Plant-based eating has grown in popularity due to its benefits for health, the environment, and animal welfare (1, 2, 3, 4).

From milk alternatives to vegan cheese, numerous plant-based products are on the market, including plant-based butter.

Plant-based butter, also referred to as vegan butter, is a nondairy butter substitute that’s typically made by combining water with a plant-derived oil, such as olive, avocado, coconut, palm kernel oil, or a combination of oils.

These products often contain additional ingredients, such as salt, emulsifiers, colorings, and natural or artificial flavors, to more closely resemble the taste and texture of real butter.

While it may seem similar to margarine, the main difference is that margarines may still contain small amounts of dairy, whereas plant-based butters are free of animal products (5).

As more plant-based butter products become available, you may wonder whether they’re healthy.

This article reviews the nutrition content of plant-based butters, their potential benefits and downsides, and how they compare to real butter.

Given that they’re primarily made from plant-derived oils, plant-based butters are generally high in calories and fat.

Earth Balance is one of the original and more popular brands of vegan butter. One tablespoon (14 grams) of the brand’s Vegan Buttery Sticks provides (6):

  • Calories: 100
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Total fat: 11 grams
  • Saturated fat: 3.5 grams
  • Monounsaturated fat: 5 grams
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 2.5 grams
  • Sodium: 120 mg

Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks are made from a blend of palm fruit, canola, soybean, flax, and olive oils and also contain salt, natural flavor, soy protein, soy lecithin, lactic acid, and annatto extract (for color) (6).

It’s important to note that the nutrition content, particularly the fatty acid composition, of plant-based butter can vary, depending on the types of oils and additives used.

Summary

Most plant-based butters are high in calories and total fat. The types of fats found in vegan butters can vary depending on the ingredients in each product.

As plant-based butters are made from plant-derived oils and free of animal products, using these products may have some benefits for your health and the environment.

High in monounsaturated fats

Monounsaturated fats are a type of unsaturated fat that has just one double bond in their chemical structure. They’re often found in plant-derived oils and nuts (7).

Diets high in monounsaturated fats have been linked to benefits for heart health, blood sugar control, and body weight (7, 8, 9).

In fact, several studies have found that replacing monounsaturated fats with saturated fats in the diet is linked to a reduced risk of obesity and heart disease (10, 11, 12, 13).

As several vegetable-derived oils are rich sources of monounsaturated fats, such as olive and avocado oil, plant-based butter tends to be higher in monounsaturated fats than traditional dairy butter (6, 14).

Lower in saturated fat

Compared with regular butter, plant-based butters are generally lower in saturated fat (6, 14).

Despite common recommendations, research hasn’t found a significant link between saturated fat intake and the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease or stroke (15, 16, 17).

However, studies have shown that saturated fat can increase risk factors for heart disease, including LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, the LDL (bad) to HDL (good) cholesterol ratio, and levels of a protein called apolipoprotein B (apoB) (18, 19).

There’s also concern that a high saturated fat intake may increase markers of inflammation, which is linked to an increased risk of several chronic diseases. Still, more research is needed (20, 21, 22, 23).

In contrast, plant-based diets have been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and chronic inflammation (24, 25, 26, 27).

While more research is needed on the role of saturated fat on overall health, it’s worth noting that some plant-derived oils, such as coconut and palm oil, are rich sources of saturated fat.

As a result, some plant-based butters may contain higher amounts of saturated fat than others.

Better for the environment

A reduced intake of animal products and the adoption of a more plant-based eating pattern has been associated with benefits for the environment, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and land and water usage (4).

One review of 63 studies found that switching from a traditional Western diet to a sustainable, plant-based eating pattern could result in a 20–30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and land use (4).

However, palm oil, which is mainly obtained from the Elaeis guineensis tree that’s grown in West and Southwest Africa and found in several plant-based butters, is controversial.

Increased demand for the oil has been shown to have several negative consequences for the environment, including deforestation and the loss of wildlife diversity (28, 29).

Still, organizations like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) are committed to finding ways to make palm oil production more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

If you’re concerned about the environmental impacts of palm oil, be sure to look for products that are free of palm or palm kernel oil.

Convenient substitution

As many products are designed to have a flavor and mouthfeel similar to those of regular butter, plant-based butters can be a convenient vegan substitute on toast and when cooking.

They can also be a good butter alternative for individuals who are lactose-intolerant or have an allergy to dairy. As these products are vegan, they’re also suitable for those with an allergy to egg, fish, or shellfish.

However, it’s important to note that butter plays an essential role in the final texture and taste of baked goods and pastries due to its water content and unique chemical properties.

Fortunately, there are plant-based butters that have been manufactured to have similar effects in baking. If you plan on substituting vegan butter for regular butter in recipes, be sure to research which brand or product will work best.

Summary

Plant-based butters are often lower in saturated fat and higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, compared with regular butter. Depending on the product, vegan butters can be a convenient substitute when cooking and baking.

When buying plant-based butter, it’s also important to consider any potential downsides, such as the quality of ingredients, omega-6 content, and price.

May be highly processed

As is the case with other plant-based alternatives like oat milk or vegan cheese, some products are more highly processed than others.

Observational studies have shown that diets high in processed foods tend to be lower in important nutrients and may increase your risk of obesity and heart disease (30, 31, 32).

When shopping for plant-based butters, look for products that are low in highly refined oils and free of artificial additives, such as preservatives, colorings, and flavors.

Furthermore, as plant-based butters don’t provide substantial amounts of essential nutrients, it’s important to still use these products in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet.

