vs. Butter Research Summary
are highlights of twelve research studies, all published or
presented within the past five years, that demonstrate that
compared to butter, margarine products are the best tablespreads
for a heart-healthy diet. This summary is not intended to
be a thorough scientific review; rather, it illustrates that
there have been numerous studies that point to margarine as
the preferred tablespread when compared to butter.
et al. The effect of replacing dietary saturated fat with
polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat on plasma lipids in
free-living young adults. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
October 2001. 55:908-915.
Findings: This paper reports on two randomized crossover
trials among healthy, free-living adults aged 20-41. Saturated
fat rich foods (e.g., butter) -- comprising 15% of calories
-- were replaced with foods rich in either n-6 polyunsaturated
fats (e.g., safflower and sunflower spreads/oils) or monounsaturated
fat (e.g., canola spread/oil). Compared to the saturated fat
rich diet, the polyunsaturated fat diet significantly reduced
total cholesterol by 19 percent and LDL cholesterol by 22
percent. Similarly, the monounsaturated fat diet lowered total
cholesterol by 12 percent and LDL cholesterol by 15 percent.
Since saturated fat consumption is known to result in higher
HDL levels, it was presumed that both unsaturated fat diets
would lower HDL levels. According to the researchers: "However,
if only using total cholesterol to predict risk of cardiovascular
disease, the present results show that replacing saturated
fat with n-6 polyunsaturated fat , rather than monounsaturated
fat, is more efficacious at lowering the predicted risk of
cardiovascular disease due to a larger decline in plasma total
"Young adults are very responsive to dietary-induced changes
in plasma cholesterol even when an isocaloric replacement
of saturated fat with n-6 polyunsaturated or monounsaturated
fat is not achieved. Replacing saturated fat with either n-6
polyunsaturated fat or monounsaturated fat is equally efficacious
at reducing the total to high density lipoprotein cholesterol
et al. Individual Cholesterol Variation in Response to a Margarine-
or Butter- Based Diet. Journal of the American Medical
Association. December 6, 2000. Vol. 284. No. 21. 2740-2747
Findings: This unique study with 46 biological families
(92 adults and 134 children) looked at dietary responsiveness
to a margarine-based diet or a butter-based diet for ten weeks
(five weeks on each diet). Compared with the butter diet,
the margarine diet lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol levels 11
percent (15.7 mg/dl) in adults and 9 percent (11.2 mg/dl)
in children. Similarly, the margarine diet significantly lowered
total cholesterol levels in adults (down 17.6 points) and
children (by 11.3 points) versus the butter diet. No significant
differences in HDL (good) cholesterol were seen in adults
or children. In about one-fourth of the study population,
the margarine-based diet lowered total cholesterol levels
as much as medication.
These findings agree with those from metabolic diet studies
evaluating greater and lesser percentages of energy from margarine,
confirming the longstanding advice to the public at large
to choose softer margarines over butter. Although differences
in response to diet were observed, 80 percent of participants
lowered their LDL cholesterol levels on the margarine-based
diet (vs. the butter-based diet). In addition to finding a
direct correlation between body weight and dietary responsiveness,
the researchers concluded that shared genes and environment
play a role in overall dietary responsiveness. Overall, this
research supports well established recommendations that a
cholesterol-lowering diet be promoted to the population at
et al. Trends in the Incidence of Coronary Heart Disease and
Changes in Diet and Lifestyle in Women. The New England
Journal of Medicine 2000. 343:530-7.
Findings: The Harvard researchers reported on a follow-up
analysis of 85,941 women between 1980 and 1994. After appropriately
analyzing dietary records and health outcomes, they found
that a dramatic reduction in heart disease risk was due to
a reduction in smoking, an increase in use of post menopausal
hormone use, and improvements in diet. The most important
dietary changes contributing to this decreased risk were reduced
intake of saturated fat (according to the researchers, derived
mainly from red meat and high fat dairy products such as butter,
whole milk and cheese) and a 69 percent increase in the ratio
of polyunsaturated fat to saturated fat (leading dietary sources
of polyunsaturated fat are margarine, salad dressings, vegetable
oils and nuts). Other significant dietary changes included
increased intake of cereal fiber (up 90%), marine-based n-3
fatty acids (up 120%), and folate (up 12%). The researchers
also found a decrease of 31% in trans fat consumption.
Dietary improvements contributed significantly to the
decline in risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) found across
the entire study population. They conclude "these findings
underscore the importance of diet and lifestyle in the primary
prevention of coronary disease."
et al. Effects of Different Forms of Dietary Hydrogenated
Fats on Serum Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels. The New England
Journal of Medicine. 1999. 340:25:1933-1940.
