Butter vs. Plant-Based Butter Spreads...Which is Better?

The dairy aisle at the market has gotten a lot more complicated. One upon a time, there was just creamy, dairy butter. But over the last several years, a variety of healthy plant-based spreads have proliferated, some being healthier for you than others.

Butter Breakdown

First up, the old standby: creamy, dairy butter. It’s made from cow’s milk, which is churned until it turns into the thick, yellowish substance that magically melts on a hot slice of toast.

“Butter comes from animal fat, which contains saturated fat,” says Angela Blackstone, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “Saturated fat can increase your LDL – the bad – cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that 6% or less of your total calories come from saturated fats.”

According to the Department of Agriculture, a tablespoon of butter contains:

  • Calories: 100.
  • Fat: 11.4 grams.
  • Saturated fat: 7.19 grams.
  • Cholesterol: 30.1 milligrams.
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams.

Some types of butter may also contain salt.

A 2019 study noted that butter made from cows that consume grass are also higher in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health. 

Plant-Based Butter Spreads

While butter might be the most well-known types of spreads, there are a wide variety of alternative plant-based spreads on the market these days. Plant-based butter, also referred to as vegan butter, is a nondairy butter substitute that’s typically made by combining water with a plant-derived oil, such as  sunflower, avocado, olive oil, coconut, palm kernel oil, or a combination of oils.

“Some plant-based spreads contain natural compounds similar to cholesterol, that can help lower LDL cholesterol, in conjunction with a diet that’s lower in saturated fat and cholesterol,” Blackstone says. Given that they’re primarily made from plant-derived oils, plant-based butters are generally higher in calories and fat.

According to Healthline.com, a tablespoon of Earth Balance vegan butter contains:

  • Calories: 100
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Total fat: 11 grams
  • Saturated fat: 3.5 grams
  • Monounsaturated fat: 5 grams
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 2.5 grams
  • Sodium: 120 mg

Additional plant-based spreads you can make at home include:

  • Mashing avocado and using it like peanut butter on toast. 
  • Drizzling cold-pressed olive oil or avocado oil.
  • Spreading good-quality coconut oil.
  • Grinding chia or flax seeds to make a single-ingredient butter that’s a good source of protein and fiber.
  • Mincing olives and mixing with virgin olive oil.
  • Dipping or smearing hummus, a spread made from chickpeas.

Excerpts included from original articles on US News & World Report - Health and Healthline.com

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