Butter or Margarine?

Many people, especially us Americans, like to use either butter or margarine to cook with, bake with, or as a spread. As a child, I was told by my parents that we carry margarine in our fridge because it is a healthy option opposed to butter. When I would ask why, I would get the “it just is” response. Now that I am older and not under the same roof, I would like to know if margarine truly is a healthier option than regular butter.


The first area I would like to examine, are the effects that each has on our cardiovascular system. I think this important because, as we all have been told over and over, heart disease is currently killing more Americans than anything else. According to an article I found posted on Mayo clinic, butter has more saturated fat than margarine because it is made from the fat of animals. An article on the American Heart Association’s website tells us that our blood cholesterol will rise if we continue to consume foods with high saturated fat content. It also stated that raising blood cholesterol levels will increase the chances of obtaining heart disease. Margarine, as registered dietitian Katherine Zeratsky explains, isn’t always created by using the exact same products. She explains that margarine can contain trans fat. Fat that can also negatively impact cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease. She also states that margarine that comes in the form of a stick, will carry more trans fat opposed to margarine that comes from a tub. Her suggestion is for consumers to read nutritional facts and to go for a spread margarine that contains no trans fat and the lowest possible amount of saturated fat.


Another aspect of health that I believe should be taken into account to make the determination is the effects on our mental health. I have to admit, I had some difficulty finding credible sources for mental health benefits in regards to butter consumption. But what I did find, is that there is a possible correlation between saturated fat consumption and impairment of cognitive function. According to Lizette Borreli of Medical Daily, saturated fats effect the brain by slowing down the abilities of your dopamine reward system. According to Wikipedia, the dopamine reward system, or just referred to as the reward system, is responsible for how much you will enjoy something. She also states that by hindering the abilities of your dopamine reward system, you will experience an increase of dependency for more foods that contain saturated fat. I noticed that there could be a possible reverse causation in regards to what she stated. So not only by consuming butter (saturated fats) are you increasing the chances of gradually delaying your dopamine reward system, but as your consumption habits cause more negative effects on your dopamine reward system, you will experience and adapt to an increased craving for butter and other saturated fats. It seems to almost have an addicting or full circle effect because your crave will increase while your consumption satisfaction will continue to decrease. Margarine, opposed to butter, may come with even greater mental health risks. Sodium benzoate, a chemical product that is used to help preserve margarine can potentially cause negative side effects in regards to mental health. I found in this article, that sodium benzoate can be directly linked to ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity. An investigation I found outlines a method involving college students consumption of sodium benzoate beverages and their conclusion that sodium benzoate consumption can lead to ADHD symptoms. The study, admittedly, says that this is an issue that should require more investigation.

The third and last factor I would like to look at is the relation or possible correlations of these two products to cancer. The outcomes for both products were not very positive. Let’s start with butter again. Evaluating another blog that I found online, I was able to learn that saturated fat, as mentioned, a key ingredient in butter, is linked especially to both prostate and breast cancer. I found this blog very helpful because it directed me to links were I can find correlation between these cancers and saturated fat consumption. According to the prostate link, people who consumed at least three dairy products with considerable amounts of saturated fat, had a 76% increased risk of general death. Even more interesting is the fact it showed that people would increase their risk of dying due to prostate cancer by 141%. The study was between groups that consumed at least 3 servings of dairy products with saturated fats to those who only consumed 1 serving per day.  As for the breast cancer study, saturated fat was linked to breast cancer through high cholesterol. Like butter, foods that can result in high levels of cholesterol increased the chances of breast cancer development by 18% for women in general and a 21% increase for women who were postmenopausal, according to the study. As far as margarine goes, I did not find any studies that contain proven evidence that can directly link margarine and cancer. The only link I could find was not direct and more of an assumption. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, trans fats which are found in margarine, can lead to serious weight gain which can lead to obesity. As it also states that obesity can now increase the risks of at least 10 different cancers.

After doing my research on if margarine is truly a healthier alternative than butter, I have come to find that I cannot answer this question with complete confidence. If I’m being honest with myself, after doing this research, I have come to find that both butter and margarine have negatives effects on your health. When it comes to cardiovascular health, I give as Katherine Zeratsky suggests, go with a margarine that is spreadable and does not have any trans fats. Now mental health, is a different story. I give a slight edge to butter because I would rather exhibit more self control and not consume a large amount of butter, rather than taking the risk of consuming margarine that contains sodium benzoate. Cancer is also a tough analysis because there is simply no proof of how much that margarine is or is not related to cancer. Consuming both can lead to weight gain and obesity which can be linked to cancers. So, to answer my question, I cannot fully say that margarine is a healthier option than butter.

……Go with olive oil!!!!


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4 thoughts on “Butter or Margarine?

  1. Nicole Paniccia

    My mom always yells at me when I cook with a lot of butter. When I grease pans with butter she always tells me to use pam instead. I never thought about using margarine though. I feel food just won’t taste as good using healthier alternatives. My friend always tells me to use coconut oil or nut butter. Im going to have to try some of these healthier options in the future!

  2. Taylor M Lender

    I love butter! I am one of those people who cooks with butter on a daily basis. On my last grocery trip, I purchased , Smart Balance to try as a substitute. This could be an option to try instead of olive oil. It has a creamy consistency and tastes yummy. Since it has zero trans fat, it might be worth trying.

  3. Daniel J Lehecka

    This topic is really interesting to me because I’ve never really liked stick butter or margarine, but I think there’s definitely more healthy alternatives. I’ve been using Brummel and Brown spread for as long as I can remember, it’s a vegetable oil and yogurt based spread that has no trans fat and considerably less saturdated fat as well. (http://www.makinglifebetter.com/microsite/detail/255822/brummel-brown) I find that it actually tastes better and it is better for you. But using olive oil is something that I can say I never relaly considered as an alternative to butter, I can see it being realistic for bread but things like potatoes just wouldn’t be the same.

  4. Jessy Severino

    Hey man I really like this post on butter vs margarine growing up it was the same with my parents; there wasn’t a valid explanation as to why margarine was better for our body. Something that stood out to me about your blog is that you looked at factors that I myself wouldn’t think that there could be any correlation with this. Like I wouldn’t have imagined that the saturated fats in the butter effect our brains and slows down our dopamine reward system. I found that to be fascinating to read. I found a cool article that talks about there being a link with the consumption of foods with trans fat and depression. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/736460

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