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Which is Healthier, Trans Fats in Butter or Margarine?

Trans Fats in Butter vs Margarine: Which is Healthier and Why?

You might think that butter is a healthy fat. But the truth is, it could be worse. Butter contains natural trans fats which are not categorically as harmful as artificial trans fats. There are also some benefits to consuming butter.

Butter is one of the most popular spreads in the United States and has been there for decades because of it’s rich, creamy texture and taste. It is also an excellent choice for cooking because of it’s high melting point.

Is Butter Really Back?

Butter is quickly making a comeback. It has been in and out of the limelight for decades as doctors and nutritionists have tried to determine if it was as bad as they originally thought.

After being shunned for many years, people are still confused and want to know about the impacts of margarine on human health. Butter contain traces of trans fats, which have been linked to heart disease. But has this been proven?.

We’ve all been advised to reduce trans fats and saturated fats in our diets because they can lead to obesity and heart-related diseases. However, what about the other side?. What does research say about butter and it’s possible link to reducing cholesterol levels?.

Butter vs Margarine Compared

Consumption of margarine in the US increased dramatically back in the centuries, while butter was nearly banned from breakfast. Margarine sales were skyrocketing than butter, while the gap has grown smaller, margarine sales still top those of butter.

Some of these margarines are not healthier than butter, in fact, many are bad for your health. What makes them bad?. They are called trans fatty acids and many of the so-called healthy butter replacements are loaded with them.

How Trans Fats and Margarine are Made

First, there are two types of trans fats that can be found in food: natural and artificial. Artificial trans fats are created by hydrogenation as well as chemical-based processing. These can be found in margarines, packaged foods like cakes, cookies, crackers, candy, and bread.

Like we said earlier, artificial trans fats are made through a process known as hydrogenation. This was developed as a way to make a cheap and readily available butter replacement when butter supplies were low.

Liquid vegetable oils go into a giant hydrogenation tank where hydrogen gas is added at high pressures and temperatures. This twists the structure of the fat into a trans form, one that is rarely found in nature.

What comes out of the hydrogenation tank is very different from what went in. What started as liquid vegetable oil comes out as a grey, lumpy partially hydrogenated oil.

Clearly, no one wants to spread a grey tasteless substance on toasted bread, the fat goes under further changes. It must be bleached white and then deodorized to remove foul smells from being heated.

Finally, artificial color and flavors are added to mimic the appearance and taste of butter. After all of this, many margarines still claim to be natural.

How Butter is Made

Butter is a source of needed fat in the diet. It contains many nutrients including vitamin A, Vitamin D, and Vitamin E. It is also full of fat soluble vitamins that help the body absorb certain nutrients like beta carotene. Butter can preserve food because it has bacteriostatic properties which can inhibit the growth of spoilage causing microorganisms.

Making butter is very simple. It has been made for thousands of years, ever since animals were milked. You simply milk the cow, skim off the rich cream and mix it until it solidifies. You can even make butter in your own kitchen by shaking heavy cream in a jar. This process is called churning.

The Confusing Research Between Trans Fats in Butter and Margarine

Butter contains saturated fats and trans fats, both of which are said to increase the risk of heart disease.

Obviously, this combination does not make butter sound like heart healthy. Margarine is much better with no cholesterol and little or no saturated fat. But what if you knew that the trans fats in margarine were worse?.

Now, here is where it gets confusing, even for nutritionists. Butter contains saturated fat. Margarine contains trans fat. Which one is bad?.

Studies initially showed that margarines were healthier than butter because they contain less saturated fat. Saturated fat was found to raise cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for developing heart disease.

However, current research has found errors in past studies. The problem was that older research did not differentiate between hydrogenated and saturated fats.

Thus, many of the heart-unhealthy findings about saturated fats were mixed with the effects of trans fats. Finally, newer research has found that when taken separately, trans fats are linked much more closely to heart disease than saturated fats.

Why are Trans Fats Bad

Both saturated and trans fats affect our cholesterol levels. There are two types of cholesterol; one is good because it keeps arteries clean, the other is bad because it tends to form plagues in arteries. Having said that, it is best to keep the good cholesterol high and the bad one low.

Trans fats and saturated fats raise the bad cholesterol. However, trans fats are bad because they increase the bad cholesterol significantly more than saturated fats. They also lower the good cholesterol. Saturated fats, on the other hand actually raise the good cholesterol.

Therefore, the slight rise in bad cholesterol from eating butter is counterbalanced by a rise in the good stuff. Trans fats result in a very unhealthy ratio of cholesterol with low HDL and high LDL levels.

The negative effect of trans fats on cholesterol levels is said to be double that of saturated fats.

Interestingly, margarine consumption has been on the rise while butter consumption has been declining. At the same time, heart disease is increasing at an alarming rate.

A 21-year study found that while margarine consumption was strongly linked to heart disease, butter consumption didn’t correlate with the incidence of heart disease.

Although trans fats are not the sole cause of heart disease, there is an undeniable link between them.

Butter or Margarine: Which Spread Is Good For You

No matter what spread you choose, it is important to keep the amount of fat in your diet to about 25% of total calories.

Saturated fat should be kept to 10% and trans fats should be eliminated. In choosing between margarine and butter, keep in mind that no amount of trans fat is healthy while a small amount of saturated fat can still be made part of a well-balanced diet.

Some margarines advertise being trans fat-free, but the FDA allows products to state this even if there is up to 0.5 grams trans fat per serving. To be completely sure that a product is trans fat-free, you must check the nutrition label.

Ironically, when margarine is free of trans fats, it must contain saturated fats to keep it solid. Also, remember that margarine does not naturally taste like butter, it relies on synthetic chemicals for flavor. The effect of these chemicals on our bodies is still unknown.


Margarine is a highly processed food that undergoes several chemical processes. Butter, on the other hand is natural, and can be made at home. Butter has low traces of trans fatty acids whiles margarine contains more. Butter is considered healthier because it increases good cholesterol where as margarine increases bad cholesterol.

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