Plant Based Butter: Is It Healthy?



 
While butter has always been an important staple of the American diet for decades, we have known that it should only be consumed in small amounts. Not only is it high in calories and unhealthy fats but often salt is added which may lead to an increased sodium intake and high blood pressure. The USDA currently recommends reducing solid fats to less than 10% of total daily calories, replacing them with liquid fats.1 This is why there is a big market for butter alternatives which claim to be better for your health.
 
What is plant-based butter?
Plant-based butter is a nondairy butter substitute that typically is a combination of water and a plant-derived oil like avocado, palm kernel, olive, or coconut. To make them as similar in terms of looks, texture and taste, many times there are additional ingredients, such as colorings, natural or artificial flavors and emulsifiers added.
Margarine and plant-based butters are very similar to each other. The difference between those two is that margarine might have animal produce in their products while plant-based butters are supposed to be vegan. 2
            Margarines and plant-based butters are made of one or more oils or solid fats like cacao butter to replace the butter. It may be lower in saturated fats than conventional butter, but this highly depends on the fats and oil blends used.  To make a sensible decision, it is necessary to read the Nutrition Facts label and to choose spreads with no trans fats, lower amounts of saturated fats and calories.1

To make it easier for you to know which ingredients are equivalent to a healthier or unhealthier fat find the list below:1

Healthier:
-       Oils: sunflower, Corn, Soybean, and cottonseed oil, olive oil, canola, peanut, avocado
-       Nuts and seeds: walnuts, pine nuts, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, flax seeds
-       Seafood: salmon, trout, herring, tuna

Eat in moderation:
-       Oils: Coconut, palm kernel oils, butter, palm oil
-       Hydrogenated vegetable oils


Can I eat plant-based butter?
Even though there is no evidence that plant-based butter is better for you than regular butter there is also no evidence that it is worse for you. If you choose plant-based butter than it is safe to consume in small amounts. In general, it is important to state that foods that contain saturated fat are a source of high energy and may contribute to weight gain and heart disease.3

References:
1.         DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR AMERICANS 2015-2020 EIGHTH EDITION. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf.
2.         CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Accessed November 13, 2020. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?FR=166.110
3.         Triglycerides Why do they matter. Accessed November 6, 2020. https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/heart-and-cardiovascular-health/triglycerides-why-do-they-matter

Written by: Veronika Monteiro Kisslinger, Dietetic Intern

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