9 Healthy Alternatives to Butter

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According to the USDA, 1 cup of white beans has 299 calories, 19 grams of protein, an impressive 13 g of fiber, and less than 1 g of fat. If you haven’t experimented with beans in baked goods, now might be the time. “It may sound strange, but pureed legumes can be used as a substitute for butter,” says Poulson.

Beans impart a cakey texture, so it’s best to reserve them for desserts like cakes, blondies, and brownies. You can choose which beans to use based on color — for example, black beans for brownies, white beans or chickpeas for blondies, and red beans for red velvet cupcakes. You can substitute 1:1 for butter, Poulson says, but that may be a little ambitious. “If you’re nervous to go 100 percent at first, use half beans and half butter, then next time increase as you feel comfortable,” she advises.

Butter Substitutes You May Want to Think Twice About

While not the healthiest choices, here are two additional butter alternatives and what to know about them.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil imparts a fruity, tropical taste that some people enjoy, but it’s high in saturated fat, meaning it’s not the most heart-healthy option, despite its reputation otherwise. According to the USDA, 1 tbsp of coconut oil contains nearly 10 g of saturated fat, which is more than butter and puts you close to the recommended limit.

Ghee

While not necessarily healthier than regular butter, ghee (clarified butter) has grown in popularity as an alternative, which makes intuitive sense because it offers a deep buttery taste and texture. Some people prefer it to regular butter because the milk solids are removed, which increases the smoke point and reduces the amount of lactose, according to a study published in Molecular Genetics and Metabolism Reports.

It’s not clear, though (pun intended), if removing milk solids makes ghee healthier than butter, according to Poulson. “Being a saturated fat, ghee should still be used sparingly, as you would regular butter,” she says. In fact, 1 tbsp of ghee contains 9 g of saturated fat, according to the USDA — more than regular butter.

Use These Healthier, Alternative Spreads Instead of Butter

Instead of spreading butter on your toast or bagel, you can up the nutrition in your meal by switching to these health-packed picks, says Rasmussen.

  • Avocado Mash with your choice of seasonings and olive oil to enhance its creamy consistency, Rasmussen suggests.
  • Nut Butter Peanut butter and almond butter are good picks but also consider unconventional options like cashew or pistachio butter. “I like to drizzle on a tiny bit of manuka honey or [add] sliced strawberries or bananas,” says Rasmussen.
  • Ricotta Cheese Cow’s milk or almond milk ricotta topped with fruit slices or tomatoes give you both a sweet and savory option, Rasmussen notes. According to the USDA, ¼ cup of ricotta cheese has 169 mg of calcium, or 13 percent of your daily value.
  • Greek or Icelandic Yogurt If you go with a plain variety, it’s as tangy as a cream cheese — and thick, too. You can customize the flavor by stirring in pumpkin puree and cinnamon, mashed bananas, or smashed berries.

If you decide to buy a commercial spread to use in place of butter on toast or muffins, Snodgrass recommends choosing a product that is low in saturated fat and free of trans fats or hydrogenated oils. She also suggests looking at the sodium (salt) content and total calories, especially for people who are trying to reduce their overall calorie intake.

A Final Word on Butter Alternatives in Recipes and Spreads

If you love baking, there’s no reason to hold back from making yummy treats in your kitchen. In some cases — when whipping up a favorite family recipe, for instance — you might want to stick with the tried-and-true butter that the recipe calls for. But at other times, you can reduce calories and fat, improve the nutrition profile, or build a recipe to suit your dietary needs by replacing butter with avocado, applesauce, yogurt, or even pureed beans.

While there are some guidelines for substitutions, don’t be afraid to experiment and tweak a recipe until your cake, brownie, or quick bread comes out perfectly. You can also bring butter substitutions into everyday meals and snacks to add nutrition, taste, and variety.

Additional reporting by Quinn Phillips.

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