Butter vs Margarine

In the quest to lose weight the first thing to end up on the chopping block is always fat.  But recently there has been much debate about oils and fats and their effects on our health.  Good fats? Bad fats? Trans fats? Cholesterol?

On our last trip to the grocery store my wife told me her doctor advised her to lower her cholesterol (as she reached for the skim milk, we had been drinking 1%), and as she planned to do some baking she grabbed a box of stick margarine.  Looking at the box it dawned on me that being made from vegetable oils, margarine has no cholesterol.  Could it be possible that margarine, which has a horrible reputation, could be actually healthier than butter?

We have two types of margarine in our fridge right now, the aforementioned stick margarine (Labeled 53% vegetable oil spread) which contains 7g of fat, 1.5g sat. fat, 2 g mono-unsat, 2g poly-unsat, and Country Crock Light tub margarine (labeled 39% vegetable oil spread) with 5g fat, 1.5g sat 2.5g poly, 1.5g mono.  Both with no cholesterol and compared to 11g of fat in butter.

A lot of people look at margarine as “fake butter”, but at least in the realm of “processed foods” margarine is pretty tame, considering it only has 2 ingredients usually, vegetable oil and water (perhaps some antioxidants added like BHT and THBQ).

So which would you prefer? Go natural with real butter, go low fat with Light margarine or avoid them both like the plague?

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2 Comments

  1. We buy this yogurt spread stuff… (looking at it now) It’s Brummel & Brown, made with Natural Yogurt. I guess it’s overglorified margarine. It’s 35% vegetable oil and 10% natural yogurt. Per 1 tbsp serving, it has 5g of fat–1.5g saturated fat, 2.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 1g monounsaturated fat. Also no cholesterol.

    We use a mix of this stuff and butter. The yogarine (as I will now think of it) gets used for casual cooking–frying eggs, etc–and spreading on whole wheat toast. The real butter is used for any in-depth cooking or baking. If I’m going through all the trouble to make a Julia Child recipe, it’s gotta have real butter.

    We’re real believers that anything is fine in moderation, whether it’s processed stuff like margarine or fattening stuff like butter. If you’re using moderation AND switching back and forth between the two, how can you be getting enough of any one bad thing to do you any harm?

    • Yeah, we also like the Yogurt butter and have bought it in the past, but it tends to be way more expensive than our budget can handle. It has a better taste but the exact nutrition stats of the Country Crock Light, which is why we got it instead.
      I didn’t think to mention this, but margarine was originally made from beef fat and it was literally a butter substitute during either the Depression or World War II. I guess beef tallow (or pork lard) was cheaper than high fat cream to churn butter out of. The new margarine is certainly healthier than the old margarine.
      Moderation is a key. Our bodies actually need minuscule amounts of poisons like arsenic and cyanide (the microscopic amounts that occur naturally in plants and vegetables) and also, cholesterol is a precursor to most hormones like testosterone and estrogen, so while lowering it if you have excess is good, you can’t drop it to 0. (I’m looking at you vegetarians!)


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  • About Me

    I am a recent graduate in Food Science (NC State, 2009) and I work for a major food manufacturing company. I love food, but I can no longer eat anything that crosses my path. About 24 months ago I begin a serious struggle to get my obesity under control and reduce my chances of developing Type II diabetes. Since September of '09 I have lost 50 pounds and I still have a long ways to go. I've started eating better and exercising more, including taking up running.