Looking for Food With Plant Sterols And Stanols, also known as phytosterols, are cholesterol-like compounds that are found naturally in a range of plant-based foods including vegetable oils, grain products such as bread and cereals, seeds, nuts, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Food With Plant Sterols And Stanols
If you’re trying to manage your cholesterol, you know food plays a big part. Plant sterols and stanols have an especially valuable role. These natural compounds found in certain plant-based foods both look and act like cholesterol. But eating foods that contain these compounds can help lower total cholesterol levels.
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Sterols, Stanols, and Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your liver makes. It protects nerves and makes cell tissues and certain hormones. You also get it from eating foods such as eggs, meat, and dairy products. Your body needs cholesterol, but too much of it can pose serious health risks, such as heart disease and stroke.
There are several types of cholesterol. These are the main two:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. If you have too much LDL (“bad” cholesterol), you put yourself at risk for heart disease. It can clog your arteries.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL). High levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) are a sign of health. HDL can help protect arteries and prevent fatty deposits that could clog them.
Sterols and stanols have a similar molecular structure to cholesterol. That’s how these plant compounds get in the way when your digestive system tries to absorb cholesterol. So instead of going into your bloodstream where it can clog arteries, the cholesterol leaves your body as waste. This lowers your cholesterol level.
In fact, when you get enough sterols and stanols in your diet, you can lower your total cholesterol by up to 10% and LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) by up to 14%. They’re a key addition to a healthy diet.
Food With Plant Sterols
There are several foods that are not just part of a healthy diet, they can actively help to lower your cholesterol too. Try to eat some of these every day as part of your healthy diet. The more you add them to what you eat, the more they can help lower your cholesterol, especially if you cut down on saturated fat as well.
Cutting down on saturated fat and replacing some of it with unsaturated fats is a great way to lower your cholesterol. Foods that contain unsaturated fats include:
- vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower, corn, rapeseed, nut and seed oils
- avocado, nuts and seeds
- fat spreads made from vegetable oils, such as sunflower and olive oil
- oily fish
Oily fish are a good source of healthy unsaturated fats, specifically a type called omega-3 fats. Aim to eat two portions of fish per week, at least one of which should be oily. A portion is 140g, but you could have two or three smaller portions throughout the week. Tinned, frozen, or fresh all count e.g. salmon, sardines, pilchards, trout, herring and mackerel.
Avoid coconut and palm oil as, unlike other vegetable oils, they are high in saturated fat.
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Fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. They contain vitamins, minerals, and plant chemicals that help you to stay healthy, and most contain little or no fat and are low in calories, so they can help you to stay a healthy weight. And, if you are eating more fruit and veg, chances are you’re eating less of the other more energy-packed foods.
Fruit and vegetables are also high in fiber, and some types of fiber can help to lower your cholesterol. It blocks some cholesterol from being absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream. Pulses such as beans, peas, and lentils are particularly high in this kind of fiber. Sweet potato, aubergine, okra (ladies’ fingers), broccoli, apples, strawberries, and prunes are also good options.
Aim for: at least five portions of fruit and veg a day. An adult portion is around 80g or a handful. Make at least one of these beans, peas, or lentils.
- 3 tablespoons of vegetables – such as sweet potato, broccoli, or okra
- 3 tablespoons of beans, peas, or lentils – all options count, for example, chickpeas, kidney beans, garden peas, and red lentils
2-3 cauliflower or broccoli florets
- half a large vegetable – such as courgette, pepper, or aubergine
half an avocado
- a medium-sized vegetable – such as a turnip, parsnip, sweet potato, leek, tomato, or carrot
- a medium-sized fruit – for example, an apple, orange, or banana
- 2 small fruits – such as plums or satsumas
- a handful of berries or grapes – and other small fruits like strawberries and prunes
- a good-sized slice of a larger fruit – such as melon, mango, or pineapple
- a tablespoon of dried fruit
- a 150ml glass of fruit juice
- a bowl of salad
Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, tinned, frozen, or dried. They all count. If you choose tinned, choose options in juice or water, without added sugar or salt.
