Spreads en­riched with plant sterols can re­duce choles­terol, but a healthy diet is still im­por­tant.

New Zealand Listener - - CON­TENTS - By Jen­nifer Bow­den

Spreads en­riched with plant sterols can re­duce choles­terol, but a healthy diet is still im­por­tant.


The mak­ers of choles­terol-low­er­ing spreads such as Flora ProAc­tiv say there is sci­en­tific ev­i­dence for their prod­ucts’ prop­er­ties. Does con­tin­u­ing to use the prod­uct keep low­er­ing and low­er­ing choles­terol lev­els or does it main­tain choles­terol at that low­ered level?


oods and di­etary sup­ple­ments en­riched with plant sterols are not new: they’ve been around since Elvis Pres­ley was shim­my­ing across the stage in the 1950s. Since then, the choles­terol-low­er­ing pow­ers of plant sterols have been well re­searched – hence the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ claims. We now know that con­sum­ing 1.5-2.4g of plant sterols each day can re­duce blood lev­els of LDL (bad) choles­terol by up to 10%. El­e­vated to­tal and LDL choles­terol lev­els are con­sid­ered ma­jor risk fac­tors for car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease.

In the gut, plant sterols com­pete with choles­terol for ab­sorp­tion, so when reg­u­larly con­sumed, they grad­u­ally lower cir­cu­lat­ing choles­terol lev­els over sev­eral weeks.

The rich­est nat­u­ral source of plant sterols are veg­etable oils, fol­lowed by nuts and seeds, then grain prod­ucts, fruits and veg­eta­bles; how­ever, the quan­ti­ties found are rel­a­tively small. For ex­am­ple, a re­cent Chi­nese study found veg­etable oils had the high­est phy­tos­terol con­tent (150-1230mg per 100g. So, to ben­e­fit from a daily dose of 2g of sterols, you’d need to con­sume at least half a cup and as much as four cups of plant oil each day.

But it is rel­a­tively sim­ple to con­sume 2g of sterols in plant-oil-based spreads that are en­riched with the odour­less, taste­less com­pounds. In the case of ProAc­tiv, 25g (1 ta­ble­spoon) con­tains 2g of sterols.

Stud­ies have found that you will get no fur­ther choles­terol-low­er­ing ben­e­fit from con­sum­ing more than 2-3g of sterols a day, nor will on­go­ing use fur­ther lower choles­terol lev­els be­low the ini­tial 10% re­duc­tion.

How­ever, good diet and life­style may re­duce LDL choles­terol lev­els by a fur­ther 5% – a to­tal of 15% from the orig­i­nal start­ing point.

A daily 30g serv­ing of nuts is a great place to start in boost­ing your heart health. Nuts are a rich source of pro­tein, fi­bre, heart-healthy fats, vi­ta­min E, mag­ne­sium, potas­sium, plant sterols and many other im­por­tant nu­tri­ents. A large study in Spain of oth­er­wise healthy adults at high risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, Pred­imed, found that a Mediter­ranean diet sup­ple­mented with either ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil or mixed nuts re­duced the risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar events by 30% com­pared with a low-fat diet.

Eat­ing health­ier fats, such as oily fish, av­o­cado, seeds and veg­etable oils and spreads, rather than an­i­mal fats, boosts heart health, as does eat­ing

Eat­ing more than 2-3g of sterols a day will not fur­ther re­duce choles­terol lev­els.

less trans fat, which is found in some bak­ery and pas­try prod­ucts, along with potato chips, break­fast bars and take­away foods.

Adiet rich in whole­foods – fresh fruit, veg­eta­bles, nuts, seeds, lean meats, chicken, seafood and whole­grains – and with fewer ul­tra-pro­cessed foods will re­duce the in­take of trans fats. What’s more, fruit and veg­eta­bles are also use­ful sources of plant sterols, ­choles­terol-low­er­ing sol­u­ble fi­bre, vi­ta­mins and many other nu­tri­ents.

Oats and bar­ley are also ef­fec­tive in im­prov­ing heart health, be­cause both are rich in a sol­u­ble fi­bre called beta-glu­can, which binds choles­terol in the gut and pre­vents it from be­ing ab­sorbed. Stud­ies have found that eat­ing about 3g of beta-glu­can a day may re­duce to­tal and LDL choles­terol lev­els by about 5% and 7% re­spec­tively. Depend­ing on the type of oats (whole, rolled or oat­meal), ½- 2∕3 of a cup would pro­vide the rec­om­mended 3g of be­taglu­can fi­bre.

So, en­joy the health ben­e­fits of a spread en­riched with plant sterols, along with the bounty of health-pro­mot­ing nu­tri­ents and fi­bre found in a whole­foodrich diet.

Email your nu­tri­tion ques­tions to nu­tri­tion@ lis­

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