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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Butter or margarine: Which is better when it comes to fat?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 1


    Angela Jackson

    Exercise Scientist

    I have qualifications as an Exercise Scientist, Herbalist and Health Coach, with over 10 years experience in the preventative health industry helping people to improve … View Profile

    This depends on what angle you're looking at - from a calorie perspective they're about the same. Butter will have more saturated fat than margarine, but butter is also a natural product whereas margarine is manufactured. While I haven't done this experiment myself, the link below shows that even ants won't eat margarine, that's quite a scary thought!

    Personally I believe organic butter is the best choice in moderate amounts, along with a balanced diet and exercise.

  • Samantha Ling

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Samantha is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD), consultant and food and nutrition enthusiast. Samantha works in a private practice on the Central Coast, NSW, Rostant … View Profile

    This is a VERY good question and highly debated amongst many of the leading health professionals in Australia.

    Personally, I think it depends on YOUR overall diet and fat intake as a whole, which an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) can help you determine. If you're already consuming a low fat diet (eg. limiting takeaway, high fat/high sugar snacks like chocolate and cakes etc, using low fat dairy products, choosing lean meat varieties etc etc) AND your blood lipids (such as cholesterol) are within the normal range then using Butter is absolutely okay!

    The Heart Foundation strongly recommends margarine as a healthier choice to butter. A major review recently undertaken by the Heart Foundation highlighted that Australians are consuming too much saturated fat. By simply swapping butter to margarine on your toast in the mornings and your sandwich at lunch, studies show that you can reduce your saturated fat intake by 2.5kg over 1 year!

    As a general overview of the nutritional components of butter versus margarine - total energy is relatively the same (that is, kilojoules/calories):

    1. Butter - as it is derived from an animal product it is naturally higher in what we call saturated fat (bad fat) which will have the MOST impact on your cholesterol levels (and therefore your risk of heart disease). Butters also tend to be higher in sodium (salt) which can have an effect on your blood pressure.

    2. Margarine - as margarines are derived from plant seeds they have very little to no saturated fat (bad fats) and are actually extrememly good sources of ‘good fats’ which are good for our hearts, regenerating healthy skin and making many hormones. These fats are known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in margarines made from canola, sunflower, olive or dairy blends.

    Controversially, margarines are developing a bit of a bad reputation because of their Trans Fat concentrations. These fats are like saturated fats and are known for an increased risk of heart disease. Trans fats are naturally found in products (known as ruminant sources such as meat and dairy products) and are also formed during the manufacturing process of margarine.
    THE GOOD NEWS is that in Australia, the amount of Trans Fats allowed in our food supply are VERY tightly regulated by the Australian Food Authority. In fact, studies conducted in 2009 show that Australian's actually have one of the lowest levels of exposure to Trans Fats IN THE WORLD and are well within the recommendations set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
    This suggests that our intake of saturated fat is of a greater concern in terms of preventing heart disease, as 60-75% of Australian's Trans Fat intake actually comes from ruminant sources (eg. fullfat dairy products and fatty meat) which are also high in saturated fat!

    So instead of stressing out about the levels of Trans Fats in margarines which are also providing a rich source of good fats - look at reducing your Trans Fat consumption through ruminant sources by:
    - choosing lean meat varieties
    - trimming visible fat off your meat
    - choosing low fat dairy products
    - and also limiting takeaway and high fat snacks

    Samantha Ling
    Rostant Nutrition
    (Find us on facebook @ )

  • 1


    Ashleigh Jones

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Fantastic responses from Angela and Samantha.

    I would just like to add that it is also worth considering what you are actually using the product for.  As Samantha pointed out, a mono- or polyunsaturated margarine is a great alternative for a spread, but you can even go one step further and use avocado or a good olive-oil based pesto instead.  

    One issue with margarine is its heat stability, which varies depending on the ingredients.  This is not a concern if you use it as a spread, but if baked goods are your main source of these products, you are not necessarily doing yourself any favours by choosing margarine.  Instead, I would look towards a heat stable oil like canola or rice bran, or if butter is just not negotiable then use it in moderation and look at reducing the frequency with which you consume these foods.

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