Phytosterols are a group of chemicals found in a variety of plant products. There’s been a lot of talk about the heart-healthy benefits of these chemicals over the past few years. Some studies have shown that phytosterols can help modestly reduce your “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, by an average of 10%. But where can you find these healthy chemicals? The good news is that phytosterols can be found in a variety of easily-accessible products, ranging from supplements to quite a few healthy foods.
Foods Supplemented With Phytosterols
The effectiveness of phytosterols in lowering LDL has encouraged some food manufacturers to supplement phytosterols in some of their food products. Phytosterols are typically added during the manufacturing process of some foods that contain a very small amount or no phytosterols. There are several foods available in your local grocery store that are fortified with phytosterols, including:
- Salad dressings
- Margarines and spreads
- Orange Juice
- Snack foods, such as cookies crackers, and potato chips
These foods will clearly display that they contain phytosterols on their packaging. Although studies with foods supplemented with phytosterols have shown that they can slightly lower LDL, no long-term studies have been conducted on these products. Additionally, consuming snack foods containing phytosterols, such as chips or cookies, may be counteractive in controlling your cholesterol especially with the sugar and fats added to such foods. Before you buy any foods that have been supplemented with phytosterols, you should check the nutrition label to make sure that the food is healthy.
Foods That Naturally Contain Phytosterols
There are several healthy foods that naturally contain phytosterols, too. The amount of phytosterols in each of these foods can vary quite a bit. These foods include:
- Whole grains
- Beans and lentils
Although these foods contain phytosterols, the amount of phytosterols found in each of these foods is small. Therefore, you would need to consume a lot of these foods in order to see these cholesterol-lowering benefits. Despite this, all of the above foods mentioned above are healthy and contain other cholesterol-friendly ingredients, such as fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients making them good foods to include in your lipid-lowering diet.
There are a variety of supplements containing phytosterols that can be found in most grocery stores and pharmacies.
Usually located in the vitamin or natural products aisle, phytosterol supplements can be found alone or combined with other vitamins and minerals. They commonly fall under a variety of different brands, but could contain one or more of the following:
- Plant sterols
- Sterol esters
- Stanol esters
Although you have the potential to obtain more phytosterols by taking a supplement, there are some studies that have suggested that phytosterols in some supplements may become inactivated during the manufacturing process, thus not being effective in lowering your cholesterol. Additionally, you may not be able to obtain the additional nutrients that healthy foods containing phytosterols may provide. Some of these supplements may also cause side effects. So, if you are thinking about taking phytosterol supplements, make sure that you consult with your healthcare provider first.