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Take Control Shows Less Cholesterol Reduction Than Rival Benecol.

Heart-healthy margarine is gaining popularity in the United States and the competition between the only two brands with FDA approval is heating up. However, it appears that one brand now has a slight edge. New clinical data on Unilever's Take Control brand of margarine indicates that it may have a marketing disadvantage. The new data shows Take Control reduces levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or "bad" cholesterol only up to 8.1 percent, versus reductions of up to 14 percent advertised by the rival Benecol brand, which is marketed in the United States by the McNeil Consumer Products unit of Johnson & Johnson.

Both spreads were approved earlier this year by FDA and are battling to win their way into the refrigerators of health-conscious U.S. consumers. They contain different plant-derived chemicals that can act to lower cholesterol and thus reduce the risk of heart disease.

Specifically, Take Control contains vegetable oil sterol esters from soybeans, while Benecol contains plant stanol esters derived from pine wood pulp. Because both chemicals are structurally similar to cholesterol, they interfere with cholesterol absorption in the intestines.

Clinical data describing the effectiveness of Take Control were presented at an annual meeting of the American Heart Association. The study involved 224 people with cholesterol levels in the mildly to moderately high range who took doses of 1 to 2 grams a day of the Unilever spread over a five week period. Subjects were divided into three groups, including a control group on a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and consuming a conventional low-fat spread. The other two groups followed the same diet, with one group eating the 1-gram dose and the other taking a 2-gram dose of Take Control. The control group that didn't consume Take Control experienced an average 2.7 percent increase in LDL cholesterol, said researchers.

One risk that researchers discovered in the study was that eating the spread regularly lowered people's levels of beta carotene, an important nutrient which helps neutralize the damaging "free radicals" that have linked to a higher risk of some cancers. Researchers said consumers could get enough extra beta carotene by drinking vegetable juice at a meal that did not include Take Control.

The $1.3 billion U.S. margarine market has stagnated m recent years, according to statistics from Information Resources, Inc., which tracks grocery store sales. Both McNeil and Unilever are relying on research and marketing to persuade U.S. consumers to use margarine to lower cholesterol levels.
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Comment:Take Control Shows Less Cholesterol Reduction Than Rival Benecol.
Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 15, 1999
Previous Article:With FDA's Soy Health Claim Approval Comes Potential New Food Products.
Next Article:McDonald's Shows Signs of Growth; Introduces Custom Cooking Line.

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