Plant Sterols and Stanols
People at risk of heart disease, especially those with high blood cholesterol levels, may benefit from plant sterols and stanols. These can help to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
What are plant sterols and stanols?
Plant sterols and stanols are a naturally occurring ingredient that can help reduce the absorption of cholesterol from food. They are found in small amounts in:
- Nuts, seeds and legumes
- Vegetable oils
- Breads and cereals
- Fruits and vegetables
When eaten in the right amounts, plant sterols and stanols have been shown to lower blood cholesterol by up to 10-15% when combined with a healthy lifestyle. This is because they block the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol, leading to lower levels of cholesterol in the blood.
How much do I need?
The National Heart Foundation of Australia recommends eating two to three grams of plant sterols and stanols per day for cholesterol management. You can get some plant sterols and stanols by eating the foods listed above, however to meet the two to three gram requirement you would also need to eat foods that have been enriched with plant sterols and stanols1. These include some margarine, low fat milks, low fat yoghurts and breakfast cereals, lower fat cheese and processed cheese2.
Food manufacturers are required to list plant sterols on the ingredients list of the food label. If claims are made about their benefit, the manufacturer must list the total amount of plant sterols in the nutrition information panel2.
To get the recommended serving of plant sterols and stanols you need to read the product label. For example you would need to eat about one to one and a half tablespoons per day of margarine (with added plant sterols) to get the right amount. This would be equal to the amount of spread you would use on three to four slices of bread.
Consuming more than the recommended amount will not lower your cholesterol more and consuming less than the recommended amount may result in little to no effects.
Plant sterol and stanol enriched foods and drinks are not recommended for infants, children, and lactating or pregnant women, unless under medical supervision.
Lowering your cholesterol
Using plant sterol and stanol enriched foods and drinks can help to lower your cholesterol when combined with a healthy eating pattern. This means eating a wide variety of healthy foods, including those that are low in saturated fats such as:
- Wholegrain breads and cereals, rice and pasta
- Vegetables and fruits
- Legumes (dried peas, dried beans and lentils) seeds and nuts
- Lean meats, poultry and fish
- Reduced fat dairy products
- Polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils and margarine spreads.
As the consumption of plant sterols and stanols can interfere with the absorption of beta-carotene, it is important to choose at least one daily serve of fruit or vegetable high in beta-carotene (such as carrot, pumpkin, broccoli, spinach, apricot, mango or rock melon).
Doing at least 30 minutes of regular physical activity on most days of the week is also important to lower blood cholesterol levels. If you take medication to lower your cholesterol it is important that you continue to take your medications, and discuss any changes with your doctor.
Before you start using plant sterol and stanol enriched foods or drinks see an Accredited Practising Dietitian to get a healthy eating plan that is tailored to meet your individual needs.
1 National Heart Foundation 2009, ‘Position statement: Phytosterol/stanol enriched foods’, accessed 28/05/2013, http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/Stanol-enriched-foods-position-statement.pdf
2 Food Standards Australia New Zealand 2011, ‘Plant sterols’, accessed 28/05/2013, http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/nutrition/plantsterol/Pages/default.aspx