Potatoes, yams, cassava, and plantains are exceptions. They don’t count because they count as starchy food, like rice or pasta.
Unsweetened fruit juice and smoothies count too, but only one portion. More than one doesn’t count because the loose sugar and acid in them can damage your teeth.
Sterols and stanols are plant chemicals that are similar in size and shape to cholesterol. They are absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream and block some cholesterol from being absorbed, lowering the cholesterol in your blood.
We get a small number of sterols from plant-based foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, but it’s not enough to lower cholesterol. So, food companies have developed foods with plant sterols or stanols added to them, such as mini yogurt drinks, fat spreads, milk, and yogurts.
These fortified foods lower your cholesterol gradually, over a few weeks, and how much depends on the amount you eat. Some experts believe they are the most effective single food for lowering cholesterol.
Who should eat foods with sterols and stanols added?
Sterols and stanols have been thoroughly researched, so they can be added to foods and are safe to eat.
They are suitable for:
- People with high cholesterol – there’s no real benefit if you don’t have high cholesterol.
- Children with inherited high cholesterol such as familial hypercholesterolemia – with support from a doctor or dietitian.
- People taking statins – sterols and stanols will help to lower their cholesterol further because they work in a different way than statins.
They are not suitable for:
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Children who do not have an inherited condition.
- They won’t have much effect if you are taking Ezetrol (Ezetimide) because they both work in a similar way.
Aim for: one to three servings of fortified foods a day. This will give you 1.5 to 3g of stanols and sterols.
Over three weeks, this could lower your cholesterol by up to 10%. There’s no extra benefit to having more than 3g a day.
Three servings of OR
- 2 tsp fat spread
- 1 glass of milk (250ml)
One product a day:
- 1 yogurt (120g)
- one fortified yogurt mini-drink (65-100g bottle), which can be a dairy product or dairy-free. This will be enough sterols and stanols for the whole day.
To get the most from these foods, eat some every day and eat them with a meal rather than on their own. Look out for products labeled ‘fortified with stanols or sterols’. They can be branded, such as the Flora ProActiv and Benecol ranges, as well as supermarket own products.
Oats and barley are grains that are rich in a type of fiber called beta-glucan. Eating 3g of beta-glucan a day as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle can help to lower cholesterol.
When you eat beta-glucan, it forms a gel that binds to cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestines. This helps limit the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed from the gut into your blood. Your liver then has to take more cholesterol out of your blood to make more bile, which lowers your blood cholesterol.
Aim for: three servings of the following oat-based products or barley per day to give you about 3g of beta-glucans.
- a bowl of porridge – which is 30g of dry oats or a sachet of instant porridge
- a bowl of oat-based breakfast cereal flakes – around 30-35g
- 250 ml of Oat Drink containing beta-glucans (not all oat drinks contain beta-glucan so check to make sure)
- 1 breakfast cereal oat type ‘biscuit’
- 1-2 tbsp (13g) oat bran – try sprinkling it onto cereals or adding it to casseroles, stews, soups and smoothies
- 3 oatcakes
- 30g oats added to recipes
- 60g cooked pearl barley – try adding it to stews, casseroles and soups
Many products now contain oats, which makes it easier to get your two to four servings. Foods that have a claim on the label saying they lower cholesterol will contain 1g or more of beta-glucan.
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Nuts are a good source of unsaturated fats and are lower in saturated fats, a mix that can help to keep your cholesterol in check. They contain fiber which can help block some cholesterol being absorbed into the bloodstream from the gut, as well as protein, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, natural plant sterols, and other plant nutrients which help keep your body healthy. They’re also filling, so you’re less likely to snack on other things.
Aim for: 28-30g of nuts a day, which is around a handful.
