Butter Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Butter annotated

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Butter is made by churning milk or cream to separate fat particles and protein. The result is a thickened mass that remains about 80% solid at room temperature. In some cases, salt and food colorings are added. "Nut butters," on the other hand, are made by grinding nuts into a paste so that they have a consistency similar to butter made from cow's milk.

Cow's milk butter was a cook's staple before it became a saturated-fat scapegoat, but now it has been somewhat vindicated as a natural source of satisfying fat. Whether it's right for you depends on your values, preferences, and personal health needs and goals.

Butter Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for one tablespoon of unsalted butter.

  • Calories: 102
  • Fat: 12g
  • Sodium: 2mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 0.1g

Carbs

There are no carbohydrates in butter, making it a low-carb, low-glycemic food.

Fat

The calories in butter come from fat. While there are different types of fat in butter, most of the fat is saturated fat (just over 7 grams per tablespoon). There are 30.5 milligrams of cholesterol in a tablespoon of butter.

Protein

Even though it is made from milk, a single serving of butter provides virtually no protein.

Vitamins and Minerals

You'll benefit from a small amount of vitamin A when you consume butter: 97 micrograms per tablespoon, which is about 14% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for women and 11% for men.

Health Benefits

Butter is popular among people who follow a low-carb diet or high-fat eating plan (such as a ketogenic diet). Like many forms of fat, butter is satisfying. Eating a small amount of satisfying fat may be better than consuming larger quantities of fat alternatives that are less satisfying and may include processed ingredients. In some cases, butter alternatives may increase your daily calorie and fat intake more than butter.

Despite its high-fat content, regular butter contains about 400 different fatty acids and a number of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A and other nutrients. Fatty acids have important health benefits, such as improved heart health and reduced risk of heart disease.

Butter is a rich source of the fatty acid conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is also a popular fat loss supplement. Research shows that CLA offers health benefits from reduced body fat to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. CLA may also help regulate immune and inflammatory responses and improve bone mass.

In addition, grass-fed butter may be a healthier choice than regular butter. Research shows that grass-fed butter is high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K2, and one study found that grass-fed butter may contain up to five times more CLA than butter produced from grain-fed cows.

Allergies

If you have a diagnosed dairy allergy or avoid dairy in your diet for any reason, you should avoid butter. Common symptoms of dairy allergy can include mild reactions such as hives or more severe symptoms including trouble breathing.

Baked goods and other products that contain butter may also cause a reaction. If you are unsure about your dairy allergy and are not sure if you can safely consume butter, check with your healthcare provider. 

Adverse Effects

Most health experts, including the American Heart Association (AHA), still recommend reducing your intake of saturated fats like butter. The AHA recommends no more than 13 grams of saturated fats per day, and a tablespoon of butter has almost half that. So it's smart to consume butter in moderation unless your healthcare team recommends otherwise.

Margarine vs. Butter

This debate can be a tricky one to resolve. Butter is made from milk, a whole food, whereas margarine is usually made from vegetable oil, is highly processed, and often contains trans fats. The American Heart Association recommends that you reduce trans fats in your diet.

But there are many different margarine products on the market and each has a different nutritional profile. There are "heart-healthy" margarine brands, for example, that include healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids.

Varieties

When you buy butter, you can choose from salted or unsalted varieties. There's not much difference between them, except for the sodium levels. Butter calories do not change depending on the salt content.

Both types of butter can be used interchangeably in most recipes; some recipes specifically call for one type or the other. Ghee is a form of clarified butter that is often used in Indian cooking.

Butter Substitutes

If you're trying to eat less butter, there are many substitutes on the market. Popular butter substitutes include the following:

  • Margarine preparations vary, but an 80% fat margarine product may contain around 101 calories and 11.4 grams of fat per tablespoon.
  • Butter buds or sprinkles are made from maltodextrin, butter, and salt, and provide 17 calories and 60 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon.
  • Butter spray is made from water, soybean oil, salt, and other ingredients. Technically, it adds zero calories and fat to your food. But a single serving is 0.2 grams (or 1/3 of a second spray) which might be impossible to measure.
  • "Light" butter spreads made from butter are often lower in calories because they are puffed up or lightened with ingredients like water and/or maltodextrin so that you use less. A light butter product provides approximately 47 calories per tablespoon, 5 grams of fat, and 3.3 grams of saturated fat.

Butter Alternatives

There are also natural alternatives to butter and butter substitutes. The product you choose may depend on how you plan to use it.

  • Avocado makes a great spread on toast and is a good source of healthy fat.
  • Peanut butter brands vary, but a natural peanut butter product provides no added sugar or trans fat and can boost your protein intake.
  • Olive oil is a good substitute for butter when sautéing meat or vegetables.
  • If you use butter to top a potato or vegetables, fresh herbs can be a healthy, no-calorie substitute. Chives or tarragon can give foods a fresh savory flavor. Add a squeeze of lemon if desired.
  • You can use plain jam or jelly on toast, pancakes, or French toast instead of butter, but fresh fruit is even better. Spread ripe banana or layer thinly sliced strawberries to get healthy sweetness (and fiber) without added sugar.
  • Do you usually fry or scramble eggs in butter? Use a non-stick pan instead and eliminate the butter altogether. Eggs can be just as delicious without the added fat. 

Storage and Food Safety

Some people keep butter on the kitchen counter, so it is soft and easier to spread on toast and other foods. But butter makers recommend that you refrigerate the product in accordance with USDA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.

Butter can be frozen for up to four months from the date of purchase. It should be frozen in its original container. Once thawed, it should be used within 30 days.

How to Prepare

Butter is not usually the star of most dishes, but rather an accent, topping, or part of the preparation method. It's an essential ingredient for many baked goods and for enhancing mashed veggies like potatoes and cauliflower.

Recipes

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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