Unilever develops fat-busting margarine

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LONDON -- Unilever, the world's biggest margarine producer, has confirmed it is researching a spread that can reduce cholesterol levels in the body by up to 10%. Clinical trials in two universities in Holland and one U.K. hospital, have produced "promising results," according to a spokesman.

No decisions have been made on the brands in which the new ingredient might be incorporated, or the countries to which it might be exported. The earliest date any product containing the fat-busting ingredient might make it to market would be early next year.

"We haven't finalized any plans of attack as we're still doing clinical trials and [the product] still has to jump regulatory hurdles," the spokesman at Unilever's U.K. headquarters says. The product will be one of the first to go before the European Union's Novel Food Committee after trials are concluded in the summer.

Unilever's new spread ingredient contains plant sterol, a natural ingredient found in vegetable oils, which inhibits the ab sorption of cholesterol into the digestive system. The spread's creation, after around two years of research, is one of the fruits of the company's $1 billion annual research and development budget.

Raisio, a Finnish food and chemicals group, plans to launch Benecol in the U.S. this fall, a cholesterol-blocking margarine ingredient whose worldwide marketing and distribution rights it has sold to Johnson & Johnson, the U.S. healthcare group. Benecol is produced from raw materials found in pine tree wood pulp and vegetable oil. It has still to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Admin istration.

Copyright March 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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