Can be high in omega-6 fatty acids

In addition to containing monounsaturated fats, many of the vegetable oils used in vegan butter products are high in polyunsaturated fats — specifically omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-6s and omega-3s are two types of polyunsaturated fats that your body can’t make on its own. As a result, you have to obtain them through your diet.

While both types of fat are important, diets that are high in omega-6s but low in omega-3s have been shown to increase levels of inflammation (33, 34).

Research has found vegetable oils to be one of the main contributors of omega-6 intake in the diet (35, 36).

Therefore, to help encourage a balance of these essential fats, make sure to also include plant-based sources of omega-3s, such as chia seeds, flax seeds, and sea algae oil, regularly in your diet (37, 38, 39).

If you aren’t strictly vegan, fatty fish like salmon and sardines are also excellent sources of omega-3s (37).

May be more expensive

Another potential downside of plant-based butter is that it may be more expensive than regular butter.

While some brands are more competitively priced, others can be nearly twice the price of regular butter. Additionally, some brands may be more difficult to find than others.

Therefore, depending on your location and budget, your options for plant-based butter products may be limited.

Can contain potential allergens

While plant-based butter is a good option for those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, they may still contain other possible allergens.

In particular, these butters may contain soy, tree nuts, or gluten.

For example, Miyoko’s Kitchen Cultured Vegan Butter isn’t suitable for those who are allergic to tree nuts, as it’s made with cashews.

If you have a food allergy, it’s important to check the ingredient list for possible allergens.

Summary

Plant-based butters are often high in omega-6 fatty acids, and some may be more highly processed than others. Additionally, certain brands can be more expensive and difficult to find. Some also contain food allergens.

Plant-based butters are similar to regular butter in terms of their calorie and total fat contents.

Here’s a nutrient comparison of 1 tablespoon (14 grams) of unsalted butter and the same serving of Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks (6, 14):

Unsalted butterVegan Buttery Sticks
Calories102 calories100 calories
Cholesterol30.5 mg0 mg
Total fat11.5 grams11 grams
Saturated fat7 grams3.5 grams
Trans fatless than 0.5 g0 grams
Monounsaturated fat3 grams5 grams
Polyunsaturated fatless than 0.5 grams2.5 grams
Sodium2 mg120 mg

Butter is also a good source of vitamin A, with 1 tablespoon (14 grams) providing 11% of the Daily Value (DV) (14).

Nutritionally, the major differences between plant-based and regular butter are that plant-based butters are cholesterol-free, generally lower in saturated fat, and higher in healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (6, 14).

Still, while plant-based butters contain a healthier fatty acid profile, they’re just as calorie-dense as regular butter. As a result, eating too much of either can result in excessive calorie intake and potentially weight gain over time.

Additionally plant-based butters may be higher in sodium than unsalted butter, depending on the brand.

Overall, plant-based butters generally provide healthier types of fats. However, as they shouldn’t be a primary source of calories in your diet, choosing plant-based over regular butter alone is unlikely to significantly affect your health.

Furthermore, many plant-based butter products are more highly processed and contain refined oils that may be inflammatory. Contrarily, butter is often made from just cream and salt.

Therefore, depending on the product you choose, butter may be the less processed option. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t healthier plant-based butter choices. Look for products with fewer processed oils and artificial additives.

Additionally, it’s important to consider what you plan on using the butter for, as the taste and texture of plant-based butters may not always be able to fully replicate those of regular butter.

Summary

While there are pros and cons to each, both plant-based and regular butter are calorie-dense foods that should be used in moderation along with an overall healthy diet.

While Earth Balance is one of the original vegan butter substitute brands, it’s far from the only option at the grocery store.

Here are some common plant-based butter brands you can find in stores or online:

  • Earth Balance
  • Califia Farms Plant Butter
  • Country Crock Plant Butter
  • Forager Project Buttery Spread
  • I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter It’s Vegan
  • Melt Organic Butter
  • Milkadamia Salted Buttery Spread
  • Miyoko’s Kitchen Cultured Vegan Butter
  • Om Sweet Home Non-Dairy Butter Alternative
  • Wayfare Dairy-Free Salted Whipped Butter
  • Wildbrine European-Style Cultured Cashew Butter
Summary

There are plenty of plant-based butter brands available.

While plant-based butters are a convenient way to mimic the taste and texture of butter on your toast or in cooking, there are other more nutritious vegan alternatives as well.

For example, mashed avocado is rich in several essential vitamins and minerals and provides a creamy texture on sandwiches and toast. It can also be used as a butter substitute when making certain chocolate baked goods like brownies (40).

When baking and cooking, try one of these healthier alternatives:

  • applesauce
  • avocado
  • mashed banana
  • pumpkin purée
  • minimally processed oils, such as avocado, coconut, or extra virgin olive oil

For use as a spread on toast or sandwiches, try one of these plant-based ingredients:

  • avocado or guacamole
  • tahini
  • nut or seed butters
  • vegan pesto
  • olive tapenade
  • hummus
Summary

In addition to vegan butter products, there are other less processed, more nutritious plant-based butter alternatives to incorporate into your meals and baked goods.

Plant-based butter is a vegan alternative to regular dairy butter.

In general, plant-based butter products are lower in saturated fat and higher in monounsaturated fat than regular butter. They may also be better for the environment.

However, some brands are more highly processed than others. As a result, it’s important to choose products that contain fewer refined oils and artificial additives.

Moreover, some products may be more expensive or difficult to find than regular butter.

Overall, plant-based butter is a calorie-dense food that’s low in important nutrients. Therefore, it’s best to consume these products in moderation and get the bulk of your calories from nutritious, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes.