Plant Sterols

I was asked by a guest about plant sterols last week and realized that many people are confused about what they are. You have probably seen some spreads such as Benecol, Promise and Smart Balance at the grocery stores boasting that they are high in plant sterols and wondered why. Here is the low down.

Plants sterols, sometimes called phytosterols, are naturally found in vegetables, fruits, grain products and nuts. They have a great ability to help lower LDL cholesterol by inhibiting cholesterol absorption most likely because they have a similar chemical structure. Due to this, they have been added to vegetable oil spreads, mayonnaise, smoothies, orange juice and snack bars. A review of research shows that 2 grams per day of plant sterols can decrease LDL cholesterol by 10%, which in turn can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 10%.

Remember, plant sterols are not a replacement for prescribed medications. However, by eating a heart healthy diet, you may be able to decrease the amount of medications you are currently taking. Eating plant stanols should be a part of an overall heart healthy diet that includes healthy fats (olive oil, canola oil, nuts, avocados) and limits saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

So how where do I find plant stanols? Like I stated above, you should be focusing on plant based foods. Make sure to eat a good variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains (just one more reason on an already long list of good reasons!). If you do have high blood cholesterol, it may be beneficial to look for concentrated sources such as these plant stanol spreads. Two tablespoons per day would meet the recommended amount of 2 grams of plant sterols to help lower your LDL cholesterol. Also, research shows that more than 2 grams of plant sterols per day provides no additional benefit so make sure to watch the amount of the spreads you use because they are also high in calories.

1 small Avocado = 0.13 grams
1 tbsp Corn Oil = 0.13 grams
1/4 cup Sunflower Seeds = 0.19 grams
1 tbsp Vegetable Oil Spread with plant sterols = 1 gram
Oat Bar with plant sterols = 0.4 grams
Orange Juice with plant sterols = 1 gram

Emily Fonnesbeck RD,CD