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

Is Margarine Bad For You?

Also Known As: imitation butter spread



Short answer

Margarine, while often lauded for not containing saturated fats, does contain a potentially high amount of trans fat. This alone makes it a very unhealthy choice. We recommend traditional butter over margarine any day of the week.



Recommended Alternative

Long answer

Margarine is a man-made substance derived from vegetable oils, often used in lieu of lard or butter. Proponents claim that margarine is healthier than butter, pointing to its lower amount of cholesterol and lack of saturated fat, as well as its abundance of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are generally linked to improved heart health. However, all is not golden in the land of margarine.

For one, margarine generally contains the same amount of calories as butter. Also, while there is stigma regarding saturated fats, the most recent research shows that it isn't saturated fats we need to be worried about, but rather trans fats. Although the amount of trans fat in margarine does vary with more solid margarine containing greater amounts, a regular stick of margarine contains roughly two grams of trans fat (17% the daily value) per tablespoon - a fairly hefty amount. Trans fat is known to raise LDL cholesterol levels (the bad kind) while lowering HDL levels (the good kind), increasing the risk of arterial plaque formation and heart disease. In fact, the risk of heart attack nearly doubled in one study that focused on those who regularly consumed vegetable oil trans-fatty acids vs. those who did not. Furthermore, the trans fats found in margarine have recently been linked with a decreased immune response, making your body more susceptibility to colds, flu, and other various illnesses.

On the last note, it is important for mothers to recognize that trans fat can reduce the quality of their breast milk. Although more information is needed to deem this fact, it is highly likely the trans fat ingestion during early life is directly related to insulin resistance and impairment of the heart's glucose metabolism in the baby.

While margarine may be fortified with plant sterols and stanols which can help lower cholesterol, whether or not these fortifications can negate the effects of high amounts of trans fat is highly debatable (and in our opinion, not possible). We recommend choosing traditional butter over margarine, with the main focus on eliminating the trans fat. Butter will also provide you with many nutrients in their natural form - in most cases, the nutrients found in margarine are synthetic.

Possible short-term side effects

  • inflammation
  • nausea

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased cholesterol
  • heart disease
  • weight gain
  • diabetes
  • alzheimer's
  • clogged arteries
  • reduced breast milk quality
  • reduced immune response

Ingredients to be aware of

Healthier alternatives

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Earth Balance Spread

  • Dairy-free alternative
  • Buttery taste
  • Large-size pack
  • Great for cooking
  • Vegan-friendly
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Jeff Volling
Published on: 12-29-2015
Last updated: 12-15-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Jeff Volling
Published on: 12-29-2015
Last updated: 12-15-2023

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