Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is Olive Oil Butter Substitute Bad For You?

Also Known As: spread made with olive oil



Short answer

Olive oil butter substitutes can be a healthier choice than traditional butter due to their high monounsaturated fat content, which supports heart health. They are also lower in saturated fats and have zero cholesterol. However, consumption should be moderate due to their caloric content. Check labels for additives that might diminish health benefits. Select substitutes made with quality olive oil, preferably extra-virgin, to maximize benefits.



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Long answer

Composition and Health Attributes of Olive Oil Butter Substitutes

Olive oil butter substitutes are designed to offer a healthier alternative to traditional butter by harnessing the nutritional profile of olive oil. Olive oil is renowned for its health benefits, primarily due to the presence of monounsaturated fats, specifically oleic acid, which has been associated with reduced inflammation and may have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer. Here's a breakdown of the composition and health attributes of these substitutes:

  • Monounsaturated Fats: Unlike butter, which contains higher amounts of saturated fats, olive oil substitutes are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. These fats can help to lower bad LDL cholesterol, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Vitamins and Antioxidants: Olive oil is naturally high in vitamin E and polyphenols, which are antioxidants that protect the body from oxidative stress and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Lower Saturated Fat Content: Olive oil has significantly less saturated fat compared to butter, which makes the substitutes a preferable choice for heart health.
  • Anti-inflammatory Properties: The polyphenols in olive oil exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, helping to combat inflammation within the body.
  • Zero Cholesterol: Olive oil butter substitutes are free from cholesterol, making them a suitable option for individuals with high cholesterol or those looking to maintain healthy levels.

It's important to note that while olive oil butter substitutes offer health benefits over traditional butter, they are still a source of calories and should be consumed in moderation. In addition, consumers should check the labels for potential additives in some products that may affect the overall health value. Ingredients such as emulsifiers, artificial flavors, or excessive salt can detract from the healthful qualities of olive oil. Hence, opting for substitutes with minimal and recognizable ingredients is key to reaping the maximum health benefits.

Studies supporting the health benefits of olive oil include research published in the New England Journal of Medicine which found that individuals at high cardiovascular risk who followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil had a lower rate of major cardiovascular events. Moreover, according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, higher consumption of olive oil is associated with lower risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.

When choosing an olive oil butter substitute, it’s also critical to consider the type of olive oil used. Extra-virgin olive oil retains more of the natural vitamins and antioxidants compared to refined olive oil, making it a superior choice for a butter substitute. Ensuring that the product is made from quality olive oil will contribute to the health attributes listed above.

Saturated Fat vs. Monounsaturated Fat: Understanding the Difference

When discussing dietary fats, it's crucial to distinguish between saturated and monounsaturated fats. These two types of fats differ in their chemical structure and, consequently, in their effects on our health.

Saturated Fats: These fats have no double bonds between the carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain and are thus "saturated" with hydrogen atoms. They are typically solid at room temperature and are found in animal products such as meat, butter, and cheese, as well as some plant oils like coconut and palm oil. Research has shown a correlation between high saturated fat intake and elevated levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol due to its association with an increased risk of heart disease.

Monounsaturated Fats: In contrast, monounsaturated fats have one double bond in the fatty acid chain and are liquid at room temperature. They are prevalent in olive oil, avocados, and nuts such as almonds and peanuts. Studies have consistently linked monounsaturated fats with beneficial effects on heart health, including improving blood cholesterol levels by increasing HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, known as the "good" cholesterol, which can help to remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.

Making a simple swap from butter, which is high in saturated fat, to an olive oil-based substitute, predominantly composed of monounsaturated fat, can have a positive impact on cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association has recommended reducing saturated fat intake and replacing it with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, following findings that suggest a reduced risk of heart disease upon switching.

However, balance is key. While monounsaturated fats are more heart-healthy than saturated fats, consuming them in moderation is important as they are still calorie-dense. Overconsumption of any type of fat can lead to weight gain and other health issues. It is also essential to consider the overall quality of your diet and incorporate a variety of nutrient-dense foods for optimal health.

