The Cholesterol-Lowering Power of Plant Sterols
Let’s face it – everyone enjoys food that tastes good. It’s an added bonus if that great-tasting food can also be good for your health. Did you know that plant sterols have been studied for over 50 years for their cholesterol-lowering ability? These chemical compounds work to lower total cholesterol levels by blocking the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed in the body’s digestive tract. Animal cholesterol and plant sterols are similar in composition, which allows plant sterols to “trick” the body into processing them instead of cholesterol. Eventually this can lead to lower total blood cholesterol levels. You could be improving your cholesterol level each time you eat!
Where are the Plant Sterols?
Plant sterols are part of a plant’s cell membrane or structure. They are naturally found in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and breakfast cereals in small amounts. Unfortunately, in order to reap the rewards of plant sterols’ cholesterol-lowering benefits, you would need to eat a lot of these foods. For example, in order to get 2 grams of plant sterols, you need to eat 100 pounds of vegetables! Thankfully, plant sterols have been added to many foods, including margarine, mayonnaise, orange juice, beverages, and snack foods.
The recommended amount of plant sterols to improve your cholesterol is two servings per day with meals – a total goal of 800 milligrams per day. Most products that are fortified with plant sterols meet this recommendation, but make sure you read the nutrition label. You want to look for foods that have 400 milligrams of plant sterols per serving. Here are some products that contain plant sterols:
Where do you find plant sterols?
- Benecol Spread
- Benecol Light Spread
- Promise Activ Spread
- Smart Balance Margarine
- Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise Orange Juice
- Kroger Active Lifestyle Fat Free Milk
- Health Valley Heart Wise Cereal
- Nature Valley Healthy Heart Chewy Granola Bars
- Oroweat Whole Grain & Oat Bread
- Right Direction Cookies
- Cocavia Milk Chocolate Bar
- VitaTops Muffin Tops
The Bottom Line
Eating foods rich in plant sterols is beneficial in lowering your cholesterol level, but it is not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle. You still have to keep an eye on your saturated fat and cholesterol intake, and don’t forget to keep up with your exercise plan. Fortunately, many of the margarine spreads fortified with plant sterols are available in light versions. Over time and with regular use of products that contain plant sterols, you can lower your cholesterol levels just by eating the right foods!
Sejal is a registered dietitian, a certified diabetes educator and she holds a masters degree in nutrition and health. Sejal was the project coordinator for the Veteran’s Administrations (VA) national weight loss program and previously worked for the VA hospital in Tampa, FL as a Spinal Cord Injury dietitian.
Sejal has had numerous clinical and community education experiences, including pediatric and intensive care nutrition support. She has also had the opportunity to teach nutrition courses at the community college level to students interested in pursuing health professions. One of her favorite areas of education is diabetes management.