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Margarine-like spreads may lower cholesterol

January 16, 2001

Margarine-like spreads may lower cholesterol



Margarine spreads that help lower cholesterol? Sounds too good to be true, right? Actually, two new margarine-like spreads, Take Control and Benecol, have recently been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to include cholesterol-lowering claims on their labels.

Both are available in the dairy case of local supermarkets. The FDA authorized the claims based on evidence that the plant sterol and stanol esters in these products may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol without affecting HDL (good) cholesterol, reducing the risk of coronary heart disease in some individuals.

Several factors affect levels of blood cholesterol: how much cholesterol is manufactured in the body, how much is absorbed from food and how much is excreted.

Take Control, which is made by Lipton, uses unmodified plant sterols extracted from soybeans as its active ingredient. The plant sterols inhibit cholesterol absorption in the small intestine, lowering blood cholesterol levels.

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Lipton recommends using one tablespoon of Take Control as a spread twice a day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Take Control contains 50 calories per tablespoon, which is half that found in regular margarine. In a recent study, subjects using Take Control at these levels saw up to a 10 percent decrease in LDL cholesterol levels in as little as two weeks. If used for cooking, Take Control does not maintain the cholesterol-fighting effect. The plant sterols break down when heated.

The other new margarine-like product is Benecol - from "bene" meaning good and "col" meaning cholesterol. Developed in Finland, Benecol is now manufactured in the United States by McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a division of Johnson and Johnson. Its key ingredient is a plant stanol ester, derived from pine trees, that's been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect by reducing cholesterol absorption.

The effective daily dose of Benecol is 1.5 tablespoons a day eaten in three servings of 1.5 teaspoons. Unlike Take Control, the Benecol regular spread can be used for cooking and baking. However, Benecol light is not recommended for cooking.

Only part of a plan



A few words to the wise: Take Control and Benecol are not panaceas. Although the outlook for these two products seems positive, they are only one part of a health-care plan that includes regular exercise and eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Those on cholesterol-lowering medications should consult their physicians before including these margarines in their diets. While a little is good, more is not better. There doesn't seem to be anything gained by eating more than the recommended amount of Take Control or Benecol.

It's important to have your cholesterol levels checked at regular intervals and to get medical advice if you have high LDL cholesterol. Discuss all risk factors with your physician. While eating Take Control or Benecol may help lower LDL cholesterol, it doesn't cancel out other important cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as being overweight or sedentary, smoking or having low HDL cholesterol.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County. Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

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