What are plant sterols?

Plant sterols, also known as phytosterols, are naturally occurring substances in plant cell walls. They can help lower the cholesterol levels in the blood. Plant sterols lower a particular type of cholesterol called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is also known as the "bad cholesterol" because it brings cholesterol to the blood vessels, where it builds up, increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

How do plant sterols lower cholesterol? They block LDL cholesterol from being absorbed from your intestines into your bloodstream. This reduces the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood so it does not clog up your blood vessels.

It's important to eat the right amount of foods with plant sterols. A typical Western diet contains only 0.15 to 0.35 grams of phytosterols per day. But experts recommend an intake of 2 grams of plant sterols per day to lower cholesterol. Since it may be difficult to reach this target with natural food sources like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes alone, you can also consume plant-sterol-enriched foods or supplements.

Health Canada has approved the use of plant sterols as additives in many food products, such as margarines and juices. To find these products, look on the label for health claims such as "plant sterols help reduce cholesterol" or "plant sterols help lower cholesterol." You can also get plant sterols from dietary supplements.

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