I've told you before about some of the great campaigns I've been involved in for BzzAgent, who send you through free products to try out in return for honest feedback and helping spread the word about what you thought. (If you want to become a Bzz agent yourself, you can sign up here.) Well, this time, the brand in the hotseat is Benecol so they sent me an information pack including a voucher to try out one of the products in the range for free.
Well , I dashed off to the supermarket with my voucher in my purse and was pleasantly surprised by the large number of Benecol products available. I knew they made a margarine-type spread but was surprised to see they actually have three varieties - a Buttery Taste Spread and an Olive Spread , both perfect for spreading but also for baking and frying, and a low-fat Light Spread that you can use on toast, in sandwiches or on crispbread with a clear conscience ! They also have a Cream Cheese Style Spread, Low-Fat Yoghurt 4-Packs (available in a Tropical Fruits variety pack (Mango, Peach, Passion Fruit & Mandarin and Pineapple) and a Summer Fruits variety pack (Strawberry, Cherry, Apricot and Raspberry)), Dairy Free Mini Drinks and Yoghurt Drinks, which is what I chose to try.
Up to now, I've been drinking a bottle of Actimel a day as a quick breakfast before heading off to work, so it was dead easy to swap over to a bottle of Benecol instead. The yoghurt drinks come in a wide range of flavours : Original, Strawberry, Peach & Apricot, Pineapple, a new Raspberry flavour and a lower-calorie light variety. They all taste really nice, have a lovely light creamy texture and are a great way to start the day.
Benecol's big selling point is that they claim to be "your simple, delicious partner in cholesterol reduction". They explain : "Benecol® foods are the only range of foods to contain Plant Stanols which work with the body to significantly reduce "bad" cholesterol by partially blocking cholesterol absorption into the bloodstream. And while cholesterol is a major risk factor in the development of heart disease, making just a few minor adjustments to your daily diet can bring results within 2-3 weeks." Benecol back this up with some research results : "The plant stanols in Benecol® foods are proven to lower your cholesterol and work alongside your healthy diet! Consuming 1.5 to 2.4g of plant stanols a day has been proven to lower cholesterol as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Heart disease has multiple risk factors; you may need to alter more than one to cut overall risk. Do not consume more than 3g of plant stanols a day. Consuming more has no additional benefit and is not recommended. May not be nutritionally suitable for pregnant/breastfeeding women and children under five years old. If you are taking cholesterol lowering medication then consult with your GP."
Well, as I've had problems with high blood pressure ever since my first pregnancy, my doctor's been keeping a close check on my blood pressure and has started regular blood tests including cholesterol checks. As the levels were a little on the high side, he said I should try to reduce my cholesterol levels, and if I couldn't, I may need to consider taking tablets. Over the three months between my last blood tests, I decided to leave things pretty much as they were, just taking a Benecol yoghurt drink every morning, to see if it would make any difference on its own.
I had high hopes but was actually quite gutted to see that my results came back basically identical. Talking to my doctor, he said that cholesterol is actually quite complicated - you have the cholesterol you get orally from your diet, which could be reduced quite efficiently by changing your diet or perhaps consuming Benecol products, but there is also a second type of cholesterol which is created by your body, and that type is much harder to control. He said that he wasn't overly convinced by Benecol, although it could work for some people, particularly if they had a very unhealthy diet beforehand with lots of butter and lard, for example, which isn't my case.
So, I'm not sure now. I'll still keep on taking the Benecol yoghurt drinks in the morning because they can't do my cholesterol any harm and they do taste nice, but I think I'd be better off sticking to olive oil rather than switching to Benecol spread for cooking (and I don't use margarine). I may switch over to Benecol yoghurts too but need to calculate the total quantity of plant stanols this will represent. I will also make a concerted effort to drink Benecol every single day, to see if this helps, because there were a few days every now and then when I'd run out before the end of the week when we went shopping again so this may have played a role.
If you've used Benecol products and have monitored your cholesterol levels, I'd be really keen to hear your views !
star rating : 4/5
RRP : Benecol yoghurt drinks £3.47 for 6 x 67.5g
for more information : http://www.benecol.co.uk/
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