Keto diet plus: Margarine versus butter and plant-based oils

One of the top five questions I get asked is, which is better: butter or margarine?

The Short answer? Neither. While we seem to be still in an era where people put butter on everything, including coffee, there are still some risks that you need to remember. Years ago it was the Atkins Diet and now the Keto diet has re-surfaced after it was put to rest a few decades ago. Yes, this diet was trendy in the ’70s too.

Both of these diets basically say you can eat copious amounts of fat and protein and reduce carbohydrates to just enough so that you can still poop and have some energy. The main point of these diets is to help you lose weight. They might make some other claims too so that you will buy into it fully.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against something that is working for you. Just remember that it might not work for everyone and you have to understand all the risks or outcome involved.

So let’s look back at the butter versus margarine debate: what are the pros and cons?

The pros for both is that they generally help things taste better (especially if there is salt/ sodium in the ingredients or make them go down a little easier. They both also work really well as an ingredient in most baked goods and in some cases, there’s just no match to get the same perfection in baking.

The cons to margarine are that the majority of the ingredients are manufactured chemicals that no one can pronounce. Even the ones that claim heart health or low sodium are still really terrible for you. Most margarines also contain hydrogenated oils or palm oil to make it last longer. This is a manufactured fat linked to heart disease, hypertension and stroke.

But hold on, because butter isn’t necessarily better. Butter churned from cow milk is still high in sodium and saturated fats. These fats come from animals and should only be less than 10 per cent of your daily calories or less than a third of your fat consumption. That includes all meat, eggs, dairy.

It’s also important to note that if you are consuming these foods, it’s best to have approximately 2:1 ratio of fibre and vitamin rich foods to saturated / Trans fat foods in order to maintain health and prevent or prolong disease. Meaning, for every portion of fats, you need 1.5 to 2x that in healthy Carbohydrates (fruits, veg, whole grains) that is about the same portion/calories. To make it simple, think small and dense foods together, large and light foods together.

Why does this matter? Fibre is what is largely missing from the Keto and Atkins diets. Without it, your LDL Cholesterol can rise significantly – even if you are losing weight on the diet. You don’t have to be fat to have heart disease or a heart attack and the disease can happen years after the damage. We need at least 25 to 35 grams of fibre daily (i.e., one apple is five grams).

Anytime you greatly restrict something from your diet that is vital, you are missing out on something key. When you drastically reduce carbohydrates on the Keto diet, you still have energy to function from the fat, but not the same kind of energy that your body needs for quick fight or flight response. You are also missing out on essential vitamins and minerals that you need in order to fight sickness and disease.

Many people look toward the Keto diet to lose weight. There have never been long term clinical studies on humans to prove this, only rats and in a controlled environment, not one where we have so many body differences and environmental factors. The Keto diet has seemed to improve cognitive function in those with neurological disorders such as Epilepsy and Parkinson’s but none of the trials were long enough to discover the long term effects. Weight loss was reported as a possible side effect but did not affect all participants this way. You can find this information in the New England Journal of Medicine, Harvard Health and American College of Sports Medicine.

That being said, we do need about 30 per cent of our daily calories from fat. Where is the best source? Plant based fats and oils such as nuts, seeds, fruits such as olives and avocados, whole grains and beans. The difference with these sources compared to animal sources, is that they are more nutrient dense (more vitamins and minerals) and they contain a percentage of all three macronutrients (protein, carbs and fats). Use these plant based fats and their oils most often for more bang for your buck in the nutrition department.

The new Canada’s Food Guide was just released this past month and it now shows filling your plate with mostly fruits and vegetables, a ¼ of your plate with whole grains (oats, brown rice, quinoa, etc.) and a ¼ of your plate on lean proteins. Choose water most often as your drink of choice. Check out the guide at

Karen Nixon-Carroll is the Program Manager at Fanshawe’s Fitness Centre.