Butter vs. Margarine

Q&A with Dr. Manny: Which spread is more heart healthy- butter or margarine?


Margarines are generally lower in fat and calories than natural butter. But there is a catch, so it’s important to be an educated consumer! I teach my patients that the most important rule is to read the ingredient list.

If a margarine spread claims to have 0 grams of trans fat per serving, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s trans fat free. The FDA allows companies to use “0 grams of trans fat per serving” if the product contains .5 grams of trans fat or less. So what do you do? Read the ingredients: partially hydrogenated oil means trans fat – ditch that product! (If it says it’s fully hydrogenated or just hydrogenated, that’s OK.) Some culprits include I Can’t Believe its Not Butter! Original, Country Crock Original, and Land O’Lakes Fresh Buttery Spread. As a general rule, you want to keep saturated and trans fat intake low, so when cooking I recommend using olive oil. But
when you need to purchase butter or margarine, follow these tips:

Go low fat

The less saturated fat, the better. Try to get a margarine that has less than 2.5 grams of saturated fat per serving. A tablespoon of regular butter has 7.5 grams of saturated fat and 100 calories. Whereas, for example, a margarine that I use, Smart Balance HeartRight Light, has 1.5 grams of saturated fat and 50 calories.

Read the ingredient list 

Ditch partially hydrogenated oils, but welcome additions like omega 3’s and plant sterols. Both ingredients have been said to help lower cholesterol. While the amounts in these spreads are probably not significant enough to make a difference on blood cholesterol on their own, every little bit helps.

Lighten up 

If you’re a real butter fan and can’t take the taste of margarine, choose a light butter instead. Most light butters contain half the calories and about 1/3 the saturated fat of real butter.


Always read serving sizes! A tablespoon is about 3 pats of butter. If you can use less, great! But try to keep it to one serving at the most.

Go Natural

For those of us who prefer not to use products without artificial ingredients there is a margarine that is all natural. Earth Balance uses all natural ingredients, is free of trans fat and is sold in organic, vegan, and dairy blends.

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a nationally known registered dietitian based in New York and the creator of a proprietary high-fiber nutrition program for weight loss, wellness and for treating various medical conditions. Tanya authored the bestselling weight loss book The F-Factor Diet, and she is the first dietitian with a national line of high-fiber foods, which are sold under the F-Factor name. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.

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