Tuesday 22 March 2016

plant stanol esters

Q. What's the difference between a vitamin and a hormone? 
A. You can't make a vitamin.
At The Institute we've just started on the penultimate 'system' in Human Physiology.  The endocrine system is interesting because it acts in complement to the nervous system to maintain all the homeostatic balances that human physiology requires.  Indeed several hormones double as neurotransmitters - adrenalin for starters. It is also a bit of an eye-opener to ordinary folk that there is more to hormones than puberty and the menstrual cycle: renin controls blood pressure; without melanocyte stimulating hormone MSH, you wouldn't tan on the beach at Tramore. Nobody gets a tan on Tramore beach, they're lucky if it doesn't rain. Another remarkable feature of the chemistry of hormones is how little separates testosterone from estrogens. Add a hydroxyl radical here and lop off a methyl group there and suddenly you're sprouting an unexpected beard or breasts.

The sex-hormones are steroids, but so is cortisol/ hydrocortisone and so is the core of a) cholesterol and b) plant stanol esters.  The core is the characteristic 4-ring structure [L]; both the plant molecule and the animal equivalent have the enzymes to process this key building block.  For the last several years we've been barracked and barraged by advertisements for plant stanol esters as the latest cure-all.  Never having seen it written down I had heard it as stannol and wondered what part tin [Sn stannum L] might play in controlling arterial blockage.  I'll leave to a later, longer post a deconstruction of the truth about good and bad cholesterol and accept that plant stannol esters are a handy additive to managing your blood-pressure.
What I'm ranting about today is Benecol a Finnish petrochemical by-product food which claims "proven to lower cholesterol".

Someone has decided that Pat the Salt, my 90 y.o father-in-law, needs to have his good, bad and indifferent cholesterol managed and that Benecol is the vehicle.  He's a man who lived through WWII in the merchant marine and survived rationing in Manchester between 1946 and 1950. A very good case has been made that the great British public was never so healthy as when on the rationed diet. In 1945, adults were limited to 2oz = 50g of butter a week!  I'd get through that in two slices of toast. Neither Pat nor my own parents stinted themselves over butter after rationing finished.  As kids we used to tease my father with his half&half bread&butter.  That's what butter is: butter.  Benecol OTOH is: Water, Rapeseed oil, Olive oil (11%), Plant stanol ester (9%), Palm oil, Buttermilk powder (milk), Salt (0.9%), Emulsifiers (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, sunflower lecithins), Flavorings, Acidity regulator (citric acid), Flavorings, Colour (carotenes), Vitamin A, Vitamin D3. YMMV on this depending on when and where you bought your Benecol but not by much. You can calculate how much you're paying for plant stannol esters = 9% of 500g. Benecol retails at a staggering €5.99/500g so you're paying €75/kg if it's only a vehicle for the PSEs!  With the butter you're paying €4.38/kg or 1/17th of the Benecol PSE price.

It outrages me when the largest ingredient in a food product is 'water'.  You can just see  the food engineers doing experiments to see how much water they can lurry into the product and still bring it to market as a solid. rather than as plant stannol ester soup. One of the table-of-contents rules is that you have to list the ingredients in order of size. If the 3 quantified items  Olive oil 11%; PSE 9% and salt 1% are subtracted and palm oil and buttermilk are estimated at 8% together and the tail of micro-ingredients total 1% then water and rapeseed oil make up 70% of the product. Thus the best case [34% water + 36% oil] is that more than one third of Benecol is water; the rest is 'food' at a price of $16/kg: that's about twice the price of beef-steak. Foodie Michael Pollan said "'Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants". Foodie engineers say "Eat our food products. As much as you can afford. Mostly Water".  PSEs are not part of Mostly plants, they are a teeny-tiny part of the fatty fraction of plants - seeds, nuts, oils are richest.
Here's a thought, especially if you're over 90: eat butter, 
save money, live it up for the time you have left.

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