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Benecol and Lipids

Is having Carol Vorderman telling you that Benecol can reduce plasma lipids in TV advertisements enough to make you choose a different margarine at the supermarket? Bandolier thought not, so chose to examine a paper from a rival company that investigated the topic [1].


The detailed study examined the effects of 30 g/day of five margarines, Flora, Benecol and spreads enriched with soybean, ricebran and sheanut oils over 3.5 weeks in a randomised, double-blind crossover study. The study appeared to be beautifully designed and conducted, and it was detailed in its measurement of diets, energy intake and blood chemistry. Blood samples were taken 2.5 and 3.5 weeks after starting on a margarine, and the average values of these two measurements were taken.

At baseline the 100 adults (50 men and 50 women) had a mean body mass of 24 kg/sq metre (allowable range 19 to 30 kg/sq metre), and a mean age of 45 years (allowable range 18 to 65 years). The mean values for lipids were:

Total cholesterol 5.4 ± 1.1 (SD) mmol/L
LDL cholesterol 3.5 ± 1.0 mmol/L
HDL cholesterol 1.3 ± 0.35 mmol/L


The mean reductions in total cholesterol were 0.37 mmol/L and 0.43 mmol/L, and in LDL cholesterol were 0.40 mmol/L and 0.44 mmol/L for Benecol and soybean sterol enriched spread. Compared with Flora, Benecol and a spread enriched with esterified soybean sterols significantly reduced total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol by about 8% and 13% respectively.

This effect was found in both men and women, and the same degree of reduction was found whatever the starting total and LDL cholesterol in the patient group (Figure). The margarines enriched with other plant oils were without effect. HDL cholesterol was unchanged.

Figure: Plasma LDL cholesterol after 3.5 weeks using 30 g/day of Flora, Benecol and a Soybean oil spread for people with different initial LDL-cholesterol levels



This was a rigorous assessment of the effectiveness of margarine spreads enriched with sitostanol esters and their equivalent from soybean. It confirmed other studies demonstrating rapid falls in LDL and total cholesterol using spreads with these compounds. The magnitude of the reductions in cholesterol and LDL cholesterol is impressive, and while lower than reductions seen with statins in people with mild hypercholesterolaemia, is worthwhile.

For people who feel they want to reduce their own risks of heart disease, choosing a spread enriched with these esters would make sense. The effect on cardiovascular disease would be beneficial if small for an individual, but additive to effects of exercise, and use of daily folate.


  1. JA Westrate, GW Meijer. Plant sterol-enriched margerines and reduction of plasma total- and LDL-cholesterol concentrations in normocholesterolaemic and mildly hypercholesterolaemic subjects. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1998 52: 334-43.

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