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Butter vs. EVOO: the final battle

Facts first.

Butter. [Creamy, sweet, delicate, wonderful butter]
According to USDA figures, one tablespoon of butter (14 grams) contains 100 kcal (all from fat) 11 grams of fat, of which 7 grams are saturated fat, and 31 mg of cholesterol. Butter is 63% saturated fat (+ the cholesterol) and for this reason is considered by some to be a contributor to health problems, especially heart disease.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil. [Golden, sometimes sweet, sometimes peppery, always delicious evoo] 120 kcal per tablespoon, 14 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fats, 12 grams healthy fats, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium.

A bit of science.

Olive oil contains a wide variety of valuable antioxidants that are not found in other oils. Hydroxytyrosol is thought to be the main antioxidant in olives, and believed to play a significant role in the many health benefits attributed to olive oil.  Studies suggest that olive oil has a protective effect against certain malignant tumours in the breast, prostate, endometrium and digestive tract. Research shows that the type rather than the quantity of fat seems to have more implications for cancer incidence. Bad news for butter.

Evidence from these studies also suggests that a higher proportion of monounsaturated fats in the diet is linked with a reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease. This is significant because olive oil is considerably rich in monounsaturated fats, most notably oleic acid. Can butter say that? Nope.

Clinical evidence suggests that olive oil’s phenolic content is also responsible for at least some of its cardioprotective benefits. [Important to note that polyphenols are highest in fresh artisan evoo and diminish with time, light and air.] Butter? um… no.


I love butter as much as the next person, possibly more. I have been known to smuggle Bavarian butter across the border. I plan holidays based on locations with the best butter. I grew up in a household where bread could not be eaten without a minimum good inch of butter on top.

After moving to Italy, I have fallen deeply in love with extra virgin olive oil. I love that no artisan oil tastes exactly like another. I love its different layers, textures and notes. I love the creativity and experimentation in pairing it with foods. I love that it is so good for me.

When it comes to your health and most importantly your heart – there is no contest – extra virgin comes out on top.

Make the switch.

I would never tell someone they could live 100% without butter. I couldn’t myself. But very often it can be substituted with extra virgin achieving remarkable and often better results. Sautéing your veggies, dressing salads, fish, meat and hearty soups are the obvious ones. And in your baking, replace butter with 3/4 of the amount in olive oil. My husband even uses evoo to grease the pan when he is making crepes.

Do you have some recipes where you have substituted butter with evoo? Please share! We’d love to see them.


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Very interesting, thanks. In your experience/research, what have you come across about frying/cooking with olive oil? I remember reading that the composition changes when cooked and perhaps makes the oil unhealthy so it’s better to eat it raw if possible. I ask because, like your husband, I like to put some olive oil in my pans before frying. Plus, my mother-in-law cooks veggies in large, I mean really large, amounts of olive oil. They are terrific, but I’m always a little unsure of what the health implications are.

    September 28, 2011
    • g&t #

      Hi! What you are referring to is the smoke point of an oil ( and you are right that when heating ANY oil at high high temperatures the composition changes and when you get to the “smoke” level the result is carcinogenic. However, unless you are speaking about deep frying (at which point also the quanitiy of oil required makes using evoo cost prohibative), using extra virgin in the pan for veggies and the like is a perfect way for using evoo. With heat however, the polyphenols (anti-oxididants) in extra virgin are lost but considering that butter and other oils do not have those properties anyway, evoo is always better because of the NO cholesterol aspect. Enjoy your veggies and pass me the evoo please! Cheers, Teresa

      September 28, 2011

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