Including plant sterols in your diet can reduce your cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Cholesterol is considered to be a major risk factor involving heart attack and stroke. The CDC reports that about one out of six American adults have a cholesterol level that is considered “high”. Studies have shown that a diet that includes plant sterols can significantly reduce the LDL or “bad” cholesterol level that is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease .
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is produced by the liver and is necessary for the body to function properly. A diet high in animal products as well as lack of exercise and poor overall dietary choices has contributed to the rising cholesterol levels in our society. When there is more cholesterol present than the body needs, plaque begins to build up on the walls of the arteries. The process leads to the narrowing of the arteries making it harder for blood to flow resulting in atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.
If you have not had a blood lipid profile in the last five years, I would recommend consulting your physician about when your next one should be scheduled. When measuring the total cholesterol, it is important to understand the roles of LDL, HDL, VLDL, and triglycerides. Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) are considered the “bad” cholesterol with high levels leading to plaque buildup within the walls of the arteries. High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) or “good” cholesterol help to transport the LDLs out of your blood to protect the arteries from plaque build up. (For more information about fat and cholesterol, go to www.thegirlonthego.com/fat.htm).
Plant Sterols and How They Work
A recent study by the USDA shows that eating approximately two to three grams or 0.07-0.11 ounces of plant sterols per day can lower a persons total cholesterol approximately 6%-10%. Plant sterols naturally occur in certain foods such as nuts, seeds, vegetable based oils, and legumes as well as some fruits and vegetables. Since plant sterols are structurally similar to cholesterol, they interfere with the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine. The result is that the actual cholesterol is excreted as waste instead of building up on the walls of your arteries. Further tests resulted in lowering LDL levels by 6-15% while not negatively affecting the HDLs. In addition, plant sterol were not shown to interfere with cholesterol lowering medications and may increase their effectiveness.
Good Sources of Plant Sterols
Here are some examples of foods that are rich in plant sterols:
Grains: oatmeal, rice bran, wheat germ, grains
Oils: cold-pressed olive oil, soybean, corn, soybean and wheat germ oil.
Nuts & Seeds: walnuts, almonds, peanuts, soybeans, sunflower, sesame seeds
Vegetables & Fruits: avocado, yams, brussels sprouts, bananas
Legumes: peas, kidney beans
Here is a list of some additional foods that are rich in plant sterols as well as some sterol enriched foods.
Plant sterols are found in foods such as nuts, oil, and legumes that should be included in a well-balanced diet. Studies have shown that consuming two to three grams per day may help reduce both total and LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 10%. The most effective way you can play a role in controlling your cholesterol is through a proper diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and participating in regular exercise. Aspects of your health that you cannot control are related to age, gender, and heredity. It is important to monitor your cholesterol levels and work with your health care professional to keep them at an optimal health level.
To learn more, here are some good resources