Is This Missing From Your Cholesterol-Lowering Diet?

If your LDL cholesterol is higher than ideal, this missing ingredient might be the solution to your problem: plant stanols and sterols, which are collectively called phytosterols. I use phytosterol supplements, and I’m happy with the results.

heart healthy red food for plant stanols and sterols

© Can Stock Photo / ifong

Heart disease is still the number 1 killer in the US! And people with diabetes or prediabetes are at especially high risk. An elevated LDL-cholesterol level is one of many risk factors. Fortunately, a lot can be done to tackle high LDL levels. Plant stanols and sterols are an important way.

I have genetically high LDL cholesterol – the type that people call the bad cholesterol. It’s not horribly high, but high enough to work at changing it, especially since I also have a family history of heart disease. But what to do when you already have a good diet? I am a registered dietitian nutritionist after all, and I try very hard to walk the talk. I made two dietary changes a few years ago: I switched my usual small dessert of a York Peppermint Patty to chocolate-covered almonds, and I started eating pulses (beans, lentils and peas) 4 to 7 days per week instead of just a couple times each week. I had no idea if this would be enough. Six months later, my doctor and I saw some nice results.

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But I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be. So I added phytosterol supplements to my daily routine. And yay! My numbers make me smile!

What are plant stanols and sterols?

Phytosterols are found naturally in canola oil, corn, cauliflower, lentils, almonds, fruits and all other foods from the plant kingdom. They work their magic by blocking cholesterol absorption. Research tells us that consuming about 2 grams per day substantially lowers LDL cholesterol levels. But on average, we consume only about 300 – 400 mg each day because they tend to be naturally present in only tiny amounts. Even typical vegetarian diets ring up only about 600 mg phytosterols daily. There’s a simpler way to reach the recommended 2000 milligrams daily than to eat 13 heads of cauliflower, 100 cups of sliced strawberries or 74 large apples! That’s where phytosterol supplements come in.

Benecol® Soft Chews and CholestOff® Plus softgels are two phytosterol supplements that I’ve used with success. But you know the drill: what works for me may not be ideal for you. It’s smart to talk to your own registered dietitian nutritionist or another healthcare provider before picking supplements, their dosages and the proper timing. I’m not the only one who’s happy. Over the years, I’ve had many clients also find success with plant stanols and sterols.

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5 Things to Know about Plant Stanols and Sterols

  1. Phytosterols are the plant’s cousin to cholesterol. Cholesterol is not found in any plant. All animals, including humans, make cholesterol. Because plant stanols and sterols are structurally similar to cholesterol, they work by blocking cholesterol absorption – even the cholesterol that your body makes. That’s why they work even for vegans, who eat no cholesterol.
  2. It’s best to consume phytosterol supplements with meals or snacks. I generally recommend taking one dose with each of your two largest meals.
  3. Phytosterol supplements are additive to other strategies. In other words, if you’re able to lower your LDL cholesterol by eating a wholesome diet, adding plant stanols and sterols to the mix will likely lower your LDL even more. The same goes for statin drugs. Phyotsterol supplements and statins work in very different ways, so you benefit from both at the same time. (Let’s be smart about this: discuss it with your healthcare provider, who will want to know about all of your efforts, especially when evaluating your lab reports.) Typically, you can expect phytosterol supplements to lower LDL cholesterol levels by about 10%, though I’ve observed even greater reductions.
  4. Phytosterol supplements don’t affect HDL cholesterol. Oh well, we can’t have everything. Learn about HDL cholesterol and 4 other numbers that can save your life.
  5. The FDA says okay to phytosterol supplements. The European Food Safety Authority says so too. It is possible, however, that they could inhibit the absorption of some fat-soluble nutrients. You can get around this by eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. And finally, anyone with a rare genetic defect called sitosterolemia should avoid phytosterol-fortified foods and supplements.
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Jill Weisenberger

I'm Jill, and I believe simple changes in your mindset and health habits can bring life-changing rewards. And I don't believe in willpower. It's waaaay overrated. As a food-loving registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes care and education specialist and certified health and wellness coach, I've helped thousands of people solve their food and nutrition problems. If you're looking for a better way to master this whole healthy eating/healthy living thing or if you're trying to prevent or manage diabetes or heart problems, you'll find plenty of resources right here.

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  1. Robert S. on February 14, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    Great piece discussing plant stanols and sterols, in addition to their impact on one’s overall health. I feel they’re in the same class as vitamin D in that they’re not prevalent in very many foods, which increases the need to take supplements. Plant-based nutrients can’t be ignored, as they go a long way in improving one’s quality of life.

    • Jill Weisenberger on February 14, 2020 at 1:25 pm

      Agree! Plant stanols and sterols are present in lots of foods – just in minute amounts. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Denizwilliam on February 18, 2020 at 8:53 am

    Great article about plant stanols and sterols.

    • Jill Weisenberger on February 18, 2020 at 9:11 am

      Thank you! So glad you found it helpful.

  3. family practices in Hicksville on March 12, 2020 at 8:32 am

    Nice to read your blog. there is a very valuable info.. thanks a bundle for sharing.

  4. kinsley on October 26, 2020 at 1:31 am

    Thanks for sharing the useful information.It is really a great blog.

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Hi there! I'm Jill, a nutrition & diabetes expert and the author of 4 books.

Jill Weisenberger

I believe simple changes in health habits can bring you life-changing rewards.

And I believe willpower is way overrated.

Right here is where you can discover the mindset and habits to stick with healthy lifestyle choices most of the time - and drop the guilt when you don't.

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