Companies have combated the “bad rap” of margarine by creating spreads that are not hydrogenated or ones in which the trans fatty acids have been removed. These new fat-free and low-fat margarines have virtually no trans fatty acids at all. Other companies combine their butter and their margarine products, providing taste with fewer trans fatty acids. Marketers have also discovered the beneficial aspects of margarine-like spreads that lower cholesterol, tapping into the highly-profitable nutraceuticals market.
Benecol, manufactured by the McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit of Johnson & Johnson and developed in Finland in conjunction with Raisio, was the first spread to introduce cholesterol-reducing ingredients: stanol esters made from pine tree extract. Plant stanol esters have been proven at the Mayo Clinic to reduce LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, by 14% with regular use (three servings per day for two weeks). Unilever/Best Foods’ Lipton division’s Take Control margarine substitute came out in the market at the same time as Benecol. Its plant esters are made from soybean oil extract and studies have found that it reduces the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol by 13%.
In 2000, the FDA gave Benecol and other products made with plant stanol esters permission to claim that they lower the risk of heart disease – when used in concert with a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol.