Butter vs Olive Oil: Cooking & Nutritional Differences + Conversion Table

Both butter and olive oil are some of the most common products used in modern-day cooking. People, both amateurs and professionals, use both olive oil and butter to prepare a lot of different meals and to most people, one or the other (maybe even both) are essential parts to a good meal. Today, we are going to discuss the differences between butter and olive oil, the benefits they have for your health and much more.

Although both butter and olive oil are essentially fats, when it comes to your health, olive oil – especially of the 100% extra virgin type – is certainly better. This is due to the difference in the type and quantity of fats within these products.

Before we continue our analysis, we’ll present to you some of the differences in table form. This table is taken from a study that observed the changes and the effects of butter and olive oil consumption on the subjects and will show you the differences of certain parameters in their bodies after consuming 50 g of butter and extra virgin olive oil over four weeks; the numbers represent the changes (increased and decreased values) of these parameters, which illustrates the effects of consumption on the body:

  Butter Olive oil
Total cholesterol (mmol/l) 0.42 (0.59) 0.03 (0.43)
HDL cholesterol (mmol/l) 0.09 (0.27) 0.10 (0.15)
Non-HDL cholesterol (mmol/l) 0.33 (0.51) -0.07 (0.42)
HDL/Non-HDL ratio (%) 0.10 (0.41) -0.13 (0.32)
Triglycerides (mmol/l) -0.001 (0.36) -0.03 (0.27)
Glucose (mmol/l) 0.02 (0.48) -0.06 (0.49)
CRP (mg/l) -0.04 (0.93) 0.23 (1.40)
Weight (kg) 0.04 (1.00) -0.04 (0.84)
BMI (kg/m2) 0.02 (0.35) -0.01 (0.29)
Body fat (%) 0.34 (1.31) 0.13 (1.30)
Waist (cm) 0.26 (3.43) 0.59 (3.25)
Systolic BP (mmHg) -3.79 (11.11) -3.67 (8.23)
Diastolic BP (mmHg) -1.33 (6.24) -0.45 (8.48)

In the rest of the article, we are going to discuss these differences and some of these numbers in more detail. So, keep reading to find out more.

The differences between butter and olive oil

While both are essentially fats, there are several obvious differences between butter and olive oil. First of all, butter is a solid (or semi-solid to be more precise) product, while olive oil is liquid. Butter is basically a dairy product, while olive oil is, well – oil. The similarities in the basic biochemical structure are obvious, but on the visual side – butter and olive oil have very little in common. The texture is completely different due to the different states, and so is the taste, while the only thing relatively similar is the color – butter is light yellow, while olive oil is of a (dark) golden color. This covers the basic differences. Now, we shall see some more specific aspects.

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Are butter and olive oil bad for you? Or are they good for you?

We all know the benefits of using butter and/or olive oil in the kitchen, but while these products might be considered useful, if not always healthy, people usually downplay their downsides, especially health-wise.

Before we continue, let us see the chemical structure of these two products so that we can compare their benefits and downsides:

  Butter Olive oil
Total fat 80–88 g 100 g
Saturated fat 43–48 g 13–19 g
Monounsaturated fat 15–19 g 59–74 g
Polyunsaturated fat 2–3 g 6–16 g
Smoke point 150 °C (302 °F) 190 °C (374 °F)

So, as you can see, butter generally has a much larger quantity of saturated fats (the so-called “bad fats”) than olive oil, around three times more in fact. Saturated fats make up around 63% of all fats in butter, which is a high percentage for a compound that is generally considered unhealthy, although contemporary research suggests that there is no direct link between saturated fats and some diseases.On the other hand, olive oil has a relatively small percentage of saturated fats (c. 14%), while the rest includes polyunsaturated (omega-3 and the like) and monounsaturated (the so-called “good fats”) fats, with the latter taking up 73% of all fats in the oil; these fats reduce the risk of inflammation and might be beneficial for reducing the risk of cancer.It is this chemical structure exactly that makes olive oil a better choice for the prevention of a plethora of conditions such as inflammation, heart attack and stroke.

An important aspect of olive oil, which butter doesn’t have, is a large number of antioxidants, which can very much reduce the risk of cancer for the consumer.But olive oil is not the only product with specific compounds, as butter contains a large quantity of beneficial conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which can reduce the risk of cancer and help manage body weight, even though butter is considered as a product that increases your weight due to a lot of calories.Butter is also rich in butyrate, another beneficial compound not present in olive oil in such a way.

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Researchers say that saturated fats should only make up around 10% of your daily intake of calories, so you might find yourself in a situation where you’ll need to substitute butter with, perhaps, olive oil. Luckily enough, there is a way of comparing all these measures and we are going to present it to you in this butter to olive oil substitution conversion table:

Butter Olive oil
1 teaspoon 3/4 teaspoon
1 tablespoon 2 1/4 teaspoon
2 tablespoons 1 1/2 tablespoon
1/4 cup 3 tablespoons
1/3 cup 1/4 cup
2/3 cup 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon
3/4 cup 1/2 cup
1 cup 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons
2 cups 1 1/4 cups

So, as you can see, the conversion ratio is not 1:1, but rather s 1:0.75, based on the initial comparisons of one teaspoon of butter to the same amount in olive oil.

Substituting butter and olive oil in everyday cooking

Now that we have analyzed the chemical structure of these two products and how they affect our health, let us see how we can apply them and substitute them in everyday cooking.

The first thing you need to know is that you can indeed replace butter with olive oil in some daily cooking routines. Be careful to respect the substitution (conversion) ratios as described in the table above and you won’t have many issues with the general concept. But you need to be careful, because you cannot substitute butter with olive oil with each type of food.

The replacement usually works well with pasta, because pasta is prepared in such a way that allows for this substitution, and with most types of meat and vegetables, also because the method of preparation is such that it allows the replacement. The only thing you have to note here is that olive oil (especially of the extra virgin type) has a very strong and specific flavor, much stronger than butter, so if you’re not used to it you might find your food having an odd or generally different aroma. As for baking, olive oil is usually not a good replacement, especially if you need to combine butter with sugar, which is a process in which olive oil is not as effective. Still, olive oil works as a replacement for baking brownies, so at least you’re good to go if you’re a fan of them.It can also be a replacement when baking and preparing bread, but be prepared for a stronger flavor.

As for eggs, you can actually use both, as it depends on how you want your eggs. If you want your eggs more on the crispy side with a little flavor, then olive oil is your “poison” of choice because of its specific aroma and the fact that it tolerates higher temperatures better than butter. Butter burns on lower temperatures (see out the table above) and is a good choice if you want more neutral eggs.

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Oil-based spreads: Are they better than butter?

A big question in the culinary community is whether to use butter or spread. We won’t be dwelling into that debate today, but we can give you an insight into the debate by telling you whether the oil-based spread is better than regular butter. And it seems it is. Why?

Well, we’ve talked about the chemical structure of butter and how many of which compounds it contains. On the other hand, “spreadable butter,” as it is called, is a very specific dairy blend where butter is combined with some form of oil, be it olive oil or some vegetable-based one. These blends look and taste like regular butter, but are actually a much healthier alternative as they contain a lot less of those mean saturated fats. Still, extra virgin olive oil is an even better choice if you’re accustomed to the taste. And that covers it for today. We’ve analyzed both butter and olive oil in today’s article, show you some of the similarities and differences between these two products, and also told you how, when and where you can substitute one for the other. See you next time!