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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

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We are making [Benecol] a routine recommendation in an effort to maximize cholesterol control.”                                                                   --Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H. (June 15, 1999)

  BENECOL: Better Butter 

Tastes Good, Good for You

I’ve rarely eaten butter or margarine and never missed them. That’s changed. I now enjoy a butter/margarine substitute called Benecol.

Regular butter is high in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol. Along with sugar, butter is the quintessential “concentrated calorie” food that I warned against in my book Ripped.  Benecol, however, is different. It tastes good, like butter, but it’s relatively low in calories. It’s made with good fat. It actually lowered my cholesterol. It even helped me eat less.

I first heard about Benecol several years ago when a position statement recommending it was included in my exam report from the Cooper Clinic. I made a mental note but didn’t follow up on the suggestion. My cholesterol had always been relatively low and I didn’t think I needed it. That changed when the Cooper Clinic discovered that my coronary calcium score was elevated; see article 105 for details. Dr. Jensen suggested that I take steps to get my total cholesterol below 200 and my bad LDL-cholesterol below 100, which I did.

My cholesterol was 159 and my LDL 78 during my December 2002 Cooper Clinic exam. My latest visit to the Cooper Clinic in March 2004 (see article 128), however, showed that my cholesterol had creped up to 175 and my LDL to 87. Calling my LDL “slightly higher than desired,” Dr. McFarlin encouraged me to begin using Benecol. He wrote in my Consultation Report: “Benecol, used 2-3 times per day will result in a 17% reduction in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.”

Frankly, I was dubious. But the results were even better than predicted. After using Benecol twice a day for only two months, my total cholesterol dropped 20%, to 140, and my LDL 30%, to 61. Those are my best ever readings. Needless to say, I'm delighted.

  Benecol Facts

Benecol (Bene meaning “good,” and col for cholesterol) was developed in Finland in the early 1990s. (Finland had the highest rate of heart disease in the world.) Research showed a 10% reduction in total cholesterol and 14% in LDL after consuming the margarine substitute daily for six months. It works best, of course, in combination with a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and exercise. It has also been shown to enhance the effect of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, such as Lipitor.

Benecol is made with vegetable oils, mostly canola. The unique ingredient is plant stanol ester, which blocks cholesterol from being absorbed into your body. (Cholesterol comes from the food we eat, but it’s also manufactured by the body.)

The FDA has approved Benecol as to safety; side effects are comparable to a placebo. It’s available in most supermarkets. It comes in a regular spread, which contains 70 calories per tablespoon, and a “Light Spread”  containing only 45 calories. Both forms are lower in calories than butter or margarine, which contain slightly more than 100 calories per tbsp.

I use the low calorie spread, two tablespoons a day. Carol and I went to three supermarkets. Two of them had the regular spread, but only one carried the Light Spread. I can’t tell any difference in the mouth feel or taste. Over time the extra calories are likely to show up on you waistline or hips. Keep looking until you find the low calorie version.   

Benecol also comes in a supplement form called “SoftGels.” The unique ingredient is the same, but the price is substantially higher. You also miss out on the eating pleasure. SoftGels sound like a good option while traveling.

  Unexpected Benefit

I was concerned that adding Benecol would make me gain weight. Like butter, it tastes so good that it might be expected to encourage overeating. That didn’t happen--in my case, just the opposite. I found that adding a tablespoon of Benecol to vegetables (delicious), oatmeal or spreading it on bread or a sandwich kept me satisfied longer; it apparently slowed the absorption of calories as well as blocking cholesterol. Surprisingly, I needed less food between meals to keep my blood sugar on an even keel. That’s a happy turn of events, because food does taste better with Benecol.

The net result is that I’m eating a little less over the course of the day. That’s important, because even a few extra calories a day can cause creeping obesity. (See article 13 for details).

Don’t leave Benecol on the table, however, where you’ll be tempted to have an extra helping or two. There's no evidence that eating more than the recommended amount has any added benefit. Take what you need and put the container back in the refrigerator. (See Ripped 2 and Challenge Yourself.)

For more information, call the Consumer Relationship Center at 1-888-BENECOL Monday through Friday 9 to 4:30 EST, or visit www.benecol.com. 

Ripped Enterprises, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108, Phone (505) 266-5858, e-mail:  cncbass@aol.com, FAX:  (505) 266-9123.  Office hours:  Monday-Friday, 8-5, Mountain time.  FAX for international orders: Please check with your local phone book and make sure to include the following: 505 2669123

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