Q&A: What is healthier, butter or margarine

Q: I am wondering which is healthier to use: Butter  or light spreadable margarine, like light I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter? The latter contains palm kernel and palm oil, which I thought aren’t too healthy, but I thought that butter has more saturated fat and calories.


A: Yes, light I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter! does have less saturated fat and calories than butter but it also contains palm oil, monoglycerides and diglycerides that aren’t so healthy.

Monoglycerides and diglycerides are emulsifiers, structurally similar to fat that are often used to combine water with soybean oil (or other fat) to make lower calorie buttery spreads. When mono- and diglycerides are manufactured in a lab, or when exposed to heat for processing and prepared foods, trans fatty acids — the least healthy of all the fats — can be formed.

Food manufacturers are currently working to reduce or eliminate trans fat in their products, but because of a 2006 labeling law we really don’t know how much trans fat there is in some products. A product that contains trans-fatty acids from mono- and diglycerides can be labeled as having 0 grams trans fat. How is this possible? In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration made it a law that all food manufacturers list trans fat content on the label. However, this law applies to fats not to emulsifiers.

So what is a healthier choice? If you are looking for a buttery spread, I recommend Land O’ Lakes Butter with Olive Oil and Sea Salt. It has 5 grams of heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fat, and 75 percent less saturated fat than butter. It’s made with sweet cream, olive oil, salt and sea salt (yes that’s it!) so we know that it only contains a trace amount of naturally occurring trans fat from dairy cream. Think about other ways to add heart healthy mono-unsaturated fat to your diet by using olive oil, canola oil, and avocados as you would butter or buttery spreads in recipes and at the dinner table.

Be well.

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