Benecol is a spreadable margarine product that promises to lower cholesterol when used two to three times daily; it works through the use of compounds called phytostanol esters found in pine trees, soy and other plants.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the claim that 1.4 grams daily of phytostanol esters can block the absorption of dietary cholesterol, thereby lowering blood cholesterol levels. It should be noted that while short-term studies have shown Benecol to have no significant dangers, no long-term studies have been completed as this is a relatively new product.
Benecol typically costs two to five times as much as regular margarine.
Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil
According to the Mayo Clinic, trans fats--also known as partially hydrogenated oils--are the worst kind of fats because they raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol. This leads to an increased risk of heart disease, which is the number one killer of both men and women.
Benecol contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Although the harmful effects of it may be canceled out by the phytostanol esters, many nutrition experts would advise against consuming any trans fats, especially those in processed foods such as margarine.
The Mayo Clinic lists diarrhea as a potential side effect of Benecol. While not usually dangerous, this can cause a great deal of discomfort.
Beta Carotine Reduction
Another side effect that has been observed with Benecol is a 10 to 20 percent reduction in beta carotine levels. Beta carotine is converted in the body into vitamin A, which is an essential nutrient which protects against cancer, heart disease and many other health issues.