Veganism is a way of living that tries to minimize animal exploitation and cruelty.

Because of this, vegans avoid foods made of or derived from animals and instead seek plant-based alternatives.

For example, as it’s made with vegetable oils, margarine is a potential alternative to butter for vegans.

Still, you may wonder whether all types of margarine are vegan.

This article explains how to tell whether your margarine is vegan and provides a few additional vegan butter substitutes.

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Margarine is a butter substitute typically made by combining water and vegetable oils, such as soybean, corn, palm, canola, or olive oils.

Ingredients like salt, colorings, and natural or artificial flavorings are sometimes added as well (1).

Therefore, most margarines contain absolutely no animal products, making them a suitable vegan alternative to butter.

That said, some manufacturers use milk instead of water or add ingredients derived from animals, such as lactose, whey, or casein. Margarines containing these ingredients are not considered vegan.

Summary Most margarines are vegan, but some may contain animal-derived ingredients like milk, lactose, whey, or casein, making them unsuitable for vegans.

The best way to determine whether your margarine is vegan is by looking at its ingredient list.

Vegan margarines should not contain any of the following animal-derived ingredients:

  • Whey. This is the liquid that separates from milk during the cheesemaking process.
  • Casein. These are the curds leftover after milk is coagulated to produce cheese.
  • Lactose. This type of sugar is naturally found in milk and dairy products.
  • Animal fat. Margarines were originally made from animal fats, such as cow, duck, or sheep, and a few still include this type of fat.
  • Vitamin D3. This vitamin is commonly made from lanolin, which is derived from sheep’s wool (2).
  • Marine oil. This oil, which is derived from fish or other marine animals, is sometimes used in margarines, especially shortening types.
  • Lecithin. This fatty substance is sometimes derived from animal tissues or egg yolks.
  • Suet. This hard type of fat, which is found around the loins or kidneys of animals, is sometimes used to make margarine.
  • Tallow. Derived from cattle or sheep, this fat is sometimes used to make margarine.

Also, many brands now specify whether their margarine is vegan on the packaging.

Summary Some margarines are labeled as suitable for vegans. You can also look at the ingredient list and avoid varieties listing animal byproducts, such as whey, casein, lactose, or animal fats.

Though most margarines are made from plant-based ingredients, they remain a refined product. This means that they’re made from extracted components of whole foods, such as plant oils, rather than from the whole foods themselves.

Consequently, they likely contain fewer vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial plant compounds than unrefined sources of plant fats, such as coconuts, avocados, olives, nuts, or seeds (3).

Some varieties are also made using a process known as hydrogenation, which creates harmful trans fats.

Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fat that has been processed to resemble the structure of saturated fat. This change in structure is thought to be responsible for various health issues.

For instance, trans fats are commonly linked to an increased risk of heart disease and neurodegenerative conditions, as well as premature death (4, 5).

For these reasons, many countries, including the United States, have restricted or banned the use of artificial trans fats. Still, small amounts may still be present, as foods providing less than 0.5 grams of this type of fat per serving are labeled as containing 0 grams (6).

Therefore, you may benefit from picking whole sources of plant fats over margarine whenever possible.

Here are a few whole-food-based vegan butter substitutes that work as a great alternative to margarine spreads:

  • hummus
  • mashed avocados
  • nut butters
  • olive tapenade
  • tahini
  • vegan pesto
  • coconut butter

Plant oils, including olive or coconut oil, can also provide a good alternative to butter or margarine, especially in cooking or baking.

Summary Whole-food sources of fats are a nutrient-rich replacement for butter or margarine and work especially well as spreads. Plant oils provide a vegan alternative in cooking or baking.

Most margarines are vegan.

However, a few may contain ingredients derived from dairy or other animal products, making them unsuitable for vegan diets.

Vegan butter alternatives that are based on whole foods may be a healthier option, including hummus, avocado, or nut and coconut butters. These provide more nutrients and beneficial plant compounds than refined margarine.