Mean Girls may have taught us to question whether butter is a carb, but some of these seemingly healthy substitutes (think: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter) have us skeptical about whether they’re actually better than butter. While it may require iron-strong willpower to resist a freshly-toasted slice of your favorite bread smeared with salted butter, it doesn’t mean the diet alternatives are any better. It turns out that many of these butter substitutions are packed with hidden trans fats, toxic preservatives, and artificial flavors and colors—a total no-go by us!
But if you’re dead set on diet butters and desperate to limit your fat intake, then this report is for you. We’ve analyzed the nutrition facts and ingredient lists of dieters’ favorite butter replacements and ranked them from best to worst. Our report below will help you avoid the unnecessary weight gain by helping you pick a better-for-you spread to top your muffin with—without adding inches to your muffin top. But don’t forget: Butter isn’t your belly’s worst enemy. In fact, grass-fed real butter made our list of 20 Best Full-Fat Foods for Weight Loss!
Ranked from Best to Worst…
Melt Organic Buttery Spread
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 80 calories, 9 g fat (3 g saturated, 0 g trans fat), 85 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
With fewer calories and fat than butter, not too much sodium per serving, and organic non-GMO ingredients like coconut oil, we’re giving this spread two thumbs up. It’s also got a 2:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio which can help fight inflammation in addition to having an addictively rich and creamy taste. In other words, this is butter’s good twin and we’re totally in love with it.
4th & Heart Ghee Butter
Nutrition: (per 1 TSP) 45 calories, 5 g fat (3 g saturated, 0 g trans fat), 0 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
Meet ghee. It’s the Paleo, dairy-free alternative that’s also way lower in calories and fat. We like to refer to it as Butter 2.0—but what exactly is it? “Ghee is essentially clarified butter. If you boil butter in a pot, the milk solids rise to the top. Once you skim off all the milk solids at the top, what remains is ghee,” explains Staci Shacter, MS, RD, LDN.
Smart Balance Organic
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 80 calories, 9 g fat (2.5 g saturated, 0 g trans fat), 100 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
Better than many of the other Smart Balance butters, this spread is crafted with USDA-certified organic ingredients. Although it’s higher in fat than most butter substitutes, one tablespoon of the stuff contains 320 mg of ALA—a heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid that can promote weight loss and reduce inflammation.
Earth Balance Soy Free Buttery Spread
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 100 calories, 11 g fat (3 g saturated, 0 g trans), 110 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
Diet-conscious buyers may hesitate to purchase this toast topper because of its similar calorie and fat content to butter. But fear not—this pick has a clean ingredient list and significantly less artery-clogging saturated fat than its decadent role model. And fans love that it’s soy-free, bakes well, and is super tasty on its own. Just make sure to stick to the suggested serving size because the sodium content is a bit high.
Earth Balance Organic Buttery Spread
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 80 calories, 9 g fat (2.5 g saturated, 0 g trans), 100 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
If you’re not going for Earth Balance’s soy-free spread, definitely choose this one. We like that it’s free of hidden trans and saturated fats, and breakfast food connoisseurs love that its taste almost rivals real butter’s flavor. Another plus is that it contains organic soy because “when soy is organic and not overly processed or not processed at all, it can play a healthy role,” explains nutritionist Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN.
Land O Lakes Garlic and Herb Butter
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 70 calories, 8 g fat (3 g saturated, 0 g trans), 100 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
This savory spread is relatively high in sodium, but its ingredient list is way cleaner than many of the options on this list. It’s free of any unpronounceable stuff and hidden trans and saturated fats, and it’s full of delicious seasonings like onion, garlic, and parsley. We’re giving you the green light to stir it into steamed veggies, smother it onto seafood, and even use it as a dip at your next gathering.
Smart Balance Butter & Canola and Extra Virgin Olive Oil Blend
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 100 calories, 11 g fat (4 g saturated, 0 g trans), 85 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
The first ingredient in this pick—real salted butter—is followed by heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil and depression-fighting fish oil. Compared to butter, Smart Balance’s rendition contains 40 percent less saturated fat. So, if you’re watching your cholesterol but can’t seem to give up the classic breakfast staple, this butter is one of the better-for-you choices.
Sunsweet Butter & Oil Replacement
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 40 calories, 0 g fat, 0 mg sodium, 9 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 0 g protein
Made of fruit puree and artificial sweeteners, this butter replacement is not like the others. But it’s definitely one to consider when you’re whipping up a batch of oatmeal cookies. It’s a tasty and healthier replacement for oil and butter that bakes well and lends your sweet creations a delightful texture. If you’re a fan of treats that won’t derail your diet (uh, who isn’t?!), check out these 20 Healthy Desserts For Weight Loss for some inspo.
Earth Balance Organic Coconut Spread
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 100 calories, 11 g fat (5 g saturated, 0 g trans), 70 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
We like this spread because it contains coconut oil, which has a ton of benefits like burning fat, helping you build and maintain muscle, and even guarding against Alzheimer’s disease. And although it may be high in saturated fat, it’s actually the good kind because it promotes heart healthy by turning LDL (bad cholesterol) into HDL (good cholesterol).
