Butter and Butter Substitutes During Pregnancy: Safety and Risks

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Butter is one of those foods that seems like a no-brainer, safety-wise. However, not all butters are equal, and there are some ingredients that need some consideration. 

Butter has been linked with heart disease, but does this mean it’s not good for you? What are the risks of eating too much butter?  I’ll tell you everything you need to know about butter and your pregnancy diet, including butter substitutes and products like margarine. 

The Benefits of Eating Butter During Pregnancy

Butter does contain several nutrients that are beneficial to expectant moms. 

Butter contains a modest amount of calcium (around 3mg per tablespoon), which helps protect against osteoporosis, and is vital for strong bones. Calcium is also important for fetal skeletal development (source: NutritionData).

Butter is also a good source of vitamin K, an essential vitamin during pregnancy as it prevents prevent bleeding (hemorrhage) in newborns (source: Cochrane).

Butter is also a source of magnesium, which supports the heart and muscles, and potassium, which is important for the development of the fetus’s central nervous system.

However, there are drawbacks to eating butter in pregnancy, if it’s not consumed in moderation. The biggest factor is that it’s high in saturated fat and calories. It’s also very easy to eat a lot of it, especially if it’s whipped!

Another concern is that consuming large amounts of butter increases the number of calories you consume, which could lead to unwanted weight gain during pregnancy (source: FHC San Diego). 

sliced fresh butter on a cutting board

Salted vs Unsalted Butter When Pregnant 

When choosing between salted and unsalted butter, the only consideration is which taste you prefer, unless you’re watching your sodium intake, in which case, you should choose unsalted. 

If you want to avoid extra salt, look for low-sodium options. Or if you have high blood pressure, stick to unsalted butter.

Pasteurized vs Unpasteurized Butter During Pregnancy 

One thing you should look out for is unpasteurized butter, which should be avoided because it could contain bacteria that may cause food poisoning. If you’re pregnant and worried about food safety, it’s best to avoid unpasteurized dairy, and this includes butter (source: FDA).

Unpasteurized butter is found surprisingly often on supermarket shelves, especially in Europe, so check the label before buying. It may also be labeled “cultured butter”. Butter from France is the most common, but other countries offer unpasteurized kinds of butter, too. 

If heated, unpasteurized butter is safe to consume, so if you’re using it in baking or cooking, for example, it should be fine.

If it’s only spread on hot toast or a bagel, this won’t be a hot enough temperature to kill potential bacteria, so unpasteurized raw butter is only safe if it’s heated until hot – around 165 degrees Fahrenheit (around 74c). This is the temperature level that commercial kinds of butter reach when they’re pasteurized.

coconut oil in a bowl and in a bottle

Butter Substitutes During Pregnancy

If you want to avoid butter during pregnancy, there are other options out there. The most popular are “spreads” which are usually based on vegetable oils. They contain less saturated fats than butter, but be mindful that they can still contain the same amount of calories (source: Consumer Reports). 

If you have food allergies, such as a dairy or lactose allergy, you may also wonder about other options. 

Some people use coconut oil instead of butter, for example, while others opt for ghee. Both have their pros and cons.

Coconut Oil: Coconut oil may contain medium-chain triglycerides, which help boost metabolism.It also contains lauric acid, an antibacterial agent that fights infection. However, coconut oil doesn’t provide any protein or essential fatty acids like omega 3 and 6. You can read more about coconut oil during pregnancy here.

Ghee: Ghee is made from clarified butter, so it provides all the same health benefits as regular butter. It also contains iron, which promotes healthy red blood cells. Ghee is high in calories, though, so if you’re trying to maintain a healthy pregnancy weight, it might not be the best option unless eaten in moderation.

There are more creative ways to make healthy food recipes with butter substitutes, such as using avocado on toast, rather than butter – a meal in itself! You can also use olive oil in cooking, rather than butter, too. It’s still high in calories but has far less saturated fat.

Another option that isn’t as popular as it used to be, is margarine. 

Can I Eat Margarine While Pregnant?

You might think that butter and margarine are pretty similar, but they aren’t. Margarine often contains trans fats, which are bad for your health. Trans fats raise LDL cholesterol levels and lower HDL cholesterol levels, which can have an impact on heart health (source: WebMD).

There are some “trans-free” brands, so always check the label. Just like butter, margarine is often also high in saturated fat, so it’s also one of those foods in pregnancy that should be eaten in moderation where possible. 

Is Brandy Butter Safe During Pregnancy?

Many women worry about the alcohol content in brandy butter, but it’s OK to have very small amounts during pregnancy. Alcohol can pass through the placenta into the baby, but it’s unlikely to harm the baby at these levels. 

The amount of alcohol in brandy butter is very small, however, so even if you do decide to have some, it’s best not to overdo it. For more on this, check out our article on alcohol in food during pregnancy. 

Exercise caution if the brandy butter is homemade – this may contain more alcohol than store-bought varieties.

Some Christmas butters (including brandy or rum butter) are made with flavorings, rather than real alcohol, so you might want to consider these as an alternative, too. 

a jar of ghee with tablespoon

What’s the Best Butter to Eat While Pregnant? 

So what’s the best kind of butter during pregnancy? Well, it depends on your personal preferences and dietary needs. 

If you’d prefer to cut back on salt, try unsalted butter. If you’re opting for a butter substitute, then be mindful of added ingredients and those that contain trans fats. 

Most pasteurized butters are fine if eaten in moderation and part of a balanced diet during pregnancy – there is no real best – it’s just a matter of taste. The only thing to remember is not to eat it too much, or too often, due to its high calorie and fat content. 

Overall, I hope this guide has helped answer your questions about eating butter while pregnant. If you’re interested in other butters, like peanut butter, then check out this article too.