Plant sterols are a plant's equivalent of cholesterol, and when included in your diet, can help to lower blood cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. They can be found in nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Plant sterols and stanols perform the same functions cholesterol does in animals. In the human body, plant sterols, also called phytosterols, help block the absorption of LDL cholesterol, sometimes called "bad cholesterol."
Phytosterols occur naturally in most plant food sources, but are often not present in large quantities. Some foods can be found fortified with them, including breads, cereals, milk, yogurt, oils, spreads and dressings.
In 2000 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled that companies could label products containing plant sterol or stanol esters as possibly reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, based on the body of scientific evidence available.
The American Heart Association released a 2006 dietary guideline saying the public should eat a variety of foods carrying plant sterols each day, and the maximum beneficial effects come when 2 grams are eaten daily.
Some studies indicate phytosterols reduce the risk of prostate, stomach, colon and breast cancers, but a large-scale study in the Netherlands found no connection between plant sterols and reduced risk of colon cancer.
One study showed plant sterols may relieve symptoms of an enlarged prostate gland. They also have been used for treatment of gallstones, hair loss, menopause, sexual performance, asthma, and common cold and flu, though no scientific evidence exists for these uses.
- International Food Information Council
- FDA ruling
- eMedTv.com article
benefits plant sterols, plant sterols heart disease, dietary benefits sterols
About this Author
Kim Hoyum is a Michigan-based freelance writer. She has been a proofreader, writer, reporter and editor at monthly, weekly and daily publications for five years. She has a Bachelor of Science in writing and minor in journalism from Northern Michigan University.