Margarine is made from soybean oil or a blend of vegetable oils instead of cow's milk, but most margarine brands still contain small amounts of dairy products, such as lactose, casein and whey. A few margarine varieties that are completely dairy-free include Blue Bonnet Light, Smart Balance Light and Earth Balance.
Margarine is a butter substitute often used for baking, cooking and spreading, and it is a popular ingredient in prepared food products. Although margarine does not contain cholesterol, a substance known to cause the narrowing of the blood vessels, most varieties contain a similar fat content to traditional butter, which is around 80 percent. Margarine is often made with emulsified vegetables oils mixed with tiny droplets of water. Effectiveness for baking purposes tends to vary, so consumers should check labels before making a purchase to ensure that the margarine is suitable for its desired use.
According to the Mayo Clinic, margarine is better than butter when it comes to heart health because it contains high levels of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that help reduce harmful LDL cholesterol in the body. However, some varieties contain trans fat, which is a harmful substance known to increase cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Generally, the more solid stick margarine varieties have the largest amount of trans fat.