BY Alyse

Plant Stanols and Sterols for Cholesterol Reduction

Those among us with elevated cholesterol levels are typically advised by health professionals to lose weight, exercise and consume a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol. Although these measures can reduce one’s blood cholesterol, sometimes they do not do enough, and other cholesterol-lowering interventions are needed. Before succumbing to a cholesterol-lowering medication, adding plant sterol and stanol esters to the diet may further decrease blood cholesterol levels. Read on to learn what plant sterol and stanol esters are, where they are found and how they can affect cholesterol levels.


What are they?

Both plant stanols and sterols are essential components of plant cell membranes and structurally resemble cholesterol. When these plant extracts are ingested, they inhibit the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine. Thus, dietary cholesterol never gets into the system.

Where are they found?

Natural Sources

Sterols are present naturally in small quantities in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, cereals, legumes, vegetable oils (particularly soybean oil), and other plant sources. Plant stanols occur in even smaller quantities in many of the same sources. Although people consume plant stanols and sterols every day in food, the amounts are often not great enough to have significant blood cholesterol-lowering effects.

Processed Sources

By modifying plant stanols and sterols to form stanol and sterol esters, they are easily incorporated into fat-containing foods without losing their effectiveness in lowering cholesterol. Plant sterol esters are ingredients in a number of fat-based salad dressings, yogurts and margarines. Plant stanol esters are found in various spreads, salad dressings, juices and dietary supplements in a softgel form. Examples of foods that contain plant sterols and/or stanols are:

Take Control spread (made with an extract of the soy plant-sitosterol)

Benecol spread (made with an extract of pine needles-sitostanol)

Benecol “Smart Chews” (chocolate and caramel chewy candies)

Minute Maid HeartWise 100% Orange Juice

Promise Activ Spread/Supershot

Orowheat Whole Grain and Oat bread

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate VitaTops and VitaBrownies

Lifetime Low Fat Cheese

Corazonas Chips and oatmeal bars

Cocoavia Chocolate Bars

Smart Balance Buttery Spread with Heartright

Smart Balance 1% Low Fat Milk with Heartright

What Does the Research Show?

Numerous research studies show that consuming plant stanol and sterol esters in appropriate quantities can inhibit the absorption of total cholesterol in the small intestine by up to 50%, which can lower LDL blood cholesterol by up to 14% (with no affect on “good” HDL cholesterol). The maximum cholesterol-lowering benefit is achieved at a dose of 2-3grams per day (a greater intake has no additional effects). The FDA authorized the use of a health claim for plant sterol and stanol esters stating: “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include at least 1.3 grams of plant sterol esters or 3.4 grams of plant stanol esters, consumed in 2 meals with other foods, may reduce the risk of heart disease and cholesterol levels”. Plant sterols and stanols and their esters are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) food-grade substances and have no history of demonstrating any harmful health effects.

Alyse’s Advice

Adults with elevated cholesterol levels who want to reduce their cholesterol levels through diet may see better results by eating foods with added sterol and stanol esters. A typical American diet provides only about 0.25 g of plant sterol/stanol per day. To achieve the cholesterol-lowering benefits of these plant extracts, 1-3grams must be consumed daily. If you have elevated cholesterol, including some of the plant stanol/sterol rich foods listed above into your daily diet (in combination with a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol) may further reduce your LDL cholesterol level by up to ~10%.