Boost Your Cholesterol-Lowering Potential with Phytosterols

The first strategy for lowering cholesterol is to modify your eating patterns. Replace unhealthy fats (trans and saturated) with healthy ones (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), and increase dietary fiber by emphasizing whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. If these strategies haven’t worked to their fullest potential, or if you want to work to lower your bad cholesterol even further, you can try adding phytosterols to your diet.

What are Phytosterols?

Phytosterols (referred to as plant sterol and stanol esters) are a group of naturally occurring compounds found in plant cell membranes. Because phytosterols are structurally similar to the body’s cholesterol, when they are consumed they compete with cholesterol for absorption in the digestive system. As a result, cholesterol absorption is blocked, and blood cholesterol levels reduced.

As part of a heart-healthy eating plan, consuming phytosterols in recommended quantities has been shown to lower total cholesterol up to 10 percent and LDL or “bad” cholesterol up to 14 percent. This reduction is in addition to other cholesterol-lowering strategies you may have initiated, such as eating more heart healthfully or taking a cholesterol-lowering statin. The effectiveness of phytosterols is so strong that The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends people with high cholesterol consume 2 grams of phytosterols each day.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even approved a health claim on phytosterols, which states: “Foods containing at least 0.65 gram per serving of vegetable oil plant sterol esters, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 1.3 grams, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”