All nuts count. Choose a variety and eat them instead of your normal snack or as part of a meal. Where possible, go for the kind with their skins still intact as they contain more nutrients. Good options are:
- almonds, macadamias, brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, and pecans.
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What Are Sterols and Stanols? Food Compounds to Know About
Looking to manage cholesterol? You might be surprised how these unique plant compounds can help!
Plant-based foods are commonly known to offer polyphenols but some also provide phytosterols. Sometimes called plant sterols and stanols, they are key structural components of plant cell membrane walls known to help lower cholesterol levels.
Stay tuned to learn the most important facts about plant stanols and sterols.
What Are Plant Sterols and Stanols?
Plant sterols and stanols referred to as phytosterols are a group of molecules closely related to cholesterol. They are naturally found in a variety of plant cell walls and added to some dietary supplements and processed foods like margarine. The most common ones are beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol.
Plant foods with sterols and stanols in high amounts include:
• Nuts and seeds – almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
• Fruits – apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, berries, oranges, pineapple
• Vegetables – artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, green beans, sweet potatoes
• Beans and legumes – chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, soybeans
• Oils – argan, olive, sesame, sunflower
• Grains – brown rice, oat bran, wheat germ
• Spices – paprika, sage, thyme
Fortified foods with high amounts of phytosterols are: orange juice, cereals, and grains, margarine, yogurt drinks, granola bars, aloe vera juice, vegetarian or vegan food products
Note that the National Cholesterol Education Program suggests consuming two grams of plant sterols and/or stanols on a daily basis, especially for those with high cholesterol levels. It turns out that about three servings of high phytosterol foods/per day can reduce cholesterol by up to 20 points!
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How to Get More Phytosterols In Your Diet
Increase plant sterol consumption and manage cholesterol levels by:
- Sprinkling sesame or sunflower seeds on stir-fries, atop salads or grain bowls
- Snacking on nuts and/or seeds
- Using olive oil as a salad dressing
- Cooking with olive or sesame oil
- Consuming almond butter with fruit, on toast, or in oatmeal
- Spicing up meals with sage and paprika
- Eating beans and legumes as the main protein source of a meal
- Aiming to eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily
Potential Health Benefits of Phytosterols
The structure of plant sterols is quite similar to naturally-occurring cholesterol. When present in the digestive tract, they compete and can block the absorption of animal-based dietary cholesterol. Thus, instead of cholesterol accumulating in the arteries and potentially causing damage to blood vessel walls, it is excreted from the body as waste.
Due to their blood cholesterol-reducing effects, phytosterols are therefore also associated with reducing the risk of some chronic health conditions such as heart attacks and cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and stroke.
In fact, consuming numerous servings of daily phytosterols is linked to lowering total cholesterol by up to 10% and bad or LDL cholesterol levels by up to 14%, especially when paired with other cholesterol-lowering strategies like eating less trans and poor-quality saturated fat.
Furthermore, some studies show that medications aimed at lowering cholesterol levels called statins work more effectively when higher amounts of plant sterols and stanols are consumed.
Some studies suggest that eating high amounts of phytosterols can lower the risk of breast, liver, lung, ovarian, prostate, and stomach cancers. However, participants in these studies were given highly concentrated amounts of these sterols that exceed a normal amount from a diet. Thus, more research is needed to fully establish this connection.
While the majority of foods naturally high in phytosterols are also anti-inflammatory and provide plenty of other micronutrients, fortified foods with plant sterols are not so much. In fact, high consumption of margarine, vegetable and seed oils, and sugary cereals is generally associated with poor health outcomes and their phytosterol content does not outweigh their more negative effects.
As with everything nutrition-related, moderation is key. But plants that naturally contain these phytosterols are much more beneficial than fortified versions.
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The six most important things to remember about plant sterols and stanols include:
1. Phytosterols are a structural component of plant cell membrane walls.
2. Plant sterols and stanols biologically look like cholesterol.
3. These compounds compete with cholesterol absorption and therefore can block it and reduce total and bad LDL cholesterol levels.
