12 Jul Plant Sterols 101
By Sheridan Jonas, Contributing Blogger
You may have heard the term ‘plant sterols’ in the media or seen it on food labels, but what are they and why is there so much hype about them?
Are they beneficial to your health?
Plant sterols mimic the chemical structure of cholesterol and are treated similarly in the body. Studies have shown that plant sterols help to lower LDL-cholesterol (aka the “bad cholesterol”) by inhibiting its absorption in the gut. Cholesterol is packaged into molecules, called “micelles” that carry it from the intestines into the body. Both cholesterol and plant sterols compete for the limited space in these molecules, and plant sterols usually win and take up a lot of the space in these molecules. This, in turn, decreases the amount of “bad cholesterol” that is absorbed.
Where are they found?
Small amounts of plant sterols are naturally found in fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Food companies fortify some products with plant sterols, like margarine and orange juice.
The average American intake of plant sterols is about 300 mg per day, which is a lot lower than the suggested 2,000 mg per day. Increasing consumption of plant sterols with fortified margarine and orange juice is a simple way to get more plant sterols in your diet. For example, orange juice with added plant sterols will have about 1,000 mg per 8 fluid ounce serving.
Bottom line: Plant sterols may have some added health benefits, but you’ll find the most benefits to your overall health by following a well-balanced, varied diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein and regular physical activity. Adding the recommended 2,000 mg of plant sterols into your diet may help to lower your risk for heart disease but it’s not the only way to keep your heart healthy.