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Plant Sterols and Cholesterol

By Willow Jarosh, R.D., and Stephanie Clarke, R.D.

Q: What are plant sterols and how do they affect cholesterol?

A: Plant sterols and stanols (also called phytosterols and phytostanols) are compounds naturally present in small amounts in many plant foods like grains, fruits, legumes, nuts, and oils like olive, corn, and sunflower. While all plants contain phytochemicals, they do not all contain the exact same types or amounts. Because plant sterols and stanols look a lot like cholesterol to the body, they can actually block it from being absorbed into the bloodstream when they’re eaten in a high enough quantity. Instead, cholesterol moves on out with all the other waste.

The National Cholesterol Education/Adult Treatment III program guidelines, created by scientists at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), recommend eating plant sterols and stanols as part of a heart healthy eating plan. According to NHLBI, research also suggests that eating 2 to 3 grams of plants stanols/sterols per day can help significantly lower LDL (bad) cholesterol without lowering your HDL (good cholesterol). But while tiny amounts of these great compounds are found naturally in the foods mentioned above, choosing foods with added plant sterols are probably needed to reach that goal of 2 to 3 grams per day! Smart Balance™ HeartRight™ Fat Free Milk and Omega-3s, Vitamin E & Natural Plant Sterols supplies 400mg (about ½ gram) of plant sterols per serving. And, Smart Balance™ HeartRight™ Buttery Spread provides 400 mg (about ½ gram) per serving! What are you waiting for?

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