Margarine vs. butter

Alternative names
Butter vs. margarine

Is margarine healthier than butter? Neither is ideal, because butter is loaded with saturated fat, and almost all margarines have some saturated fat and trans fatty acids. However, if you must use one or the other, margarine may be better than butter.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Use canola or olive oil instead of butter or margarine.  
  • Choose soft margarine (tub/liquid) over harder stick forms.  
  • Choose margarines with liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient.  
  • Even better, choose “light” margarines that list water as the first ingredient, because these are even lower in saturated fat.  
  • If you have High cholesterol, talk to your doctor about using margarines made from plant sterols or stanols. These substances, made from soybean and pine tree oils, can help lower your LDL cholesterol by as much as 6% to 15%. The AHA recommends further study for children, pregnant women, and those without High cholesterol, however.


  • Margarines, shortening, and cooking oils that have more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.  
  • “Hydrogenated” and “partially-hydrogenated” fats (read ingredients on food labels) because these are high in saturated fats and trans-fatty acids.  
  • Coconut, palm, and palm kernal oils because they are very high in saturated fat.  
  • Shortening or other fats made from animal sources.


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Dave R. Roger, M.D.

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