4. They are naturally highest in plant foods like veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, and oils.
5. Fortified foods with phytosterols are less effective and more inflammatory.
6. Eat three servings of phytosterols daily to reap the most benefit.
The New Low-Cholesterol Diet: Plant Sterols and Stanols
What are sterols and stanols, and does anyone like to eat them?
Almost everyone has eaten cholesterol-lowering foods like walnuts, salmon, and oatmeal. But what’s a plant sterol or stanol? And do you really want to eat it?
Most experts say yes. “Eating sterol and stanol-containing foods is an easy way to lower your LDL cholesterol, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Ruth Frechman, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA.)
Plant sterols and stanols are substances that occur naturally in small amounts in many grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Since they have powerful cholesterol-lowering properties, manufacturers have started adding them to foods. You can now get stanols or sterols in margarine spreads, orange juice, cereals, and even granola bars.
How Do Plant Sterols and Stanols Help?
On a molecular level, sterols and stanols look a lot like cholesterol. So when they travel through your digestive tract, they get in the way. They can prevent real cholesterol from being absorbed into your bloodstream. Instead of clogging up your arteries, the cholesterol just goes out with the waste.
What’s the Evidence?
“Plant stanol esters help block the absorption of cholesterol,” Frechman tells WebMD. “Research shows that three servings a day can reduce cholesterol by 20 points.”
Experts have been studying the effects of food fortified with plant sterols for decades. One important study from 1995 of people with high cholesterol found that less than an ounce of stanol-fortified margarine a day could lower “bad” LDL cholesterol by 14%. The results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
A more recent study from the University of California Davis Medical Center looked at the effects of sterol-fortified orange juice. Of 72 adults, half received regular orange juice and half the fortified OJ. After just two weeks, the people who drank the stanol-fortified juice had a 12.4% drop in their LDL cholesterol levels. The results were published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology in 2004.
The FDA gave these products the status of a “health claim” in 2000. This means that experts widely agree on the cholesterol-lowering benefits of stanols and sterols. It also allows manufacturers to advertise the heart-healthy benefits on labels.
Getting Sterols and Stanols Into Your Diet
Freshman says it’s easy to add these foods to your diet. “When you are putting a spread on your whole-grain bread or rolls, choose one with sterols or stanols.”
ADA spokeswoman Suzanne Farrell, MS, RD agrees. “If you use butter or margarine now, just switch over to one of these sterol-fortified spreads,” she tells WebMD.
If you don’t eat butter or margarine now, this is not an invitation to start slathering on the spread. More is not better. Extra margarine spread — with or without stanols and sterols — means extra calories.
You can also find plant sterols or stanols in some cooking oils, salad dressings, milk, yogurt, snack bars, and juices. Indeed, so many fortified products are headed to grocery store shelves that you’ll soon have a dizzy array of choices. But check the labels carefully. While plant sterols are healthy, extra calories are not. Excess calories simply lead to excess pounds.
How Much Do You Need?
The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that people who have high cholesterol get 2 grams of stanols or sterols a day.
A Caveat From Some Experts
Research aside, some experts say people are better off getting their nutrients from whole foods. Whole foods offer a complex combination of nutrients that work together in ways we don’t fully understand.
“Getting nutrients from whole foods [instead of additives] is the best way to go,” says ADA spokeswoman Keecha Harris, DrPH, RD. “Supplements that are fortified with sterols do not offer as many benefits as getting sterols and stanols as they naturally occur.”
The American Heart Association doesn’t recommend sterol and stanol-fortified foods for everyone. Instead, it suggests that only people who need to lower their cholesterol or who have had a heart attack should use them.
Low-Cholesterol Diet Includes:
- Fatty Fish
- Plant Sterols and Stanols
- Oatmeal and Oat Bran
- Soy Protein