Butter makes for delicious, savory dishes -- but it's also full of fat and (at least some butters) salt, and makes your food much more unhealthy than it would naturally be. While it may not always be worth it to sacrifice the flavor boost, there are some healthier butter substitutes you can use in a pinch, and some suggestions for how to use them in your cooking. Most of these are also cheaper, at least in the amounts you need to replace butter, so it's helpful for your budget as well as your waistline.
Shortening may seem pretty disgusting -- a thick opaque white paste that comes in a tub -- but it's usually made from vegetable oil and, if you make sure what you buy is non-trans fat, isn't too horrible for you. Shortening is put into tortillas and "crumbly" baked goods such as scones and shortbread; you can replace butter in many baked goods recipes with shortening if you desire. The most popular brand of shortening, Crisco, recently underwent a change in its formula so that it no longer contains a heady amount of trans fat.
Olive oil is the healthiest cooking oil you can possibly use. It does have a mild flavor, so it's not good for sweet baked goods, but other than that you can substitute olive oil for butter (or other oils) in pretty much any recipe. It lends great taste to whatever you're cooking, since it helps bring out the natural flavors, and has a wonderful subtle deliciousness on its own; sauté vegetables or meats in olive oil instead of regular oils, and you won't be disappointed.
Margarine has a bad reputation in some circles, but it's really just glorified shortening with a more buttery flavor. It's also pretty fatty, but it's less fatty than butter, and its softer texture works incredibly well in baking (a good place to use margarine, for those who can't stand the taste over real butter). You can use margarine for cooking, although only if you have much stronger flavors to overpower it, as you can tell the difference pretty easily.
Canola or vegetable oil is great in Asian cooking, where you don't want the flavor of the fat to overpower the other flavors. This oil is not really good for you, but it can be used in smaller amounts than butter, making it a healthy alternative in terms of quantity.
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