Want to Lower LDL Cholesterol? Consider Plant Sterols

Getting enough of these beneficial compounds may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular issues.

young man with glasses eating salad indoors

Updated on June 26, 2023.

Here’s some powerful advice that you may not have heard before: Help lower your low-density (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol by spreading a phytosterol-enhanced spread on your whole-grain toast in the morning.

Phytosterols (also called plant stanols, plant sterols, and stanol esters) are potent compounds found naturally in plants. They can help reduce LDL by interfering with the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol from food.

Here’s how it works: The cell structure of phytosterols is similar to that of cholesterol. So, your body digests them and then removes some of the existing cholesterol—essentially replacing it. This, in turn, can lower LDL cholesterol levels

Research suggests a daily diet that includes 2 grams of phytosterols may reduce LDL cholesterol by up to 10 percent. And since LDL is a major contributor to heart disease, including enough phytosterols in your diet could also lower your risk of cardiovascular issues, including stroke and heart attack.

That’s not all. Getting sufficient phytosterols may help prevent obesity and health conditions related to it, like diabetes. A 2019 review published in Current Medicinal Chemistry even noted that while more research is needed, early data suggests that phytosterols may help inhibit cancer development. 

Where to find phytosterols

Though most people should make sure to include foods containing phytosterols in their diet, it’s especially important if you have existing heart disease, a family history of heart disease, high cholesterol, or a history of atherosclerosis (a buildup of plaques in the arteries).

More than 250 types of phytosterols have so far been identified by researchers. You can find higher amounts of phytosterols in these foods:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Vegetable oils including corn, sunflower, soybean, and olive oil
  • Nuts, especially pistachios
  • Cereals, such as wheat germ and wheat bran 

You can also find phytosterols in dietary supplements and in some fortified foods, such as cheeses, yogurts, margarine, and milks. 

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends consuming phytosterols twice a day, for a total daily intake of at least 1.3 grams, along with eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Most people in the U.S. don’t get anywhere near enough phytosterols per day, so it’s helpful to make a conscious effort to meet that goal.

Article sources open article sources

Cleveland Clinic. Phytosterols. Page last reviewed July 30, 2022.
Gylling H, Plat J, Turley S, et al; European Atherosclerosis Society Consensus Panel on Phytosterols. Plant sterols and plant stanols in the management of dyslipidaemia and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerosis. 2014 Feb;232(2):346-60. 
Vezza T, Canet F, de Marañón AM, et al. Phytosterols: Nutritional Health Players in the Management of Obesity and Its Related Disorders. Antioxidants (Basel). 2020 Dec 12;9(12):1266.
Blanco-Vaca F, Cedó L, Julve J. Phytosterols in Cancer: From Molecular Mechanisms to Preventive and Therapeutic Potentials. Curr Med Chem. 2019;26(37):6735-6749. 
Cabral CE, Klein MRST. Phytosterols in the Treatment of Hypercholesterolemia and Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases. Arq Bras Cardiol. 2017 Nov;109(5):475-482. 
Kornsteiner-Krenn M, Wagner KH, Elmadfa I. Phytosterol content and fatty acid pattern of ten different nut types. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2013;83(5):263-70. 

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