Plant sterols and stanols, also called phytosterols, are a group of plant-derived compounds found at low amounts in vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, vegetables and legumes. Plant sterols and stanols 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 compounds into your daily lifestyle through foods and/or supplements.
What are Plant-Based Sterols & Stanols?
Cholesterol levels within the normal range are important for heart health. † Sterols and stanols are plant-based compounds that have been clinically shown to lower cholesterol levels‡ and support a healthy heart.† Plant sterols and stanols from foods and supplements have been studied in a variety of clinical settings. Clinical studies have shown the cholesterol-lowering effects of phytosterols in supplement form as well as from foods enriched with phytosterols.2,3,4 Since plant sterols and stanols structurally resemble cholesterol, they reduce the absorption of dietary sources of cholesterol, which helps to lower LDL cholesterol levels.‡ For people who aim to take an active step towards supporting their lipid profile, incorporating sterols and stanols in the diet can be a very valuable choice.†
How Much Sterols and Stanols Per Day?
The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), as supported by the National Institutes of Health, issued recommendations advising a decrease in dietary intake of total saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fats and an increase in soluble fiber (10-25 g/day) as well as consuming 2 grams (2000 mg) of plant sterols and stanols per day. The NCEP encourages other Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) as well, such as increasing physical activity and managing your body weight.
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? Clinical studies have shown that 1.8 g/day phytosterols (800 mg twice daily taken with two largest meals of the day) along with following the TLC diet described above resulted in changes in concentrations of total, LDL, and non-HDL cholesterol levels in as little as six weeks. 2,3,4 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.
Vegetables: beans, corn, black olives, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli
Fruits: passion fruit, oranges
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 sterols and stanols supplement can be both a convenient and helpful way to support cholesterol levels within the normal range and meet your daily recommended amount.†
There is a large body of supportive research surrounding sterols and stanols as an effective option for lowering dietary cholesterol. Meta- analyses using an average amount of 2 g/day, derived from food or supplements, demonstrated significant reductions in LDL concentrations up to 12%.
Our Nature Made CholestOff Plus softgels have been used in three double-blind, clinical studies, which showed that participants who followed the NCEP dietary pattern (TLC diet) and took 1.8 g/day plant sterols and stanols (800 mg twice daily taken with two largest meals of the day) had reductions in LDL cholesterol levels in as little as six weeks.
There is an FDA Qualified Health Claim for plant sterols and stanols, which states “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 help reduce the risk of heart disease.” One serving of Nature Made CholestOff Plus softgels supplies 900 mg of plant sterols and stanols for a daily intake of 1800 mg.
A Supplement for Lowering Cholesterol Levels and Supporting a Healthy Heart†
Nature Made CholestOff® Plus Liquid Softgel supplement delivers 1800 mg of sterols and stanols per day when taken as directed, and are a great option for people who are interested in limiting their dietary intake of cholesterol. When 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.†
‡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.
† 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.
McKenney JM, Jenks BH, Shneyvas E, Brooks JR, Shenoy SF, Cook CM, Maki KC. A softgel dietary supplement containing esterified plant sterols and stanols improves the blood lipid profile of adults with primary hypercholesterolemia: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled replication study. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014 Feb;114(2):244-249. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2013.09.023. Epub 2013 Nov 26.
Kevin C. Maki, Andrea L. Lawless, Matthew S. Reeves, Kathleen M. Kelley, Mary R. Dicklin, Belinda H. Jenks, Ed Shneyvas, and James R. Brooks. "Lipid effects of a dietary supplement softgel capsule containing plant sterols/stanols in primary hypercholesterolemia" Nutrition, vol. 29, no. 1, 2012.
Maki KC, Lawless AL, Reeves MS, Kelley KM, Dicklin MR, Jenks BH, Shneyvas E, Brooks JR. Lipid effects of a dietary supplement softgel capsule containing plant sterols/stanols in primary hypercholesterolemia. Nutrition. 2013 Jan;29(1):96-100.
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.