Findings: The Tufts University researchers evaluated blood
lipid levels among 36 hypercholesterolemic individuals during
five 5-week phases that contained fats in various forms. They
found that butter produced higher total and LDL cholesterol
levels than did liquid oil, semi-liquid, soft or stick margarine,
or shortening. In further evaluating the specific effects
of trans fat, researchers noted that both saturated fat and
trans fat increased the total/HDL cholesterol ratio.
When evaluating the practicality of using a margarine or butter,
consumption of partially hydrogenated soybean oil used in
margarines -- particularly liquid and tub products -- yielded
lower total and LDL cholesterol levels than did butter. However,
results also showed that butter and stick margarine (both
of which contained 80% oil), produced a ratio of HDL to total
cholesterol that was the least preferable.
Denke et al. Margarine vs. Butter: Individual Variation in
Dietary Responsiveness in Families. Circulation. 1998.
Vol. 98, No. 17. (Abstract presentation at American Heart
Association 1998 Scientific Sessions)
Findings: To help in the determination if genetics might
affect lipoprotein response to diet, 56 individuals (9 families)
with unspecified cholesterol profiles consumed two diets that
were either rich in margarine or butter. After five weeks
on each of the diets, results showed that the average blood
cholesterol on the margarine diet was 13 points lower than
on the butter diet, and LDL cholesterol was 10 points lower
after consuming the margarine diet vs. the butter diet. There
were no significant differences on HDL cholesterol levels.
Margarine significantly lowered total and LDL cholesterol
levels compared with butter, and in some cases, the lowering
effect was as much as medication.
et al. Effects of Butter vs. Margarine on Blood Lipid Profiles
Related to Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors. American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1998. 68:768-77.
Findings: U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers examined
blood lipid effects from three tablespreads in 46 male and
female volunteers. Butter evoked the highest total and LDL
cholesterol levels; margarine with a moderate amount of trans
fat (TFA-M) lowered both total cholesterol (3.5%) and LDL
cholesterol (5.4 %) compared to butter; a trans-fat-free margarine
(PUFA-M) lowered total cholesterol (4.7%) and LDL cholesterol
(6.7%) compared to butter. The HDL levels were unchanged with
both margarines compared to butter.
Consumption of either TFA-M or PUFA-M margarine improved blood
lipid profiles associated with cardiovascular risk compared
to butter, with a marginally greater improvement with PUFA-M
relative to TFA-M.
et al. Serum Cholesterol Distribution and Coronary Heart Disease
Risk: Observations and Predictions Among Middle-Aged Population
in Eastern Finland. Circulation. 1998. 97:1087-1094.
Findings: Comparing results of five independent risk factor
surveys that included 27,721 people, Finnish researchers saw
significant decreases in blood cholesterol levels in both
men and women over a 20-year time period; average cholesterol
levels decreased from 262 mg/dL to about 228 mg/dL in men
and 259 mg/dL to 212 mg/dL in women. They found that a community-based
population strategy in cardiovascular disease prevention was
effective in decreasing cholesterol levels among the entire
population, including subjects with the highest blood cholesterol
values. As was stated in a previously published study, these
researchers continue to attribute major reductions in coronary
heart disease to changes away from consumption of saturated
fat to unsaturated fats and lower-fat products.
: "In the past 20 years, we can identify four major changes
that can explain the observed decrease in saturated fat consumption:
(1) introduction and promotion of low-fat milk and (2) oil-based
soft margarine in the 1970s, (3) introduction of fat-free
milk in the early 1980s, and (4) introduction of low-fat oil-and-water
based margarine in the late 1980s." "A 10% reduction in cholesterol
levels in the entire population could subsequently reduce
coronary heart disease mortality by 20%..."
et al. Oil Blends Containing Partially Hydrogenated or Interesterified
Fats: Differential Effects on Plasma Lipids. American Journal
of Clinical Nutrition. 1998. 68:242-7.
Findings: Thirty eight mildly hypercholesterolemic subjects
underwent dietary interventions in which they consumed low-fat
diets that contained 20 percent of calories as either butter,
trans fatty acid (TFA) margarine with 10.4 percent trans fat
or TFA-free margarine with zero trans fat. The researchers
found that both margarines lowered LDL cholesterol 9-15 percent
compared to butter.
From their data, the researchers note that the change in risk
from replacing 20 percent of energy from butter with the two
study margarines would be 34 percent (as fed) or 17 percent
among individuals who more typically consume 30 grams of margarine
(10% of calories). Although there was no statistically significant
difference in the ratio of total to HDL cholesterol between
the two margarines, they noted a trend toward a lower ratio
with the trans-free product.
et al. Dietary lipids and blood cholesterol: quantitative
meta-analysis of metabolic ward studies. British Medical
Journal. 1997. 314:112-115.
Findings: This meta-analysis found that increasing polyunsaturated
fat intake can decrease total and LDL cholesterol. Clarke
et al. analyzed 395 studies and found that while monounsaturated
fats increased HDL cholesterol, they had no significant effect
on total and LDL cholesterol levels. Overall, the researchers
found that replacement of 60 percent of saturated fat with
unsaturated fat, and avoidance of 60 percent of all dietary
cholesterol (in typical British diets) reduced total blood
cholesterol levels by 10-15 percent.
