If you’re going low FODMAP, you may have already switched your morning toast for gluten-free bread. But what about the butter? Do you have to give that up, too? Should you use margarine instead? Well, if you love butter, I have great news.
Butter is low FODMAP. One tablespoon of butter has .0004 grams of lactose, far less than the recommended 1 gram per serving. Margarine, a common butter substitute, is also low FODMAP. Lactose content of margarine varies by brand, but is still very low at the suggested serving of one tablespoon.
Here we’ll compare butter and margarine. Both are low FODMAP, but differ in calories and fat. The choice of which to use depends on your overall dietary needs and your personal preference.
Is Butter FODMAP Friendly?
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As with all dairy products, low FODMAPers have to be concerned about the lactose content of butter. Fortunately, butter is very low in lactose and therefore is low FODMAP.
You may be wondering how butter can be low FODMAP when it’s a milk product. It’s really a combination of how FODMAPs work and how butter is made.
Why is Butter Low FODMAP?
Food has three macronutrients: carbohydrates (carbs), fats and protein. Milk contains significant amounts of all three, including the carbohydrate lactose. Lactose is removed at each stage of the butter making process.
For example, suppose we start with a cup of whole milk, which has 12.3 grams of lactose. When milk is allowed to rest, milk fats separate from the liquid and rise to the surface. This milk fat is more commonly known as cream. When cream separates, some of the lactose stays behind with the liquid.
Now, a cup of heavy cream made from whole milk has about 7 grams of lactose.3 So, by separating the cream from the liquid, we’ve reduced lactose content by 5 grams.
When cream is churned, whipped or stirred, the fat inside starts to solidify. This solidified fat is known as butter. The remaining liquid, known as buttermilk, is drained off.
This is why buttermilk has a lower lactose content than regular milk. This is also why butter is nearly all fat. And since FODMAPs are found only in carbs and not in fat or protein, it’s why butter is low lactose and low FODMAP.
This short video from YouTube nicely summarizes the butter making process. Please note that I have no affiliation with the product mentioned here. I just thought it was a nice, quick demonstration of how cream is turned into buttermilk and then into butter.
The majority of fat in butter (61%) is saturated fat, which has been implicated in elevated cholesterol levels and heart disease.4 One tablespoon of butter has a fairly high cholesterol content of 31.5 milligrams.5 The following table provides a nutritional overview of butter.
Calories, Fat and Cholesterol in Butter
|Total Fat||11 grams|
|Saturated Fat||6.36 grams|
|Monosaturated Fat||2.79 grams|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||.466 grams|
|Trans Fat||1.34 grams|
The high fat and cholesterol in butter leads some people to switch to margarine. Fortunately, this can also be eaten on a low FODMAP diet.
Is Margarine Low FODMAP?
Margarine is low FODMAP. On average, a tablespoon of margarine has .122 grams of lactose, far less than the suggested 1 gram of lactose per serving. The lactose content of margarine varies somewhat based on brand, but all types of margarine should fall within low FOMDAP guidelines.
People tend to refer to any butter-like substitute as margarine, but according to the US Food and Drug Administration, true margarine must contain at least 80% fat.7 So, many of the butter substitutes you find in your grocery store’s dairy case are just that: butter substitutes, not actual margarine.
Margarine and butter substitutes are low in lactose because they contain little to no milk. Instead, they’re made from a combination of water and plant-based oils, such as canola oil or olive oil. Ingredients can also include salt and natural or artificial flavors and colors. They may also have added calcium, vitamins or omega-3.
Margarine and butter substitutes are low lactose and low FODMAP. But it’s not really correct to refer to all of these as margarine. That’s why some manufacturers use terms like “buttery spread” instead.
Despite the 80% fat rule, margarine usually has slightly less fat and significantly less cholesterol than butter. That’s because the plant-based oils typically used to make margarine lack the saturated fat found in cow’s milk.
The following table shows the calorie and fat content of margarine. When compared to the table above showing the same values for butter, you can see margarine is the clear winner in terms of saturated fat and cholesterol.
