as whey, which are obtained from animals. Trans fat increases your LDL and lowers the high-density lipoprotein or good cholesterol, potentially leading to heart disease.
What are the different types of margarine?
There are many types of commercially available margarine made from ingredients such as:
- Flavoring or bulking agents (maltodextrin, soy lecithin)
- Olive oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Fish oil
- Vitamin A
The different forms of margarine include:
- Margarine sticks: Margarine sticks are a variety of margarine that is quite lower in the number of saturated fats than butter. It contains fewer calories than butter, but some products may contain trans fats. Read the labels carefully.
- Soft tub and liquid margarine: Soft tub and liquid margarine contain less trans fat than stick margarine. Their saturated fat content and calories are also lower than stick margarine and butter. You may find a variety free of trans fats, with some now enriched with plant sterols (chemicals that can help lower low-density lipoprotein by blocking the absorption of cholesterol).
How to make smart dietary choices while choosing fats
Margarine and butter have a saturated fat content. It is better to avoid both if you want to avoid unhealthy foods. Rather, choose liquid vegetable oils, such as olive oil, particularly the extra virgin variety. However, extra virgin olive oil cannot be used to fry or stir fry food, which means it can only be used as a salad dressing.
If you want to use butter for its rich taste, have it in moderation. Do not have more than one teaspoon of unsalted butter. Butter olive oil is a product made from extra virgin olive oil that is infused with the rich flavor of butter. You may use this in moderation as a vegetarian, dairy-free butter substitute for cooking, baking or basting. It can also be used as an alternative to melted butter.
Read labels and always choose foods that are low in saturated fats and high in unsaturated fats. Do not get carried away by the label, “trans-fat-free.” Some brands may label their products in this way and mention only 0.5 grams of trans fat on their labels. Even a small amount of trans fat is bad.