Increasing consumption of polyunsaturated fat (from foods
such as margarine) can decrease levels of total and LDL cholesterol.
et al. Review Article: Butter, Margarine and Serum Lipoproteins.
Atherosclerosis. 1997. 131:7-16.
Findings: An analysis of 20 studies, published between
1957 and 1995 and comprising 49 comparisons of butter and
margarine, found that blood lipid profiles were favorably
affected by soft margarines, primarily due to their reduced
level of trans and saturated fat. This review of the literature
examined the potential health effects of margarine vs. butter,
finding that replacement of 30 grams (slightly more than two
tablespoons) of butter per day with soft tub margarine would
theoretically reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD)
by 10 percent and that a larger reduction in risk might be
seen by replacing butter and other hard fats with margarines
low in saturated and trans fats.
Replacing butter with soft and low trans fat margarines can
significantly reduce the risk of heart disease.
et al. Twenty Year Dynamics of Serum Cholesterol Levels in
Middle-Aged Population of Eastern Finland. Annals of Internal
Medicine. 1996. 125:713-722.
Findings: Researchers attributed major reductions in coronary
heart disease to changes away from consumption of saturated
fat to unsaturated fats and lower fat products. This 20-year
research project in Finland examined health and eating habits
of 34,253 men and women and found that daily intake of saturated
fat decreased markedly between 1972 and 1992. The researchers
attributed this decrease to four major changes in eating habits:
1) introduction and promotion of low-fat milk; 2) introduction
and promotion of oil-based margarine in the 1970s; 3) introduction
of fat-free milk in the early 1980s; and 4) introduction of
low-fat oil-based and water-based margarine in the late 1980s.
"Daily intake of saturated fat decreased markedly between
1972 and 1992. Most of this decrease could be explained by
change in intake of liquid dairy products and spreadable fats."
"The change in the form of spreadable fat consumed (from butter
to oil-based margarine) has been particularly important because
it led not only to a decreased intake of saturated fat and
dietary cholesterol, but also to an increased intake of polyunsaturated
et al. Effect on Lipoprotein Profile of Replacing Butter with
Margarine in a Low Fat Diet; Randomized Crossover Study with
Hypercholesterolaemic Subjects. British Medical Journal.
Findings: The researchers examined the effects on lipid
and lipoprotein concentrations when either butter or margarine
was used as part of a reduced-fat diet (26 percent of calories
from fat). The research on 49 volunteers in New Zealand found
that the use of margarine (rather than butter) by moderately
hypercholesterolemic people is associated with a lipoprotein
profile that would be expected to reduce cardiovascular risk.
Total cholesterol reduction on the margarine diet was nearly
twice that of the butter diet (-9% vs. -5%) whereas reduction
in LDL cholesterol was even more significant on the margarine
diet (-12% vs. -5% for butter). Changes in HDL cholesterol
between diets were considered to be insignificant.
The use of margarine (rather than butter) by people with high
blood cholesterol levels is associated with reduced heart
disease risk, even when eaten as part of a reduced-fat diet.
et al. Dietary antioxidant vitamins and death from coronary
heart disease in postmenopausal women. The New England
Journal of Medicine. 1996. 334:1156-1162.
Findings: In the seven-year prospective study of 34,486
postmenopausal women with no cardiovascular disease, vitamin
E consumption from food was inversely associated with the
risk of death from coronary heart disease. Analysis of answers
to dietary questionnaires found that women who ate diets that
contained foods rich in vitamin E (e.g., margarine, mayonnaise,
salad dressings, nuts) had one-half to two-thirds lower incidence
of coronary heart disease.
"These results suggest that in postmenopausal women the intake
of vitamin E from food is inversely associated with the risk
of death from coronary heart disease and that such women can
lower their risk without using vitamin supplements."
et al. Effects of lightly hydrogenated vegetable margarines
compared to butter on plasma lipids and lipoproteins in men.
FASEB Journal. 1996. 10:3:A187 (Presentation made at
Experimental Biology '96 meeting).
Findings: In a study of 26 normolipidemic men, these researchers
found that when either lightly hydrogenated corn (COM) or
sunflower oil margarine (SOM) is substituted for butter in
a usual diet pattern, it has an overall beneficial effect
on blood lipids. In this study, margarine even contributed
4 percent of energy from trans fatty acids. Compared to butter,
margarine diets reduced total cholesterol (-8.6% with COM;
-17.9% with SOM) and LDL cholesterol (-4.7% with SOM to -5.4%
When lightly hydrogenated margarines made from various
types of oil are substituted for butter in a usual diet pattern,
they can have an overall beneficial effect on blood lipid