You've probably heard about two margarines on the market that provide a buttery flavor, and promise to lower your cholesterol, too. Benecol and take control contain plant or soybean compounds that compete with the absorbtion of cholesterol so less of it gets into your bloodstream.
"It's like fitting, trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. It won't fit exactly, but while it's tinkering with those, the other cholesteol is going by," says Florence Norelli, R.D.
Norelli says Benecol can lower total cholesterol up to 10% and LDL, the bad cholesterol, up to 14%. Take Control has similar results that translate into as much as a 20 - 25% decreased risk of heart disease. And you can cook with both margarines.
But don't believe the direction that you need two tablespoons a day to get the full benefit. A new study from the American Heart Association indicates more of this butter does not mean better results. It just means you'll spend about $12 - $15 a month on that special margarine.
Instead, the AHA report says high and low dose consumers get almost equal benefits. Meaning you can spread it as needed and still get the benefit of its cholesterol lowering power. By the way, the report adds Benecol and take control are not intended to replace treatment for people with high cholesterol, and they're also not recommended for pregnant women or children because more studies are needed in those groups.
People with very high cholesterol levels will still need to follow a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and probably take cholesterol-lowering drugs as well, according to Dr. Kevin Maki, Director of the Chicago Nutrition Center for Clinical Research. Individuals with a total cholesterol level of 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) have a relatively low risk of heart disease. However, the risk of heart disease increased by 50% in those with a total cholesterol level of 240 mg/dl.
Study participants had a level of 240 mg/dl when the study began. Because sterols affect cholesterol metabolism, researchers wanted to know if they would reduce the good cholesterol that helps clear the bad cholesterol from the blood stream. The spread did not affect HDL cholesterol levels. It did, however, lower the amount of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is fat-soluble and transported with cholesterol. Antioxidants help prevent damage from oxygen free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage cells.
Although beta-carotene levels dropped by as much as 20% in some of the study participants, they remained in the normal range. Previous studies show that simply eating a diet that is low in both saturated fat and cholesterol can reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 5-10%.
"So, if on top of that you can get another five percent reduction with a product like this, you're talking about a 10 to 15% reduction in LDL cholesterol, which over time may reduce the risk of heart disease by 15 to 30% or more," says Maki. "Compared to the 20% reductions associated with some drug therapies for high cholesterol, a 5% drop in the bad LDL looks pretty small. But in terms of public health significance, 5% translates into potentially millions of reduced heart attacks."