What Are the Healthiest Substitutes for Butter?

Various butters and oils used for cooking


Getty Images / Roberto Machado Noa

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There are many types of butter: dairy butter, plant-based butter, and nut butter. Butter is an animal product that is made by separating milk from cream and churning the cream until it forms a solid mass. Plant-based butter has a similar consistency, but it’s made with vegetable oils instead of cream. Both are different from nut butter (such as almond butter or peanut butter), which is made by grinding nuts into a spreadable paste.

While dairy-based butter is often used in cooking and baking for flavor and as a leavening agent, it is not your only option. There are many nutritious—and delicious—substitutes if you're not a fan of cow's milk butter.

Why Use an Alternative?

Butter is commonly made with cow’s milk. People who are lactose intolerant or have food allergies to dairy products may opt for butter substitutes.

Others may seek a substitute due to the nutrition facts of butter, considering it is a concentrated source of calories, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. 

People who follow a vegan or strictly plant-based diet may also seek healthy substitutes to butter.

Popular Substitutes

The best substitutes for butter depend on how you plan to use it. If you’re looking for a butter substitute for baking, this will differ from the appropriate choice when using a butter substitute for cooking. You might need several butter substitutes to meet all of your needs.

Olive Oil

Butter is commonly considered a substitute for olive oil, so the two are interchangeable in some cooking situations. Since olive oil is a liquid and butter is a solid, swapping the two is not a perfect science. You may need to use a smaller amount of olive oil in place of butter when cooking or baking.

Nutritionally, olive oil may be a healthier option than butter since it is rich in vitamins, polyphenols, and monounsaturated fat. It is a staple in the Mediterranean diet since it is associated with high antioxidant content and anticancer properties.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil solidifies at colder temperatures, so it can often be used 1:1 in place of butter. Conveniently, it can be used as a substitute for butter in both cooking and baking. When cooking, opt for refined coconut oil since it has a higher smoking point. Unrefined coconut is likely the better choice for baking.

People who are trying to lose weight may choose to substitute coconut oil for butter because of its effect on metabolism. Coconut oil contains short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which may increase metabolism and energy levels.

However, coconut oil may slightly alter the flavor of your food since it can have a strong, coconut-flavored taste.

Ghee

Ghee is a type of clarified butter used in Indian cooking. It has also been used for thousands of years in ayurvedic medicine.

Though it is a type of butter, it is considered a more nutritious type of butter due to the way it is made. The clarifying process removes milk solids, so it contains less lactose or casein than regular butter. Some people with lactose intolerance or milk allergy may be able to safely consume ghee without negative reactions.

Ghee can be used to replace butter at a 1:1 ratio. It’s best used as a butter substitute when making baked goods like bread.

Plant-Based Butter

There is debate whether vegan butter or butter made with dairy products is a more nutritious choice. There are pros and cons to both, and the best option depends on your unique needs. 

Vegan butter is usually made with vegetable oils, so they are a great source of monounsaturated fats. Vegetable oils rich in monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and canola oil, have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.

If you are allergic to cow’s milk, you can’t consume dairy-based butter for health reasons, or you follow a plant-based diet, vegan butter may be a suitable substitute for you. 

Keep in mind that plant-based butter may be heavily processed, contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, or contain other allergens like soy or nuts.

Other Substitutes

When it comes to substitutions for butter, there are plenty of nutritious swaps that you can make. It may take a bit of experimenting to get the right consistency—unless the recipe provides a specified amount of butter substitute—but there are plenty of conversions and recipes available.

  • Unsweetened applesauce: You may have come across non-dairy recipes for muffins, cakes, and other baked goods that call for unsweetened applesauce in place of butter. Not only is this a dairy-free substitute, it’s also lower in fat and calories. Plus, applesauce adds natural sweetness to the recipe, so you can use less sugar.
  • Nut butters: Since they’re high in fat and calories, nut butters should be used in small quantities when replacing butter in baking recipes. It's important to note that nuts are filled with healthy fats and protein, as well as a variety of key nutrients like vitamin E. Nut butter may be a healthy replacement for people with dairy allergies or people following a high-fat diet.
  • Avocados: Avocado oil and mashed avocados can both be used as butter substitutes in cooking and baking, respectively. You can also spread mashed avocado on bread like you would with butter. While avocado is still a healthy source of fat, it also contains other nutrients like fiber and vitamins.
  • Hummus: Spreadable like butter, hummus is a healthy substitute for adding flavor and healthy fat to breads. While perfect for adding to sandwiches, this isn’t an ideal substitute when baking or cooking.
  • Mashed bananas: Mashed bananas aren’t just for banana bread. Like applesauce, mashed bananas add a sweet flavor and wet component to baking with fewer calories and grams of fat. This is a popular butter substitute in low-fat and vegan recipes.
  • Greek yogurt: People who can consume dairy products but want a source of healthy fat and protein should consider swapping butter for Greek yogurt when baking. This adds a tangy flavor, but it’s helpful for keeping baked goods moist.
  • Pumpkin purée: Similar to mashed bananas and avocados, puréed pumpkin is a nutrient-dense substitute for butter in baking. You will need less pumpkin in place of butter, and you may need to bake for longer since it is a moisture-rich replacement.

A Word From Verywell

Replacing butter in cooking and baking is a matter of trial and error as well as personal preference. Baking is often called a science, so if a butter substitute contains more or less moisture, you may need to adjust the other wet and dry ingredients in your recipe accordingly.

Ghee and vegan butters likely resemble the closest texture to regular butter, though whole foods substitutes like mashed banana, pumpkin purée, and avocado can also be used to replace butter with added vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients.

If you don’t have dietary restrictions that prevent you from consuming butter, it can be part of a nutrient-dense, balanced diet when consumed in moderation.

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