Cholesterol-lowering margarine expected in stores next year
October 21, 1998
(CNN) -- Buttering up your bread may be a healthy act with the help of two new margarines scheduled to hit the American market early next year.
The margarines, said to help lower cholesterol, are believed to be the first nutraceuticals, or foods make specifically to have a health benefit, to make it to store shelves.
Both products contain plant stanol esters, which are naturally found in small amounts in wood, plants, fruits and vegetables. Scientists have altered the stanol esters so large amounts can be put in margarine without changing the food's taste or consistency, according to press releases.
If both margarines are marketed as supplements, they are not expected to be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
In clinical trials of people with moderately high cholesterol, those who consumed one to two servings of Unilever's "Take Control," for three and half weeks lowered their LDL cholesterol levels by 5 to 10 percent.
Study subjects had an average 14 percent drop in their levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol when they ate one and a half teaspoons of the other brand, Benecol, three times a day.
"What it does is it binds up that cholesterol and keeps it from being absorbed," said Dr. Lowell Dale of Mayo Medical School who helped conduct the study of Benecol.
However, he said eating larger quantities of the margarines will not help lower cholesterol levels even further.
Although excited by the study results, Dr. Ronalk Krauss, chairman of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee, had words of warning. He said people still need to eat a healthy diet and margarine should not replace cholesterol-lowering drugs prescribed by doctors.
Krauss said there are also concerns that eating large quantities could block absorption of caroteniods vitamins that help fight cancer.
"The other studies on that have been mixed," he said. "We have not analyzed that data in the United States yet."
Benecol has been a hit in Finland where it was created by using byproducts from the country's logging industry.
In the United States, Benecol will be marketed by Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer Products, which is also planning a line of salad dressings containing the plant stanol esters.Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and Reuters contributed to this report.
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