Plant-based eating has grown in popularity due to its benefits for health, the environment, and animal welfare.
From milk alternatives to vegan cheese, numerous plant-based products are on the market, including plant-based butter.
Plant-based butter, or vegan butter, is a nondairy butter substitute typically made by combining water with plant-derived oil, such as olive, avocado, coconut, palm kernel oil, or a combination of oils.
These products often contain additional ingredients, such as salt, emulsifiers, colorings, and natural or artificial flavors, to more closely resemble the taste and texture of real butter.
While it may seem similar to margarine, the main difference is that margarine may still contain small amounts of dairy, whereas plant-based butter is free of animal products.
As more plant-based butter products become available, you may wonder whether they’re healthy.
This article reviews the nutrition content of plant-based kinds of butter, their potential benefits and downsides, and how they compare to real butter.
Plant-based butter nutrition
Since they’re primarily made from plant-derived oils, plant-based butter is generally high in calories and fat.
One tablespoon (14 grams) of a popular brand’s vegan buttery sticks provides:
- 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
They are made from a blend of palm fruit, canola, soybean, flax, and olive oils and contain salt, natural flavor, soy protein, soy lecithin, lactic acid, and annatto extract (for color).
It’s important to note that plant-based butter’s nutrition content, particularly the fatty acid composition, can vary depending on the oils and additives used.
Summary: Most plant-based butter are high in calories and total fat. The fats found in vegan butter can vary depending on the ingredients in each product.
Potential benefits of plant-based butter
As plant-based butter is made from plant-derived oils and free of animal products, using these products may benefit your health and the environment.
Plant-based butter is high in monounsaturated fats
Monounsaturated fats are a type of unsaturated fat that has just one double bond in its chemical structure. They’re often found in plant-derived oils and nuts.
Diets high in monounsaturated fats have been linked to benefits for heart health, blood sugar control, and body weight.
Several studies have found that replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats in the diet reduces the risk of obesity and heart disease.
As several vegetable-derived oils are rich sources of monounsaturated fats, such as olive and avocado oil, plant-based butter tends to be higher in monounsaturated fats than traditional dairy butter.
Plant-based butter is lower in saturated fat
Compared with regular butter, plant-based butter is generally lower in saturated fat.
Despite common recommendations, research hasn’t found a significant link between saturated fat intake and the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease or stroke.
However, studies have shown that saturated fat can increase risk factors for heart disease, including LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, the LDL (bad) to HDL (good) cholesterol ratio, and levels of a protein called apolipoprotein B (apoB).
There’s also concern that a high saturated fat intake may increase markers of inflammation, which is linked to an increased risk of several chronic diseases. Still, more research is needed.
In contrast, plant-based diets have been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and chronic inflammation.
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While more research is needed on the role of saturated fat on overall health, it’s worth noting that some plant-derived oils, such as coconut and palm oil, are rich sources of saturated fat.
As a result, some plant-based butter may contain higher amounts of saturated fat than others.
Plant-based butter is better for the environment
Reducing animal product intake and adopting a more plant-based eating pattern has been associated with environmental benefits, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and land and water usage.
One review of 63 studies found that switching from a traditional Western diet to a sustainable, plant-based eating pattern could result in a 20–30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and land use.
However, palm oil, mainly obtained from the Elaeis guineensis tree grown in West and Southwest Africa and found in several plant-based kinds of butter, is controversial.
Increased demand for oil has been shown to have several negative consequences for the environment, including deforestation and the loss of wildlife diversity.
Still, organizations like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) are committed to finding ways to make palm oil production more environmentally friendly and sustainable.
If you’re concerned about the environmental impacts of palm oil, be sure to look for products free of palm or palm kernel oil.
Plant-based butter is a convenient substitution
As many products are designed to have a flavor and mouthfeel similar to regular butter, plant-based butter can be a convenient vegan substitute on toast and when cooking.
They can also be a good butter alternative for lactose-intolerant individuals or with a dairy allergy. As these products are vegan, they’re also suitable for those allergic to eggs, fish, or shellfish.
However, it’s important to note that butter is essential in the final texture and taste of baked goods and pastries due to its water content and unique chemical properties.
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Fortunately, plant-based butter has been manufactured to have similar effects in baking if you plan on substituting vegan butter for regular butter in recipes, research which brand or product will work best.
Summary: Plant-based butter is often lower in saturated fat and higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat compared with regular butter. Depending on the product, vegan butter can be a convenient substitute when cooking and baking.
Downsides of plant-based butter
When buying plant-based butter, it’s also important to consider any potential downsides, such as the quality of ingredients, omega-6 content, and price.
Plant-based butter might be highly processed
As with other plant-based alternatives like oat milk or vegan cheese, some products are more highly processed than others.
Observational studies have shown that diets high in processed foods tend to be lower in important nutrients and may increase your risk of obesity and heart disease.
When shopping for plant-based butter, look for products low in highly refined oils and free of artificial additives, such as preservatives, colorings, and flavors.
