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Cholesterol

Explore the myths surrounding this popular health topic and learn how to restore and maintain healthy cholesterol.

Top Foods High in Plant Sterols

Plant sterols are phytochemicals found naturally in a wide variety of nutritious foods. But why do plant sterols matter? Learn all about this unique plant compound here!

Top Foods High in Plant Sterols


Did you know plants contain cholesterol? The plant version of cholesterol is called a phytosterol, also known as a plant sterol.

For an out-of-the-ordinary way to reduce your cholesterol levels in your body, just add foods with plant sterols to your daily diet. When you lower your cholesterol, it helps reduce the risk of heart disease.

Plant sterols (and plant stanols) are phytochemicals that are found naturally in a wide variety of foods, such as grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds. But why do plant sterols matter?

What Do Plant Sterols Do?

Essentially, these plant sterol molecules look very similar to cholesterol found in animal foods. When they are present in your digestive tract, they block the absorption of cholesterol from your meal. So instead of cholesterol getting into the arteries and causing damage to blood vessels, it will be excreted from the body as waste.

The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that 2 grams (g) of plant stanols or sterols each day for people with high cholesterol. Because, as it turns out, just 3 servings of foods with plant sterols and stanols can reduce your cholesterol by as much as 20 points!

In general, vegetables contain higher amounts of plant sterols than fruits, though the amount in vegetables can vary greatly.

Top Foods with Plant Sterols

According to the National Lipid Association, plant stanols are naturally found in plants like vegetables, fruits, wheat germ, whole grains, beans, and many vegetable oils:

• Vegetables: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower

• Fruits: apples, avocados, blueberries

• Nuts and seeds: macadamia nuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds

• Vegetable oils: olive oil, sesame oil, wheat germ oil

Dill, paprika, sage, thyme, and other herbs and spices also source plant sterols.

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Certain foods have been fortified with plant sterols, such as orange juice, margarine, energy bars, and some yogurt drinks, like Promise brand active super shots. All of these foods provide a very high amount of plant sterols and stanols, with just a few servings of these meeting daily recommendations of 2 g of plant sterols per day quite easy to achieve.

Some of the foods richest in plant sterols include wheat germ, oat bran, and brown rice. You can also find sterols in peanuts, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.

Even aloe vera contains plant sterols, and can be absorbed if applied directly to the skin. Interestingly, these sterols can even reach the bloodstream, and change the way your body uses glucose and fat.

There is still so much to learn about foods with plant sterols and stanols, but so far we know that consuming these are much better for your health than consuming lots of cholesterol-rich foods when it comes to preventing heart disease.

Quick Tips to Increase Plant Stanol Consumption

Increasing plant stanol consumption and naturally lowering cholesterol levels can be as simple as:

• Sprinkling some sesame seeds on fried rice or stir-fry

• Snacking on 1/4 cup of pistachios

• Drizzling olive oil onto salad greens

• Smearing a tablespoon of almond butter on an apple

Spicing it up in the kitchen with herbs and seasonings

Truly, all can benefit from adopting more plants in the diet for added fiber, vitamins, nutrients, and of course, plant stanols!

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on December 12, 2017. Updated on March 17, 2021.

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