Butter has earned itself quite the controversial label, in terms of being a nutritional product. While the research continues to show that incorporating a small amount of butter into your diet can be totally safe for most people, this doesn’t change the fact that not all butter products are created equally and some butter brands are worse than others.
When evaluating the quality of a butter product, the key is to look at the type of ingredients that are included. Specifically, butter is traditionally made with just cream and salt. However, many of the pseudo-butter products on the market have a slew of extra ingredients and added oils that can make these products higher in fat and all around less healthy.
According to the American Heart Association, it’s recommended that you try to keep the amount of saturated fats you consume between 5–6% of your total daily calories. This equals about 14 grams of saturated fat per day or one tablespoon of butter. Products that use heart healthy oils or add omega-3s can improve the quality of the product and its health-promoting properties.
1. Country Crock Buttery Spread
Tub-based butters or butter products like margarine, such as Country Crock® Original, are often smoother and more spreadable because of the oils incorporated into the ingredients. Although this product might taste delicious, taste and spreadability doesn’t necessarily make it healthier.
“Tub butters often are the worst; they are usually loaded with unhealthy oils that make them more spreadable,” explains Moushumi Mukherjee, MS, RDN, of Dietitian Moushumi LLC.
Oftentimes, companies use these oils to increase a product’s shelf life and meet consumer demands. Next time you’re looking for a healthier alternative of a buttery spread that also uses oils, consider an option that supports the product’s spreadability with oils that are more conducive to your heart’s health like olive oil, avocado oil, and flaxseed oil.
Despite some questions around to what extent regular butter can be incorporated into a healthy diet, many dietitians agree that margarine is still out. When it comes to brands offering unhealthy butter products, this recognizable household name brand might ring a bell.
3. Smart Balance
“Parkay is a margarine made mostly with soybean, palm, and palm kernel oil. It does contain a small amount of milk, but more than half is vegetable oil, which is deceiving as the packaging shows a big picture of milk and the slogan [is] ‘made with real milk,'” says Kelsey Kunik, RDN, a nutrition advisor for Zenmaster Wellness.”Palm oil and palm kernel oil is higher in saturated fats than other plant oils, and is a contributor to deforestation and various environmental concerns.”
“Margarines may be less calories than real butter, but they are a worse choice than a small amount of real butter,” shares Molly Snyder, RDN, of Full-Filled Nutrition. “One of my least favorites is Smart Balance. Although the name implies that this is a smart choice for a balanced diet, it is not. Smart Balance is made of a blend of vegetable oils, salt, and added flavors and colors. This is not a healthy alternative to butter.”
However, Smart Balance does have a heart healthy line of products made with olive oil, flaxseed oil, and is high in omega-3s that you might find is a healthier choice for you.
The ’90s called, and they want their butter back! This classic butter product, particularly the spray, gives the illusion of a healthier choice. However, a serving of spreadable product contains saturated fat from palm oil as well as vegetable oil. While this product is overall lower in calories, the quality is compromised from the added ingredients here.
Chef Julie Andrews, MS, RDN, FAND, agrees. “Check the label of tub margarine and butter products, like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and Smart Balance,” she says. “Bonus points if it’s made with a heart-healthy fat like olive oil.”
Vegan options often sound and seem healthier given the lack of dairy or other animal products, right? This is perhaps true in some cases, but not always when it comes to certain brands of vegan butter. Take Trader Joe’s Vegan Buttery Spread, for instance.