Benecol Spread is a butter substitute containing plant stanol ester (aka sitostanol), and is shown to reduce levels of "bad cholesterol" ( low-density lipoproteins) in the human body. This is a Good Thing, because elevated LDLs are associated with atherosclerosis.

How does it work? According to the Benecol website's information for physicians, in order for cholesterol to be absorbed, it needs to be in contact with a micelle of bile and lipids. The plant stanol ester takes the place of cholesterol in this association, preventing the cholesterol from being digested.

Benecol was first used in Finland and was introduced there in 1995. In attempting to market it in the United States, its maker, McNeil Consumer Healthcare ran into the FDA. Should Benecol be considered a food or a drug? Benecol Spread was introduced in US markets in May 1999; only as recently as September, 2000 did the FDA rule that Benecol-containing foods could be sold with labeling touting their cholesterol-lowering claims.

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