Promise Light 35% Vegetable Oil Spread
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 45 calories, 5 g fat (1 g saturated, 0 g trans), 85 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
At first glance, this pick seems like a good choice to grab off the supermarket shelf. After all, it’s enriched with vitamins A, B12, B6, D, and E. But if you take a gander at the ingredient list, you’ll notice that the Promise spread is also packed with trans fats and artificial flavor. In other words, it’s not such a promising replacement to butter.
Smart Balance Light Butter and Canola Oil Blend
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 50 calories, 5 g fat (2 g saturated, 0 g trans), 90 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
With only 50 calories per tablespoon, this spread contains about half the calories and fat of regular butter—and an ingredient list that’s chock full of additives. Sure, it contains real butter, but it’s also got monoglycerides and PGPR, a thick and sticky fat—something you definitely don’t want clogging your arteries.
Smart Balance Low Sodium
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 70 calories, 8 g fat (2 g saturated, 0 g trans), 30 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
Compared to the other options, this spread is fairly low in bone-degrading sodium; but on the flip side, it’s high in fat and contains monoglycerides and palm oil. We’re not fans of palm oil because it has been recently claimed to be linked to cancer. Plus, its harvestation contributes to some serious environmental issues like deforestation and animal extinction. (Psst! If you care about the planet and your health alike, you may want to find out what exactly is biodynamic food.) Although this option has the lowest sodium content out of the bunch, there are some questionable ingredients like monoglycerides and EDTA (an artificial preservative). In fact, EDTA made the FDA’s toxicity watchlist because of its ability to cause rashes and asthma. Skip this spread and opt for one that’s higher up on our list.
Canoleo Soft Margarine Spread
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 100 calories, 11 g fat (1 g saturated, 0 g trans), 100 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
This option isn’t as bad as some of the others we ranked because it’s free of hydrogenated oils, but we’re not digging its inclusion of fractionated palm oil. Now that consumers are more aware of insidious terms for trans fats, food manufacturers are finding new ways to manipulate oils, such as by fractionating them, in order to conceal the scary truth about what will replace trans fat. We’d rather be safe than sorry and forgo this spread.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Light
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 40 calories, 4 g fat (1 g saturated, 0 g trans fat), 85 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
Although the nutrition label claims this product has zero trans fat, the LDL-spiking stuff is actually lurking in the ingredient list under names like mono- and diglycerides. And even though one tablespoon contains a mere 40 calories, many taste testers were less than satisfied with this spread’s lack of flavor and melting capabilities.
Move Over Butter Whipped with Sweet Cream Buttermilk Vegetable Oil Spread
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 50 calories, 6 g fat (1 g saturated, 0 g trans fat), 75 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
“Move over?” Nope, it’s not likely that this spread can kick butter to the curb. It’s filled with partially and fully hydrogenated oils (AKA saturated and trans fats), as well as soybean oil, which has been shown to cause more weight gain than sugar in a rodent study done by the University of California.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Olive Oil Spray
Nutrition: (per one 0.2 g spray) 0 calories, 0 g fat, 0 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
While the nutrition label may present zeros across the board, this sneaky spray’s ingredient list is teeming with some toxic emulsifiers and preservatives. And taste testers weren’t too fond of this buttery spritzer either, claiming it lacked any olive oil flavor. Turns out consumers can actually believe this is not butter—and we can’t believe this is marketed as a health food. To discover more imposters in your pantry, check out these 32 Health Halo Foods to Stop Eating Immediately.
Smart Balance Buttery Burst Spray
Nutrition: (per one 0.2 g spray) 0 calories, 0 g fat, 0 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
This buttery spray boasts a nutrition label eerily similar to H20, yet the two are nothing alike. Smart Balance’s zero-everything spray is quite the health food foe, containing TBHQ (AKA butane or lighter fluid, essentially) and polysorbate-80. To put things into a clearer perspective, a recent rodent study conducted by Georgia State University discovered that this synthetic emulsifier can promote metabolic syndrome and cause colon cancer cells to flourish.
Smart Balance Light with Flaxseed Oil
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 50 calories, 5 g fat (1.5 g saturated, 0 g trans fat), 90 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
Sure, this option sounds ideal, boasting heart-healthy flaxseed oil in bright blue in its title. But this pick is anything but wholesome. It’s loaded with monoglycerides, which is basically code for obesity, metabolic syndrome, and intestinal inflammatory diseases. As if that isn’t bad enough, Smart Balance uses TBHQ to extend its scary spread’s shelf life.
Brummel & Brown Spread Made with Yogurt
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 45 calories, 5 g fat (1.5 g saturated, 0 g trans fat), 90 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
With button-busting ingredients such as soybean oil, palm oil, glycerides, and modified tapioca starch (which contains trans fats), a tablespoon of this spread will do a lot more damage than its 45 calories ever will. Plus, we can’t help but notice that this spread has zero protein, even though it’s made with yogurt. We’re giving this spread two thumbs down.
Benecol 55% Vegetable Oil Spread
Nutrition: (per 1 TBSP) 70 calories, 8 g fat (1 g saturated, 0.5 g trans fat), 110 mg sodium, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
Behold, our top offender and the absolute worst buttery imposter on our list. Despite its cholesterol-reducing claims, its ingredient list is loaded with first-degree artery cloggers like fully and partially hydrogenated oils, mono- and diglycerides, and artificial preservatives like EDTA. The bottom line: You definitely don’t want to bring this one home to mom when she’s toasting up brioche.