Today I’m going to discuss a common area of confusion, as there are a lot of different messages out there depending on who you speak to. What it boils down to is the whole saturated fat debate. We’ve been led to believe that saturated fat is so detrimental to health we must avoid it at all costs, but is this necessary? And is butter or margarine healthier? Read on to find out.

Just to be clear you absolutely need fat in your diet.  It’s the type of fat which can cause problems.


The pros and cons of margarine


  • Margarine is made from vegetable oil which undergoes hydrogenation or intensive processing to harden the texture.
  • Although rich in polyunsaturated fats which are considered healthier for your heart, by the time they’ve been processed they’re less than ideal. After this processing they often become trans fats which we definitely want to avoid!
  • Some margarines contain healthier oils such as olive oil, and some really aren’t too bad at all such as the vegan brands you can buy in health food shops. These can contain a nice variety of alternative fats such as coconut oil and shea butter.
  • Margarine will almost always contain additives to make it tastier and spreadable.
  • Standard margarines are very high in omega-6 fatty acids. We need to keep our omega-3 and 6 in the correct ratio to be healthy – but there is a problem! Found everywhere, Omega-6 is in so many foods we end up eating far too much of it.
    Omega-6 can also be very inflammatory. Excessive inflammation is at the root of most disease and illness states, so really, avoiding too much omega-6 is essential.

The bottom line on margarine:

If you’re avoiding dairy for dietary reasons or if you’re vegan, look for brands which are free from trans fats.  Better still use ‘healthier fat’ containing brands from your health food shop.

The pros and cons of butter:


Although demonised as being high in saturated fat, and therefore bad for heart health, this isn’t the whole story. The jury is still out on how much saturated fat we need in our diets, but the general consensus is it definitely needs to feature in our diets to some degree.

The nutrient profile of butter from grass-fed herds is very high. It contains some real plusses such as –

  • Vitamin K2, this plays a key role in bone and heart health, and is also key in cancer prevention.
  • Butter is also rich in several important fatty acids, including butyrate which you need for a healthy gut. You can read more about keeping your gut healthy here.
    Plenty of omega-3 fatty acids for brain and skin health.
  • Conjugated linoleic acid which helps stop weight gain and helps build muscle.

The bottom line on butter –


It’s rich in saturated fat which we undoubtedly need in our diets, but the jury is very much still out on how much exactly we need.
As is usually the way with all things nutrition related – the poison’s in the dose – a small amount is likely beneficial for you, but too much may well be damaging.
And how much butter do we really tend to eat? It’s not something we usually consume at very high levels!
When buying butter look for grass fed, organic and if you can get it, raw.  If you have a good local farmers market you may be able to pick up raw butter there.

So is butter or margarine healthier?

My take on fats in general is that you want a nice variety in your diet – mix them up, including butter, so you know you’re getting some of all the necessary fats you need in your diet.

Focus on –

Extra virgin olive oil
Coconut oil

Nut butters
Seed butters

They can all be spread on toast too to make a delicious snack.
Try to avoid eating only one kind, they’re all beneficial and contain different types of fats which we need for a balanced diet.

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