Butter adds rich flavor to the foods you eat, but it also adds fat, cholesterol and calories. Many people opt for margarine as a butter substitute; however, this food often contains trans fatty acids, which can increase your risk of heart disease as much as butter does. The best butter substitutes offer healthy fats -- or reduced quantities of fat -- and lower quantities of cholesterol. The type you choose depends on how you plan to use it.
Butter is a common ingredient in baked goods, but you may be able to substitute all or part of the butter you use with fruit purees such as applesauce, prune puree or mashed bananas. The Cook's Thesaurus recommends replacing only 3/4 of the butter called for in a recipe with a fruit puree. Low-fat ricotta cheese may also successfully replace a portion of the butter in some baked good recipes.
Many people use butter to slather on bread when making a sandwich. There are many healthier options, however. Consider using guacamole or hummus -- a mixture of chickpeas, garlic and tahini -- instead of butter for a tasty addition to sandwiches. You may also use low-fat or tofu-based mayonnaise as an alternative to high-fat butter. If you use butter as a flavor enhancer to sweet breads such as zucchini bread, try using a light smear of plain low-fat yogurt instead.
If you use butter to saute vegetables in a skillet, you have a few cooking options that bypass the butter. Consider moving to nonstick pans, as this allows you to saute without added fat. Note, however, that when the coating on these pans breaks down or is scratched, potentially toxic materials are released -- take special care of these pans for best health. You may also choose to use chicken stock or reduced-fat cooking spray as a replacement for butter when sauteing.
Watching a movie just isn't the same for some people without butter-drenched popcorn. You can get the same butter flavor without all the fat and cholesterol, though -- look for butter powder at your local grocery store. You can also boost flavor by opting for strongly flavored spices such as chili powder or garlic salt. Replace butter as a topping for mashed potatoes or steamed vegetables with plain yogurt or low-fat sour cream. These toppings add flavor and improve the nutritional profile of the dish.
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Nicki Wolf has been writing health and human interest articles since 1986. Her work has been published at various cooking and nutrition websites. Wolf has an extensive background in medical/nutrition writing and online content development in the nonprofit arena. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Temple University.