Furthermore, as plant-based butter doesn’t provide substantial nutrients, it’s important to still use these products in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
Plant-based butter can be high in omega-6 fatty acids
In addition to containing monounsaturated fats, many of the vegetable oils used in vegan butter products are high in polyunsaturated fats — specifically omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-6s and omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats that your body can’t make alone. As a result, you have to obtain them through your diet.
While both types of fat are important, diets that are high in omega-6s but low in omega-3s have been shown to increase levels of inflammation.
Research has found vegetable oils to be one of the main contributors to omega-6 intake in the diet.
Therefore, to help encourage a balance of these essential fats, regularly include plant-based sources of omega-3s, such as chia seeds, flax seeds, and sea algae oil, regularly in your diet.
If you aren’t strictly vegan, fatty fish like salmon and sardines are also excellent sources of omega-3s.
Plant-based butter may be more expensive
Another potential downside of plant-based butter is that it may be more expensive than regular butter.
While some brands are more competitively priced, others can be nearly twice the price of regular butter. Additionally, some brands may be more difficult to find than others.
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Therefore, your options for plant-based butter products may be limited depending on your location and budget.
Plant-based butter Can contain potential allergens
While plant-based butter is a good option for those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, it may still contain other possible allergens.
In particular, these kinds of butter may contain soy, tree nuts, or gluten.
For example, Miyoko’s Kitchen Cultured Vegan Butter isn’t suitable for those allergic to tree nuts, as it’s made with cashews.
It’s important to check the ingredient list for possible allergens if you have a food allergy.
Summary: Plant-based butter is often high in omega-6 fatty acids; some may be more highly processed than others. Additionally, certain brands can be more expensive and difficult to find. Some also contain food allergens.
Plant-based butter vs. regular butter
Plant-based butter is similar to regular butter in terms of its calorie and total fat contents.
Here’s a nutrient comparison of 1 tablespoon (14 grams) of unsalted butter and the same serving of plant-based butter:
- Calories: Plant-based butter contains 100 calories, while regular butter contains 102 calories
- Cholesterol: Plant-based butter contains 0 mg cholesterol, while regular butter contains 30.5 mg
- Total fat: Plant-based butter contains 11 grams, while regular butter contains 11.5 grams
- Saturated fat: Plant-based butter contains 3.5 grams, while regular butter contains 7 grams
- Trans fat: Plant-based butter contains 0 grams, while regular butter contains less than 0.5 g
- Monounsaturated fat: Plant-based butter contains 5 grams, while regular butter contains 3 grams
- Polyunsaturated fat: Plant-based butter contains 2.5 grams, while regular butter contains less than 0.5 grams
- Sodium: Plant-based butter contains 120 mg, while regular butter contains 2 mg
Butter is also a good source of vitamin A, with 1 tablespoon (14 grams) providing 11% of the daily value.
Nutritionally, the major differences between plant-based and regular butter are that plant-based butter is cholesterol-free, generally lower in saturated fat, and higher in healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Still, while plant-based butter contains a healthier fatty acid profile, they’re just as calorie-dense as regular butter. As a result, eating too much of either can result in excessive calorie intake and potentially weight gain over time.
Additionally, plant-based butter may be higher in sodium than unsalted butter, depending on the brand.
Overall, plant-based butter generally provides healthier types of fats. However, as they shouldn’t be a primary source of calories in your diet, choosing plant-based over regular butter alone is unlikely to affect your health significantly.
Furthermore, many plant-based butter products are more highly processed and contain refined oils that may be inflammatory. Contrarily, butter is often made from just cream and salt.
Therefore, butter may be the less processed option depending on your chosen product. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t healthier plant-based butter choices. Look for products with fewer processed oils and artificial additives.
Additionally, it’s important to consider what you plan on using the butter for, as the taste and texture of plant-based butter may not always be able to replicate those of regular butter fully.
Summary: While there are pros and cons, both plant-based and regular butter are calorie-dense foods that should be used in moderation along with an overall healthy diet.
Additional vegan butter substitutes
While plant-based butter is a convenient way to mimic the taste and texture of butter on your toast or in cooking, there are other more nutritious vegan alternatives.
For example, mashed avocado is rich in several essential vitamins and minerals and provides a creamy texture on sandwiches and toast. It can also be a butter substitute for chocolate baked goods like brownies.
When baking and cooking, try one of these healthier alternatives:
- mashed banana
- pumpkin purée
- minimally processed oils, such as avocado, coconut, or extra virgin olive oil
For use as a spread on toast or sandwiches, try one of these plant-based ingredients:
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- avocado or guacamole
- nut or seed butter
- vegan pesto
- olive tapenade
Summary: Besides vegan butter products, there are other less processed, more nutritious plant-based butter alternatives to incorporate into your meals and baked goods.
Plant-based butter is a vegan alternative to regular dairy butter.
In general, plant-based butter products are lower in saturated fat and higher in monounsaturated fat than regular butter. They may also be better for the environment.
However, some brands are more highly processed than others. As a result, it’s important to choose products with fewer refined oils and artificial additives.
Moreover, some products may be more expensive or difficult to find than regular butter.
Overall, plant-based butter is a calorie-dense food low in important nutrients. Therefore, it’s best to consume these products in moderation and get the bulk of your calories from nutritious, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes.