Cholesterol-Lowering Margarines

In American grocery stores, you can find margarines with the brand names Take Control, Benecol, and Benecol Light. These margarines were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in late spring, 1999, for safe consumption by people of all ages. While Benecol has been used in Finland for several years, these specialized margarines have now made their way into the American market. Both brands, despite having different ingredients, work in a similar manner to reduce the levels of "bad" low density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood. It's important to note that they do not affect the beneficial high density lipoprotein cholesterol.

These margarines are infused with plant sterols derived from either soybeans or pine trees.These dietary plant sterols resemble cholesterol but are not absorbed by the body. They help prevent cholesterol absorption from the digestive tract and aid in its removal from the colon. Small quantities of plant sterols can also be discovered in alternative food sources like olives, whole grains (including oats, soy, wheat, corn, and rye), and upcoming salad dressings. If you currently do not use margarine or butter, there is no pressure to start using these new margarine products. The intention is for people to substitute these plant sterol-containing margarines for a portion of their daily intake of other high-fat foods.

For consumers purchasing Take Control, Benecol, and Benecol Light, there is a premium price to pay. They are priced three times higher or more compared to other margarines. These margarines can be used like any other margarine, spread on foods you consume. The recommended daily intake is one or two tablespoons to achieve a reduction in LDL cholesterol. However, it's important to remember that these margarines still contain fat and calories similar to other brands. One tablespoon provides 6-10 grams of fat and 50-90 calories. Both brands have minimal amounts of saturated fat or trans fatty acids. Each brand has a slightly different taste and melting point compared to the others and other margarine brands.

It is not recommended to cook or bake with Take Control, as the cholesterol-lowering plant sterols break down with heat. Due to its elevated water content, Benecol Light is not recommended for use in cooking or baking purposes. While using Benecol for cooking or baking may yield satisfactory results, it can be expensive and likely exceed the necessary intake recommendations for a cholesterol-lowering effect. Consuming more of these margarines does not further reduce cholesterol levels. Following the recommended intake levels leads to reduced cholesterol levels within the first two weeks of use. Individuals with initially high LDL cholesterol levels tend to see better results compared to those with lower levels. On average, reported reductions in total cholesterol range from 4% to 14%, but individual responses may vary. Combining the consumption of these margarines with a low-saturated-fat and low-cholesterol diet yields greater reductions in LDL cholesterol levels compared to using the margarines alone or changing the diet without using the specialized margarine. If Take Control or Benecol usage is discontinued without other lifestyle changes, cholesterol levels typically return to previous levels within a week.

Compared to cholesterol-lowering medications, these new margarines are less expensive but not as effective in reducing blood cholesterol. However, medication expenses are often shared by insurance companies rather than solely borne by the consumer. People who choose not to use prescription medication to reduce cholesterol levels might consider these specialized margarines as a suitable substitute. A combination approach involving diet, one of the specialized margarines, and lower doses of a cholesterol-lowering drug has been successful in decreasing LDL cholesterol. It is advisable to consult your healthcare provider about your diet, risk factors, and current cholesterol level. Discuss strategies to reduce your risk of heart disease, improve your health, and follow up on your plans.

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