Following an eating plan that is low in saturated and trans fat and high in fiber can help you lower your cholesterol and keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. But did you know that there are natural ingredients in some foods that should also be part of a heart-healthy diet? These ingredients are called plant sterols and plant stanols.
What are Plant Sterols and Stanols?
Plant sterols and stanols or phytosterols and phytostanols are components found mainly in plants and are known to reduce cholesterol levels in the body. Phytosterols are similar in structure to animal cholesterol. They can help to lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, the kind of cholesterol that can increase your risk for heart disease.
How do Plant Sterols Benefit Your Health?
When adequate amounts of sterols are consumed in diet, they interfere or block the absorption of cholesterol. This results in lower blood cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
Consuming plant sterols to lower cholesterol is complementary to eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat and high in fibre. Plant sterols do not provide additional benefits when consumed in excess of 3g per day.
Plant Sterols and Stanols in Food
Phytosterols are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, cereals, legumes, vegetable oils and other plants. Stanols are found in vegetable oils, beans and corn.
Plant sterols/stanols may be consumed every day, but the amounts are often not great enough to have significant cholesterol-lowering effects. Many foods are now being fortified with plant sterols/stanols, such as breads, cereals, low fat milk, low fat yogurt and some fruit juices.
Eating a diet containing foods and beverages rich in or supplemented with plant sterols and stanols may reduce cholesterol. Maximum effects are observed when consumed at intakes of two to three grams per day.