Butter, margarine, and cooking oils

What to Use When Cooking

When you cook, solid margarine or butter is not the best choice. Butter is high in saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol. It can also increase your chance of heart disease. Most margarines have some saturated fat plus trans-fatty acids, which can also be bad for you. Both of these fats have health risks.

Some guidelines for healthier cooking:

  • Use olive or canola oil instead of butter or margarine.
  • Choose soft margarine (tub or liquid) over harder stick forms.
  • Choose margarines with liquid vegetable oil, such as olive oil, as the first ingredient.
  • Even better, choose "light" margarines that list water as the first ingredient. These are even lower in saturated fat.
  • If you have high cholesterol, talk with your health care provider about using margarines made from plant sterols or stanols. These are made from soybean and pine tree oils, and they can help lower your LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol). But these margarines are not yet recommended for children, pregnant women, and people who do not have high cholesterol.

What Not to Use When Cooking

You should NOT use:

  • Margarine, shortening, and cooking oils that have more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon (read the nutrition information labels).
  • Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats (read the ingredients labels). These are high in saturated fats and trans-fatty acids.
  • Shortening or other fats made from animal sources, such as lard.


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Review date:
December 08, 2014
Reviewed by:
Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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