One tablespoon of tub margarine has less than half the saturated fat of regular butter and has no cholesterol, compared to more than 30 milligrams of cholesterol in butter.
Calories, Fat and Cholesterol in Margarine
|Total Fat||11.4 grams|
|Saturated Fat||2.02 grams|
|Monosaturated Fat||5.17 grams|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||3.79 grams|
|Trans Fat||.828 grams|
Low FODMAP Butter Brands and Butter Substitutes
For reasons discussed above, pretty much all brands of butter and all butter substitutes are low lactose and FODMAP friendly.
However, if you’re looking for specific suggestions, I put together the table below, with the help of the food database at CSIDCares.org. The table lists the amount of lactose in one tablespoon of some popular butter brands and butter substitutes.
I’ve also included an entry for ghee here. Ghee is a type of clarified butter and contains no detectable lactose at small serving sizes. It also contains less casein than regular butter, so can be a good option for people who are lactose intolerant and casein sensitive.9
However, like butter, ghee is high in saturated fat. I’ve written an entire post on ghee if you want to learn more about this common butter substitute.
Low FODMAP Butters and Margarines
|Brand||Lactose (grams per tablespoon)|
|Butter, regular (average of all brands)||.0009g|
|Butter, whipped (average of all brands)||.0009g|
|Blue Bonnet Homestyle Margarine||.12g|
|Blue Bonnet Light Margarine||.277g|
|Fleischmann’s Original Margarine||.161g|
|Fleischmann’s Light Margarine||.277g|
|Fleischmann’s Move Over Butter||.138|
|I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Original||.097g|
|I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Light||.092g|
|Land O’Lakes Margarine||.098g|
|Land O’Lakes Fresh Buttery Taste Spread||.097g|
|Land O’Lakes Light Butter with Canola Oil||.14g|
|Promise Light Margarine||.277g|
|Shedd’s Spread Country Crock Margarine||.12g|
|Shedd’s Spread Country Crock Light Margarine||.28g|
|Shedd’s Spread Spreadable Butter with Canola Oil||.066g|
|Smart Balance Margarine||.097g|
|Smart Balance Light Margarine||.277g|
Conclusion: Butter is a Low FODMAP Food
Starting a low FODMAP diet may mean giving up a lot of the foods you’re used to eating. Fortunately for those of us who like butter, it easily fits within the low FODMAP plan.
That said, butter is high in calories, fat and cholesterol, so you still have to watch portion sizes. Margarine is a good, low FODMAP alternative for those who need to watch their fat and cholesterol intake.
Another option is what I call “butter hybrids.” These are butter that’s blended with plant-based oils, which reduces the cholesterol content. For example, Land O’Lakes Light Butter with Canola Oil or Light Butter with Olive Oil. These are made from cream, so do contain lactose. But they have a more butter-like taste than many margarines and are what I typically use.
You may have to try several butter brands or butter substitutes before you find one you really like. The good news is that all butters and margarines are low lactose at standard serving sizes, giving you room to experiment and still stay on the low FODMAP track.
Which do you prefer: butter or margarine? For me, it’s butter all the way. I use a butter hybrid, like Land O’Lakes with olive oil. Unless I can find Kerrygold butter on sale. That’s some good stuff. What about you? Do you have a favorite butter or margarine brand? Tell me about it in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!
Posts Related to “Is Butter Low FODMAP?”
If you’re interested in learning more about the FODMAPs in dairy products, like butter, a good place to start is this post I wrote on the lactose content in cow’s milk.
And, as mentioned, ghee is a common substitute for butter. As discussed in my post on ghee, it has a deeper flavor than butter, but nutritionally they’re about the same.
About the Author
Amanda Coleman, PhD, studies food culture and teaches a popular Food and Society course. Years of digestive problems led her to live low FODMAP. Now she uses her research and analysis skills to help others understand FODMAP essentials, so they can lead better, healthier lives.