Everyone has heard that dietary cholesterol, which is found only in animal products, is a risk factor for heart disease.
But it turns out that not all ‘sterols are bad for your heart. Sterols and stanols derived from plant sources can actually reduce blood cholesterol levels.
They do this by mimicking the form of cholesterol; instead of being absorbed and forming plaques (a build up of cholesterol, fats and white blood cells) in your arteries, the real cholesterol leaves your body as waste.
In fact, research has shown these substances to be so effective in lowering cholesterol that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows manufacturers who fortify their products with sterols and stanols to make health claims.
How much is effective?
You need two grams of stanols or sterols a day to effectively lower your LDL (low density lipo protein- that’s the bad cholesterol). That’s enough to lowering your LDL by 14 percent—a significant amount, and possibly enough to bring you into the safe range if you have diabetes.
If your LDL is 115mg/dl and you lower it by 14 percent, it will come in at under 100mg/dl. And that’s a good thing.
But two grams is the magic amount; you won’t see much difference if you consume less than that per day.
Where Can I Get Them?
Small quantities of sterols and stanols are found naturally in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds. Sounds like the components of a healthful diet, doesn’t it?
But many people don’t eat enough of those types of foods per day to reach that two gram mark, which has prompted manufacturers to add them to the types of foods more common in diets.
Margarines, juices, yogurt and snack bars are now fortified with these plant-based cholesterol busters. The two grams per day can be reached with two 8-ounce glasses of orange juice, or two to three tablespoons of spread.
What’s The Down Side?
Many of the products fortified with sterols and stanols contain significant calories and sometimes added fat and carbohydrates. If you are trying to manage your weight and blood glucose, that can be a problem.
Drinking two glasses of orange juice that wouldn’t otherwise be in your diet probably isn’t worth either the extra calories, or the bump in your blood glucose.
But take a look at your pantry—if you’re already using some of these higher caloric foods, just swap them out for the sterol/stanol fortified versions. That way you’ll get the benefit, without the excess fat.