Sterols and Stanols: An Effective Way to Manage Cholesterol

Oct 03, 2019 Heart Health Tips

what are sterols and stanols

Phytosterols are a group of natural compounds that are found in plant cells. Plant sterols and stanols are both types of phytosterols. These natural compounds, which are found at low amounts in nuts, whole grains, vegetables and legumes, structurally resemble cholesterol, so they compete with cholesterol during digestion. Let’s take a look at what plant sterols and stanols are, how they work, and how you can incorporate these natural compounds into your daily lifestyle through foods and sterol supplements. 

What are Plant-Based Sterols & Stanols? 

Sterols and stanols are plant-based compounds that have been clinically shown to lower cholesterol levels and support a healthy heart. Sterols and stanols work to prevent the absorption of dietary sources of cholesterol, which in turn helps to lower LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. For people who aim to take an active step towards improving their lipid profile, incorporating sterols and stanols in the diet can be a very valuable choice.

How Much Sterols and Stanols Per Day?

As an initial step in the cholesterol management process, the National Cholesterol Education Program, as supported by the National Institutes of Health, recommends 2 grams (2000 mg) of plant sterols and stanols per day. In addition to dietary changes to include foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol, the NCEP encourages other Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC). These lifestyle modifications include increasing your physical activity and managing your body weight. To learn about these recommendations and how best to carry them out, visit the National Institute of Health’s “Your Guide to Lowering Cholesterol with Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC)” and read more.

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What is the Difference Between Sterols & Stanols? 

Sterols are essential components of cell membranes. Plant sterols naturally contain a sterol ring that is identical to cholesterol, so they structurally resemble cholesterol. Because plant sterols and cholesterol look alike, plant sterols can interfere with the absorption of dietary cholesterol in the GI tract.

Plant stanols are not found in high amounts in nature and make up only about 10% of total dietary phytosterols.1

What Foods are High in Sterols & Stanols? 

Most foods do not contain levels of plant sterols that are high enough to compete with cholesterol during digestion, so some foods have been fortified with plant sterols and stanols to help you get the recommended amount per day.

How much sterols or stanols should you consume a day? Studies have shown that eating 2,000 milligrams  of these plant compounds a day can help lower LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) by as much as 10%.2 Since most plants do not contain this high amount, most foods containing sterols and stanols are fortified with these compounds. The first foods that were fortified with sterols and stanols were margarines. There are now a variety of foods you can choose from to incorporate 2 grams of sterols and/or stanols into your diet, including orange juice, granola bars and low-fat cheese.

Heart healthy foods naturally containing sterols that you can add to your diet include:3

  •   Oils: Wheatgerm oil, olive oil, corn oil
  •   Nuts: Almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts
  •   Cereals: wheat germ, wheat bran, buckwheat, whole wheat bread
  •   Vegetables: beans, corn, black olives, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli
  •   Fruits: passion fruit, orange

Americans Don’t Get Enough Sterols and Stanols from Diet Alone

Although sterols and stanols are naturally found in fruits, vegetables and grains, they occur in very small quantities, which explains why the average Western diet merely provides 150 to 400 mg per day. In fact, to meet the recommended 2000 mg through dietary intake alone, one would have to consume an enormous amount of approximately 55 large bananas or 13 cups of almonds. To that end, choosing a plant-based sterol and stanol supplement can be both a convenient and helpful way to achieve results. 

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Clinical Study Shows CholestOff® Lowers “Bad” Cholesterol Levels with Plant Sterols and Stanols‡

Participants following the National Cholesterol Education Program’s (NCEP) Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Diet experienced a nearly 5 percent reduction in LDL “bad” cholesterol when CholestOff® was added to their daily regimen, according to a study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. Nature Made CholestOff® Original is a dietary supplement containing the naturally occurring plant-based sterols and stanols referred to as free (non-esterified) phytosterols. “The FDA has concluded, ‘scientific evidence establishes that including phytosterols in the diet helps to lower blood total and LDL cholesterol levels,’ and this study demonstrates that this dietary supplement formulation of free phytosterols performs this function,” said study co-author, Kevin C. Maki, Ph.D.

The double-blind crossover study showed that consuming CholestOff® daily, containing 1.8 grams of free phytosterols, in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise program significantly reduced the LDL-cholesterol levels of participants by 4.9 percent after only six weeks of treatment. Belinda H. Jenks, Ph.D., adds, “CholestOff® can easily be added to a cholesterol-lowering regimen without negatively impacting a person’s diet or caloric intake.”

A Supplement for Lowering Cholesterol Levels and Supporting a Healthy Heart

Products containing at least 400 mg per serving of plant sterols and stanols, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily intake of at least 800 mg as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Nature Made CholestOff® Original Formula and CholestOff® Plus Liquid Softgel sterol supplements each deliver 1800 mg of sterols and stanols per day when taken as directed, and are a great option for people who are concerned about their cholesterol levels due to their dietary intake of cholesterol. When CholestOff Original and CholestOff Plus Liquid Softgels are paired with one’s diet, it offers a smart strategy for meeting the recommended 2000 mg per day and supporting overall heart health.

Learn More About Heart Health Supplements:

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  • This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.

    †These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

    ‡Products containing at least 400 mg per serving of plant sterols and stanols, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily intake of at least 800 mg as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.


    1. Clifton, P. Plant Sterols and Stanols- comparison and contrast. Sterols vs. stanols in cholesterol lowering: is there a difference? Atherosclerosis Supplements. 2002; 3:5-9.
    1. Harvard Health Publishing. “Eating your way to lower cholesterol.” Harvard Medical School. Retrieved on: March 16, 2021.
    1. Gupta, A.K. et al. Role of phytosterols in lipid-lowering: current perspectives. QJM. 2011:104(4):301-8.


    Sandra Zagorin, MS, RD

    Science and Health Educator

    As a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Sandra educates healthcare professionals and consumers on nutrition, supplements, and related health concerns. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Sandra worked as a clinical dietitian at University of Chicago Medicine in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandra received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, with minors in Spanish and Chemistry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from RUSH University in Chicago, IL. As part of her Master’s program, Sandra performed research on physical activity participation and correlates in urban Hispanic women.

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