I like to think that no one actually eats margarine anymore, given the highly publicized dangers of hydrogenated vegetable oils AND the inferior taste to butter. So it came as a major shock when a friend told me he was trying to 'eat healthy' and the first thing he did was switch from butter to a solid canola spread.
Huh?? How is this healthy?
Canola spreads and margarine start their lives as oil and through a chemical process called hydrogenation, the molecular structure of the oil is changed and a solid is created. Yes, butter is high in saturated fats and canola oil is considered a "good" oil, but all of that goodness goes away when it is hydrogenated. The body simply doesn't know what to do with that extra atom of hydrogen.
The body does, however, know how to process saturated fats, and by law butter must be at least 80% milk fat. (The remaining 20% can be milk solids and/or water). Butter is an all natural ingredient. It is churned from cream and naturally becomes a solid in the process, so although it is a high fat food, it is made from a fat that our body recognizes.
Some butters may have the additive annatto, and some have salt and others don't. Annatto is derived from the achiote seed and gives butter that nice yellow hue. (Butter from grass-fed cows is sometimes naturally yellow, depending on the time of year and what the cows have been grazing on.) As for salt, it acts as a preservative and flavoring agent for butter. I use unsalted butter for cooking and salted for spreading on bread and the like. Sweet cream versus cultured or European style butter simply refers to butter made with sweet cream versus butter made with sour cream. The sour cream gives butter a bit of a tangy flavor.
All of these variations of butter are close to the natural state, the purist variety being unsalted butter with no annatto, made from the cream of pasture raised cows. This is available in many specialty grocers and health food stores.
The point here is the closer you stay to mother nature, the better off you'll be. If you're worried about the fat content of butter, use it in moderation. You can also dip your bread in olive oil or spread your toast with a little natural honey instead of butter. There are plenty of alternatives, just choose one that's as natural as butter itself.