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How Do I Choose the Best Butter Substitutes?

A.E. Freeman
Updated May 17, 2024
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The best butter substitutes vary depending on your needs. For example, if you want a completely dairy-free option for baking, you may find that certain oils make ideal butter substitutes. For reducing saturated and trans fat in your diet, you may find that some types of margarine are your best options. To reduce fat while cooking on the stove, a cooking spray may be an ideal substitute. If you follow a vegan diet and want a substitute for spreading on toast or baking, you need to make sure the margarine or oil doesn't contain any hidden dairy products.

You have a number of butter substitutes to use when baking foods such as cookies or cakes. In some cases, using vegetable such as canola or soybean oil is a great option. The oils do not contain the saturated fat that butter has and have a neutral flavor so that they will not overpower the taste of baked goods. If you use oil in place of solid butter, reduce the amount you use so that the baked good doesn't fall apart.

If you are using butter substitutes to cut back on cholesterol and saturated fat in general, you have a number of options and need to use care when picking out a substitute. Some butter substitutes, such as margarine in stick form, contain trans-fat, which is generally considered to be unhealthy, as it can lower the amount of good or HDL cholesterol in your body. Any margarine containing partially hydrogenated oils contains some amount of trans-fat, even if the label states that the product is trans-fat free.

Examine the amount of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats in the margarine to help you choose the best for your health. Ideally, 70 percent or more of the fat content in margarine will come from mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. Oils that are high in unsaturated fats include olive, canola, and palm oils.

Look for a margarine that is lactose-free and does not contain whey if you need a vegan butter substitute for using as a spread or baking. Some vegan margarine will be labeled vegan- or dairy-free so that you do not have to scan the ingredients list. Olive oil is another completely vegan butter substitute that you can use on toast or bread.

When cooking on the stove, look for a butter-free cooking spray. You can also use cooking sprays to grease pans for baking instead of the traditional butter and flour. If you don't want to use a cooking spray, a thin layer of neutral-flavored vegetable oil will work as well.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
A.E. Freeman
By A.E. Freeman
Amy Freeman, a freelance copywriter and content creator, makes engaging copy that drives customer acquisition and retention. With a background in the arts, she combines her writing prowess with best practices to deliver compelling content across various domains and effectively connect with target audiences.
Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Oct 10, 2013

I think the food that's substituted for butter depends on how the butter is being used. For example, one can't use the same butter substitute to sautee veggies, to make cake and to spread on toast. Different substitutes are required.

Yogurt, mashed bananas and buttermilk are all good butter substitutes for baking. Non-hydrogenated vegetable oils are best for cooking. To use as spreads for breakfast foods, nut butters can be used. My mom, for example, loves almond butter on her toast in the morning. I know that apple butter is not really butter, just very thick applesauce, but it's my favorite butter substitute for toast, pancakes and waffles.

By candyquilt — On Oct 10, 2013

@turquoise-- You can substitute oil for butter when you're cooking. Canola and olive oil are the most common. I personally only cook with virgin olive oil, it's the healthiest oil in my opinion.

If you're looking for a non-oil substitute, for foods like baked goods, you can use fruit purees like applesauce or prune puree. This way, you will be cutting out the fat almost entirely, and will also get additional fiber.

By turquoise — On Oct 10, 2013

I need a healthy butter substitute. I've been using margarine but I know that margarine isn't good either. My doctor warned me against margarine and said that it's more harmful than butter in the long-run. I have to follow a diet low in saturated fat. Does anyone have any recommendations?

A.E. Freeman
A.E. Freeman
Amy Freeman, a freelance copywriter and content creator, makes engaging copy that drives customer acquisition and...
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