Margarine vs. Butter: What’s the Difference and Which Is Healthier for You?

Margarine vs. Butter: What’s the Difference and Which Is Healthier for You?

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Without a doubt, butter is considered a staple of the American diet. Most families start their day with a piece of toast, spread with butter, and a cup of coffee. While it provides a savory flavor for all the foods we eat, is it really worth the risk? Or is it better to substitute our daily dose of butter with margarine? Regardless of what you believe, here are some facts and differences between the two.

What is butter?

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Butter is a natural product used in cooking, baking and as a spread. Usually made from cow’s milk, it can also be made from milk of goats, sheep or buffalo. It also only contains trace amounts of carbs and does not provide many vitamins and minerals, when consumed in small amounts. And since butter is made from milk, it is considered a dairy product. Unlike most dairy products however, butter contains very low amounts of lactose.

What Is margarine?

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We have to thank Napoleon III for margarine. In 1869, Napoleon III offered a prize to whomever could invent a cheap butter substitute to feed the French army. Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès, a French chemist, did just that and introduced the world’s first margarine. While it was meant and designed for the military, margarine soon crossed over to the mainstream and gained popularity all over the world. Since it was cheaper than butter, many working families were able to afford it.

For those who lived in hot climates and did not have a way to keep things refrigerated, margarine was a life saver since it is able to stay solid at room temperature. Depending on the market, margarine has its own special blends and ingredients. Today, however, margarine is mostly made from vegetable oils, including corn, cottonseed, safflower, soy and sunflower.

What’s the difference between margarine and butter? And which is better?

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At first, researchers and nutritionists suggested that we switch from butter since margarine is made from vegetable oils. Researchers later discovered that chemically altering vegetable oils to stay solid at room temperature can have huge consequences on a person’s heart. Still, health experts can’t agree on which product is better to have on your toast. While butter might be bad, it also contains beneficial nutrients. For those who are lactose intolerant, margarine may be a great substitute but if health is your main concern, make sure to read upon what kinds of ingredients were used to make the product. Healthier alternatives to butter or margarine include olive oil and other vegetable oil–based spreads.

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