Plant Butter Is Everywhere Right Now. But Is It Healthy? A Nutritionist Weighs In
There’s nothing in the world like a warm piece of toast slathered with melted butter. But, oh wait, you just heard about plant butter. It tastes almost exactly like the real thing but is totally vegan. What’s the catch? We talked to a registered dietitian to find out if plant butter is actually as healthy as it seems.
Hang on, what is plant butter?
Plant butter is a vegan butter alternative that’s made from a mixture of plant oils. “Some plant butters use palm oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil and even macadamia oil to mimic the buttery taste and texture,” says RD and chef Micah Siva. Because these oils are high in fat and solidify in the fridge, they can create a buttery consistency without containing any actual dairy.
And is plant butter actually healthy?
Well, here’s where it gets tricky. Remember margarine? The stuff everyone started using in the ‘90s until we all realized it was actually pretty bad for you? Welp, plant butter is basically “new-age margarine, with better flavor, likely better production and better marketing,” says Siva. An important difference is that many margarines back in the day were made with trans fats, and it is possible to get non-hydrogenated, organic plant butters made with olive and avocado oil as opposed to vegetable oil.
Additionally, while plant butters are typically 100 percent vegan, margarine still does sometimes contain dairy. So, does that make plant butters any healthier? “Regardless of how ‘butters’ are made, they contribute a lot of energy and fat to our diets and aren't considered a healthy food,” Siva explains. “Plant-butters are not a health food and making the switch from regular to plant-based butter likely won't help you get to your nutrition goals if that's the only change you're making.” Fair enough. We’ll keep eating those carrot sticks.
Well, is it at least better for me than regular dairy butter?
Sadly, nope. “Plant-based butters aren’t necessarily better for you than typical dairy butter,” Siva tells us. “Just like dairy butter, plant butters contain saturated fats, which we typically recommend limiting.” The good news? Plant butters aren’t any worse than dairy butter, either. One potential thing to watch out for is a long ingredients list—double check that the brand of plant butter you’re trying doesn’t contain a bunch of preservatives and weird things you can’t pronounce. But if the main ingredients are oils you’d typically cook with (think olive oil and avocado oil), it’s not terrible to use sparingly.
How do I use plant-based butter in baking?
You can substitute butter for plant-based butter in baking at a 1:1 ratio, so there’s no math required. Some brands, like Earth Balance, even make their plant butter in stick form, so it’s easy to cut into tablespoons just like dairy butter. One catch: vegan butter doesn’t taste exactly like butter, so if you are using lots of it in your recipe, like you would for a pie crust, it will still taste good, but it probably won’t taste exactly the same.
I’m sold. Which brand of plant butter do I buy?
“When looking for a plant-butter, look for one that is lower in saturated fat and always take into account the serving sizes,” says Siva. She also cautions against choosing any plant-based butter that contains palm oil, which isn’t eco-friendly. Oh, and because we always need this reminder: “Just because it's plant-based doesn't mean that you get a free pass to eat it by the spoonful.” Below, three plant-based butters we love.
1. Earth Balance Soy Free Buttery Spread
You’re likely to find this accessible brand at most grocery stores. There are a ton of varieties (including blends made with mostly olive or avocado oil), but we’re fans of the taste and texture of the soy-free version. (While it does contain palm fruit oil as an ingredient, it is certified sustainable.)
2. Miyoko’s European Style Cultured Vegan Butter
This cult-favorite plant-based butter is made only with organic coconut oil, sunflower oil, sunflower lecithin, cashews and sea salt, along with vegan cultures to make it spread and taste exactly like European butter. Ooo, fancy.
3. Forager Organic Dairy-Free Buttery
This vegan butter spread contains a fermented extract made from oregano, flax and plums to keep things super healthy. Plus, it only contains 15mg sodium per serving, so you can feel pretty good about using it liberally on your toast.