Archive for Wednesday, November 3, 1999


November 3, 1999


What do you know about the margarines that claim to help lower cholesterol?

Take Control, Benecol and Benecol Light are the brand names of margarines that have been introduced in American grocery stores.

Benecol has been used in Finland for several years. The Food and Drug Administration approved these specialized margarines for safe use by consumers of all ages in late spring this year. Other food products, such as salad dressings, are planned for future release.

Although the margarines contain different ingredients, both brands work similarly to lower one's so-called "bad" low density lipoprotein (LDL) blood cholesterol. They do not affect the beneficial kind of high density lipoprotein (HDL) blood cholesterol.

According to Mary Higgins, K-State extension specialist in human nutrition, these margarines contain plant sterols (stanol esters) that have been extracted from soybeans or pine trees. Dietary plant sterols resemble cholesterol but are not absorbed into the body. They help prevent the absorption of cholesterol from the digestive tract and help remove it from the colon. Plant sterols are found in small amounts in other foods such as olives and whole grains, including soy, corn, wheat, rye and oats.

Consumers who do not currently use margarine or butter should not feel pressured to begin using these new margarine products. It is intended that people would substitute these new margarines for part of their daily intake of other high fat foods. People who eat low fat, high-fiber diets and plenty of plant-based foods probably would not need extra amounts of plant sterols.

Consumers who purchase Take Control, Benecol and Benecol Light will have to pay a premium price for them. They cost three times the price of other margarines, or more.

Can you use these margarines in the same way you use regular margarine?

Consumers can use these margarines just like they would any margarine to spread on foods they eat. One or two tablespoons every day is the recommended intake to achieve reduction in blood LDL cholesterol.

Although these products have a beneficial cholesterol lowering effect, they do contain fat and calories in amounts similar to other brands of margarine. One tablespoon of these margarines provides 6 to 10 grams fat and 50 to 90 calories. Both Benecol and Take Control brands have only minimal amounts of saturated fat or trans fatty acids. Each brand tastes and melts slightly different from the other and from other margarines.

Cooking and baking with Take Control is not recommended because the cholesterol-lowering plant sterols break down with heat. Benecol Light is also not suited for cooking and baking because of its high water content. Using Benecol for cooking or baking would yield satisfactory results, but it would be expensive and would probably cause consumption to exceed the necessary intake recommendations for a cholesterol-lowering effect. Eating more of these margarines does not help reduce cholesterol levels more.

How soon can you expect to see a reduction in cholesterol levels?

Research indicates that eating these margarines at the recommended intake levels results in reduced cholesterol levels within the first two weeks of use. Consumers with LDL cholesterol levels that are high usually see better results than people with lower LDL cholesterol levels. Results vary, with 4 percent to 14 percent reductions in total cholesterol levels reported on average, but not every individual responds favorably.

Combining approaches to reduce cholesterol levels by eating one of these margarines, along with choosing a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, produces greater reductions in LDL cholesterol levels than just using these margarines without changing the diet, or just changing the diet without use the specialized margarine. When consumers stop using Take Control or Benecol, and have not changed other aspects of their lifestyle, their cholesterol levels rise to their previous levels within a week.

Compared to medicine that lowers cholesterol, these new margarines are less expensive but not as effective in reducing blood cholesterol. However, expenses for medication are often shared by insurance companies, rather than being exclusively out-of-pocket costs for the consumer. People who prefer not to take prescription medicine to lower their cholesterol levels may find these specialized margarines to be an acceptable alternative. A combination approach of using diet, one of the specialized margarines and lower doses of a cholesterol-lowering drug has been successful in decreasing LDL cholesterol.

Consult your health care provider about your diet, your risk factors and your current cholesterol level. Discuss the strategies that you can take to reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your health, and then follow up on your plans.

I've seen these deep-fat turkey fryers being advertised. What procedure is used for deep-fat frying a turkey?

Deep-frying turkey, a cooking method that originated in the South, is gaining popularity across the United States. Cooks claim a fried turkey has a unique taste, different from that achieved with conventional roasting methods.

Because the oil is heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, certain safety precautions should be taken to ensure that the event is a fun experience. Deep-frying a whole turkey requires a 40-quart or larger pot with a basket, a burner and propane gas tank, and thermometers for both the cooking oil and the meat. Cooks should also have ready a fire extinguisher, safety glasses and extra pot holders. The deep-fryer should be placed outdoors on flat, stable ground. This cooking method should not be done indoors or on wood decks where a fire could get started. The cooking area should not be left unattended.

A smaller turkey, 10 pounds or less, is easier to handle. To serve more guests, fry two 10-pound turkeys instead of a single 20-pounder. Remember to wash hands, utensils and anything else that comes into contact with the raw turkey. Determine the correct amount of oil by placing the turkey in the pot and adding water until it covers the turkey by an inch or two. Remove the turkey and mark the water level in the pot. Remove all water from the pot, and be sure the turkey is completely thawed and dry, since water causes oil to boil vigorously.

Fill the pot to the mark with cooking oil. Using too much oil creates the risk that the oil might spill over and start a fire when the turkey is placed in the pot.

Preheat the oil to 350 degrees. Peanut oil is preferred for flavor. Remove the skin if desired, but never stuff turkeys when deep frying.

When the oil is ready, place the turkey in a basket and slowly lower it into the oil. Avoid splashing!

A whole turkey normally requires only three minutes per pound to cook. Test the internal meat temperature with a thermometer. The cooked turkey should reach 170 degrees in the breast and 180 degrees in the thigh.

After cooking, set the turkey aside for a few minutes to allow the oil to drip off. Surprisingly little oil will be absorbed, except by the skin. To reduce fat, remove skin before serving. A properly cooked, deep-fried turkey will have a golden brown color, and will add a twist to the traditional oven-roasted turkey.

-- Susan Krumm is an extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper. She can be reached at 843-7058.

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