What are Plant Sterols?

Plant sterols, also referred to as phytosterols are naturally occurring organic compounds found in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and unrefined vegetable oils like olive oil and canola oil.

 How do Plant Sterols work?

Plant sterols are considered to be part of a “heart healthy” diet. They work by helping to remove cholesterol from the body by partially blocking its absorption into the blood stream. This cholesterol is eliminated from the body resulting in lower cholesterol levels. Specifically, plant sterols have been found to help lower both total and LDL-cholesterol, which are directly linked to cardiovascular health.

 Consuming Plant Sterols

Can we eat enough fruits or vegetables containing plant sterols to reduce our cholesterol? The simple answer is “no”.  Studies show that for plant sterols to have a favourable effect on cholesterol, a daily intake of at least 1.3 g is recommended. Specifically, consuming an average of 2 g of plant sterols per day could reduce your cholesterol by about 10%.

What does 1 g of plant sterols look like in your daily diet?

  • 5 cups of peanuts = 1 g plant sterols
  • 105 carrots = 1 g plant sterols
  • 41 apples = 1 g plant sterols

Luckily, the Canadian food industry is now able to fortify certain foods with plant sterols. These foods include non-hydrogenated margarines made from vegetable oils such as Becel’s Pro-Activ and yogurt based drinks such as Danone’s Danacol. Although plant sterols have only recently appeared in the Canadian marketplace, they have been a topic of study for many researchers since the 1950s.

  • Consuming a heart healthy diet is good advice for everyone. However, if you do have health concerns, it is wise to first consult your Doctor regarding any medical issues and a Registered Dietitian for dietary and lifestyle advice.
  • It is important that this advice is tailored and customized to meet your individual needs. A RD can help answer any questions you have regarding functional and fortified foods. The RD will explain the overwhelming number of functional products available, help find the right ones for you and keep you posted about new research on heart health.