Quick Comparison:

Type of Fat Characteristics Common Food Sources Health Impact
Saturated Fat No double bonds, solid at room temperature Butter, meat, cheese, coconut oil, palm oil Can increase LDL cholesterol levels
Monounsaturated Fat One double bond, liquid at room temperature Olive oil, avocados, almonds, peanuts Can improve HDL cholesterol levels

An olive oil butter substitute provides a healthier alternative in terms of fat composition, aligning well with current dietary guidelines that advocate for a shift away from saturated fats toward unsaturated fats, particularly monounsaturated fats, for heart health. Furthermore, integrating foods rich in monounsaturated fats into a balanced diet contributes to a variety of health benefits beyond cholesterol management, including potential roles in weight management and insulin sensitivity.

It's worth noting that while the distinction between these fats is significant, the overall context of an individual's diet and lifestyle choices also play a pivotal role in health outcomes. Therefore, choosing an olive oil butter substitute as part of a conscientious effort to improve diet quality is a step in the right direction.

Artificial Ingredients and Preservatives in Butter Replacements

When dissecting the health implications of using olive oil butter substitutes, it's imperative to discuss the often-overlooked artificial ingredients and preservatives that some products contain. While pure olive oil is known for its health benefits, including a rich supply of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, commercial butter substitutes sometimes incorporate additional components to mimic the texture, flavor, and shelf-life of traditional butter. Let’s delve into what these ingredients might be and their potential impact on health.

Common Artificial Ingredients

  • Emulsifiers: To achieve butter-like consistency, manufacturers might add emulsifiers such as soy lecithin or mono and diglycerides. While these are generally recognized as safe by the FDA, some studies suggest that large amounts may affect gut flora and lead to inflammation.
  • Flavor Enhancers: Artificial flavors are added to make the substitute taste more like butter. These chemical compounds can sometimes cause allergic reactions or sensitivities in certain individuals.
  • Color Additives: Yellow coloring agents are sometimes included to give the olive oil spread a buttery hue. These artificial colors may have adverse effects on attention and behavior in children, according to some research.


  • Potassium Sorbate: This preservative is often used to prolong the shelf life of food products. Although the FDA considers it safe, studies have raised questions about its potential as a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant.
  • Calcium Disodium EDTA: Another common preservative, used to prevent the oxidation of oils. There are concerns regarding its accumulation and potential disruption of nutrient absorption.

Expert opinions vary on the consequences of consuming these additives, but the consensus leans towards being cautious about intake frequency and quantities. For instance, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conducts regular assessments to ensure the safety levels of food additives are not exceeded in the context of an average diet. While initiatives like this aim to protect consumers, relying on olive oil butter substitutes with minimal processing and less reliance on chemicals is likely a healthier option overall.

Reading Labels

It's essential for consumers to become adept at reading nutrition labels. Ingredients are listed by quantity, from highest to lowest. Those interested in maintaining a cleaner diet should look for olive oil butter substitutes with few and recognizable ingredients. When in doubt about a specific additive's health implications, research its origin, use, and any associated side effects. This practice encourages informed choices and a diet more aligned with whole food consumption.

Ultimately, the additives and preservatives found in some olive oil butter substitutes can diminish the health benefits that a simple swap from butter to olive oil might suggest. To maintain the integrity of a healthy diet, opting for products that are as close to their natural state as possible is a safe bet. When this is not achievable, prioritizing a deeper understanding of product ingredients can help navigate the multitude of available options harmoniously with one’s health goals.

Impact of Olive Oil Butter Substitute on Cholesterol Levels

When considering the impact of an olive oil butter substitute on cholesterol levels, it's important to compare the major fatty acid profiles present in both olive oil and traditional dairy butter. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats, particularly oleic acid, which has been associated with beneficial effects on cholesterol levels. On the contrary, butter is higher in saturated fats, which can negatively impact cholesterol levels by raising low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as the "bad" cholesterol.

Several studies have highlighted the cholesterol-lowering benefits of olive oil. A pivotal piece of research in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people on a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil had lower rates of cardiovascular events, presumably due to improved cholesterol profiles and other heart-healthy effects. Moreover, the American Heart Association suggests that replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats like those found in olive oil can help reduce bad LDL cholesterol levels.

Nutrition experts generally recommend consuming fats primarily from unsaturated sources, and using an olive oil butter substitute aligns with this guidance. It's important to pay attention to the type of olive oil butter substitute one chooses; looking for products made with pure olive oil rather than those containing a blend of oils can maximize the cholesterol-lowering benefits.

