Lower Your Serum Cholesterol With Plant Sterols

By Dr Harold Gunatillake Health writer

Phyto-sterols are essential components of cell membranes of plants and not found in the human body. Stanols are saturated sterols, and are much less abundant. Both phytochemicals and stanols are similar to the structure of cholesterol, but are poorly absorbed.

Chemically phytochemicals are similar to cholesterol, and there are over 40 phytosterols, but beta sitosterol is the most abundant one, comprising about 50 percent of dietary phytosterols. Beta sitosterol has been shown in many studies to promote healthy cholesterol(HDL) and shown to be a strong anti-inflammatory, to have antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Research suggests beta-sitosterol may help to protect our stomach lining and prevent ulcers. Lauric acid in coconut oil have the same properties.

Phytochemicals lower LDL-cholesterol in those who have high cholesterol level in the blood, and also good for diabetic individuals. Phytosterols reduce cholesterol synthesis by competing with cholesterol absorption in the gut.

A daily intake of approximately 2g of phytosterol/stanol enriched margarine reduces LDL-cholesterol levels by approximately 10% but has little effect on HDL- cholesterol or triglycerides.

Plant sterols, phytosterols, are cholesterol-like compounds found mostly in vegetable oils, nuts and legumes.

Phytosterols have the same function as cholesterol in the body. Cholesterol is a necessary component of cell membrane and required for the synthesis of sex hormones and vitamins. However, when cholesterol is high in the blood (serum) it is associated with heart diseases. Diet rich in phytosterols is known to reduce serum cholesterol. For example, in one study it was found that subjects fed with wheat germ containing high phytosterol had 42% lower cholesterol in their blood as compared to those who were fed phytosterol-free wheat germ.

The results of a few clinical trials suggest that phytosterol supplementation at relatively low doses can improve urinary tract symptoms related to benign prostatic hyperplasia, but further research is needed to confirm these findings.

Food enriched with plant sterols and plant stanols
Phytosterols can be solubilised in fat-containing foods such as margarine or mayonnaise. More recent studies indicate that low-fat or even nonfat foods can effectively deliver plant sterols or stanols if they are adequately solubilized. Plant sterols or stanols added to low-fat yogurt, low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, dark chocolate, and orange juice have been reported to lower LDL cholesterol in controlled clinical trials.

A variety of foods containing added plant sterols or stanols, including margarines, mayonnaises, vegetable oils, salad dressings, yogurt, milk, soy milk, orange juice, snack bars, and meats, are available in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

The richest naturally occurring sources of phytosterols are vegetable oils. Nuts are also rich in phytosterols. Cereal products, vegetables, fruits and berries are not so rich in phytosterols.

Some Food sources Total Sterol Content (mg/100g)

Half cup of Brussels sprout contains 34 mg of plant sterols oils.
Rice bran 1055
Corn 952
Wheat germ 553
Flax seed 338
Cottonseed 327
Soybean 221
Peanut 206
Olive 176
Coconut 91
Palm 49
Vegetables
Beetroot 25
Brussels sprout 24
Cauliflower 18
Onion 15
Carrot 12
Cabbage 11
Yam 10
Fruits
Orange 24
Banana 16
Apple 12
Cherry 12
Peach 10
Pear 8
Nuts
Cashew 158
Almond 143
Pecan 108
Pistachio 108
Walnut 108
Legumes
Pea 135
Kidney bean 127
Broad bean 124


Data Source: Kritchevsky, D. 1997. Phytosterols: IN Dietary fibre in Health and Disease. (Eds.) Kristchevsky and Bonfield., Plenum Press, New York,

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