You better believe it's not butter, because...it's not!
Butter is often that go-to option for a cooking and baking needs, or if you just need a good spread. Because of this, you might find yourself going through butter very quickly or consuming more than you feel comfortable doing. While butter has been shown to be less of a health demon than previously thought, it still raises LDL (or bad) cholesterol. So whether you're out of butter or trying to cut back for health reasons, it's important to be aware of the alternatives. There are options that are very similar in textures and taste, while also providing some unique benefits to your overall health.
Butter can be switched out for coconut oil without having to adjust the recipe you're using, but it's important to take into account that coconut oil will have a noticeable impact on the flavor of your dish if you use unrefined coconut oil. Refined coconut oil has a much more mild flavor and should be used when cooking or baking and you want a subdued to barely noticeable taste.
Coconut oil supplies a high amount of healthy saturated fats into your diet and also serves as a source of iron, which helps oxygen transportation in your body. Coconut oil should be used sparingly, however, as it still has high fat content and a high calorie count.
Ratio: 1 tbsp of coconut oil/butter = 1 tbsp of butter
Ghee, also known as "clarified butter", is probably the closest you can get if you want your dish to have that pure butter taste. Clarified butter is made by melting butter and allowing the components of the butter to separate by density. The milk solids sink to the bottom while the butterfat remains at the top. The butterfat is then poured out and becomes clarified butter. This is an especially great alternative to people who are lactose intolerant as clarified butter contains negligible amounts of lactose. Ghee differs from the process of clarified butter slightly by allowing the butter to simmer after separating, giving the butter a nuttier flavor and sweeter aroma.
Ghee can basically replace butter without much thought as you won't have to adjust your recipe requirements at all and the taste is very similar to that of regular butter.
As stated before, because ghee removes the milk from the butter, it's a wonderful choice for people who are lactose intolerant. The health benefits are similar to that of regular butter so while it does provide some saturated fats, it's important to eat in moderation as you would regular butter. A study by The Indian Journal of Medical Research shows that consumption of ghee could have potential benefits in defending the body against cancer.
Ratio: 1 tbsp ghee = 1 tbsp butter
The "jack of all trades" when it comes to food oils, olive oil is a wonderful oil that can take butter's place in cooking or baking recipes, or even as a spread. Olive oil provides all the uses that butter brings to recipes while providing much more nutritional benefit -- one tablespoon of olive oil has the same calorie count as canola oil and butter -- and provides a rich taste that fits almost any dish. Being a liquid, you shouldn't substitute butter for olive oil if you're baking a dish that requires the fat to stay solid.
Olive oil is recommended by the American Heart Association as a substitute cooking oil for its healthy count of saturated fats and antioxidants while being completely devoid of trans fats. The consumption of olive can lead to reduced risk of heart disease.
Ratio: 3/4 cup of olive oil = 1 cup of butter
Despite "butter" being in the name, nut butter is actually made by grinding nuts into a paste, serving as a substitute for regular butter when cooking. What nut butter you use depends on the specific dish you're making -- something like hazelnut butter will be good for thickening up a stew or pistachio nut butter can be used for baking cookies -- so it's good to familiarize yourself with the different flavors and textures of various nuts and find which ones will fit the substitute you need.
As nut butter is just nuts ground down, the health benefits will vary slightly depending on the nut used. In general, nuts provide many healthy fats and are a great source of protein. Making nuts a constant in your diet can lead to reduced risk of stroke and heart disease. If you plan on making nut butter at home, be sure to pay close attention to the salt content when buying nuts at the store -- if you can find an unsalted variety, it's much preferred for your health.
Ratio: 1 tbsp of nut butter = 1 tbsp of butter
At first thought, you wouldn't think this tree fruit would be able to stand in for butter but its properties seem to fit the bill very well. When pureed, it can substitute for butter when baking -- simply take whatever recipe you're using and replace the required butter with the same amount of pureed avocado!
Avocados provide polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats -- also known as "healthy fats" -- making them a great substitute for foods with that are high in saturated fats. They also serve as a "nutrient booster", helping the body effectively absorb vitamins.
Ratio: 1 tbsp of pureed avocado = 1 tbsp of butter
Margarine was originally marketed as the healthier alternative to butter but as the dangers of trans-fats became more apparent, it was clear that margarine might be doing more harm than good, despite having a lower saturated fat count than butter. While newer models of margarine can be free of trans-fats, they still contain high calorie counts and with healthier alternatives, it's recommended to search for other substitutes.
A longtime favorite of bakers and cooks, shortening is becoming less and less popular when it comes to personal health, as the fat is very high in trans-fats and it's a highly processed product. While recipes often call for these hydrogenated oils, the health alternatives available will still do the trick and they will be much better in the long run.
While baking and cooking use butter frequently, butter is also a very popular spread on toast and bagels for its simple but flavorful taste. However, on top of the aforementioned cooking substitutes, you can add a few things onto your toast in lieu of butter, such as:
There are many butter substitutes that are worth experimenting with -- try cooking and baking with different options. Mix and match to see if you find something that works equally as good, if not better, than regular butter. It could be that you find yourself a healthier alternative that does the trick all the same. Give it a shot!