Here are some key points outlining the cholesterol-related impacts:

  • Olive oil butter substitutes are typically rich in monounsaturated fats, which can improve the HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio.
  • Consumption of olive oil has been linked to a reduction in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Replacing saturated fats like those in butter with monounsaturated fats from olive oil may reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Quality checks are crucial; the purest olive oil substitutes ensure the highest monounsaturated fat content without unnecessary additives.

Incorporating olive oil into the diet in place of saturated fats is a strategy supported by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It's essential, however, to maintain balance and moderation as all fats are calorie-dense, and excess consumption can lead to weight gain and associated health concerns irrespective of cholesterol improvements.

For individuals with particular health conditions or those mindful of heart health, consulting with healthcare providers or a registered dietitian can provide personalized advice on incorporating an olive oil butter substitute into their diet effectively and safely.

Comparison to Real Butter: Which is Healthier for Daily Consumption?

When it comes to choosing between olive oil butter substitutes and real butter, it's essential to consider the nutritional profiles of both and how they relate to daily consumption. Let's delve into the differences between these two fats to understand which might be a healthier choice.

Saturated vs. Unsaturated Fats:

Real butter is rich in saturated fats, which, when consumed in excess, have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Conversely, a good quality olive oil butter substitute is high in monounsaturated fats, which are known for their heart-healthy properties and potential to lower bad cholesterol levels. Studies, including one published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, support the consumption of monounsaturated fats for cardiovascular health.

Vitamin Content:

Butter is a significant source of fat-soluble vitamins, particularly vitamins A, E, and K2. However, olive oil substitutes also pack a nutritional punch, offering vitamin E, which is an antioxidant. Depending on the fortification, some olive oil substitutes may also contain additional nutrients, possibly making them a comparably nutritious option.

Caloric Comparison:

Both real butter and olive oil butter substitutes are calorie-dense, but the latter often has slightly fewer calories due to its lower fat content. This minor difference can add up over time, especially for individuals monitoring their calorie intake for weight management.

Impact on Cooking:

In the context of cooking, the smoke point of a fat is crucial. Olive oil butter substitutes typically have a higher smoke point than butter, making them more suitable for high-heat cooking and potentially contributing to reduced formation of harmful compounds associated with fats breaking down at high temperatures.

Dairy Content and Dietary Restrictions:

Real butter is a dairy product, which may not be suitable for those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies. Olive oil butter substitutes are often dairy-free, vegan-friendly, and thus more universally consumable for those with dietary restrictions or preferences.

Environmental and Ethical Considerations:

For individuals who prioritize environmental and ethical implications of their food choices, olive oil butter substitutes usually have a lower environmental impact than dairy butter, as plant-based options are generally more sustainable. Ethical considerations may also favor olive oil substitutes, especially for those following a vegan lifestyle.

In conclusion, while real butter has nutritional benefits, olive oil butter substitutes offer a heart-healthy profile with potentially fewer calories and broader suitability for various diets. The choice between the two should be informed by individual health goals, dietary restrictions, and personal values regarding nutrition and sustainability.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, many olive oil butter substitutes have a higher smoke point than traditional butter, making them suitable for high-temperature cooking methods such as sautéing, grilling, or roasting. These substitutes can often withstand heat better, helping to reduce the formation of harmful compounds that can occur when fats are heated to the point of breaking down.

Olive oil butter substitutes can aid in weight management because they often contain slightly fewer calories and lower fat content compared to real butter. However, moderation is key, as both products are calorie-dense. Incorporating these substitutes as part of a balanced diet and monitoring overall calorie intake are essential steps in weight management.

Olive oil butter substitutes are typically dairy-free and therefore can be a safe alternative for those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance. It's always important to check the product labeling to ensure there are no hidden dairy-derived ingredients, especially for those with allergies.

Olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats, has been associated with potential improvements in insulin sensitivity compared to saturated fat-rich products like traditional butter. Consuming monounsaturated fats as part of a balanced diet may contribute to better blood sugar management and could be beneficial for individuals with or at risk for insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.

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Ingredients to be aware of


  • lowers ldl cholesterol
  • reduces risk of heart disease
  • high in antioxidants
  • anti-inflammatory
  • cholesterol-free

Healthier alternatives

  • extra-virgin olive oil butter substitutes
  • minimally processed spreads
  • whole food options

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Earth Balance Buttery Spread

  • Rich in Olive Oil
  • Dairy-free alternative
  • Non-GMO ingredients
  • Convenient case pack
  • Zero trans fat
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-20-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-20-2024

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