Medically Reviewed by Vincenta Faulkner, RD, CNSC, CCTD
Are you trying to lower your high cholesterol levels naturally, without medication? You’ve probably heard by now that the best way to do so is to change your lifestyle habits, which means eating a heart-healthy diet and staying physically active.
What if you’re already doing this, though? Maybe you regularly eat a diet rich in healthy fats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean meat. You may already exercise regularly, too.
If you have high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglyceride levels but feel you are already doing everything right regarding a heart-healthy lifestyle, fear not. There is another option that allows you to attempt to lower your levels naturally, without statins — plant sterols.
If you still have high LDL levels despite your good diet and physical activity levels, plant sterols might be the next step in your heart-healthy journey.
Let’s find out more about these substances.
What Are Plant Sterols?
Plant sterols, also known as phytosterols or stanol esters, are substances that naturally occur in plant cell membranes. These compounds are similar to cholesterol in structure and function.
If you recall, cholesterol naturally occurs in our cell membranes to support structural and physiological processes. Phytosterols have the same functions, except they derive from plants rather than animals. As such, plant sterols aid in plant cell structure, function, and pathways.
Vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds have the highest phytosterol in plant-derived food options.
How Do Plant Sterols Affect Cholesterol Levels?
Plant sterols lower your LDL, or bad cholesterol levels while keeping your HDL levels the same. Phytosterols are a very effective natural treatment for high cholesterol levels.
Plant sterols are not only similar to cholesterol in cell membrane function but also in structure. Their structural similarity means that it is hard for your body to tell plant sterols apart from cholesterol, so when you ingest sterols, your body absorbs them just as it would cholesterol metabolism.
As you consume more plant sterols, your digestive system absorbs them first, which blocks cholesterol absorption. Plant sterols, then, limit the amount of cholesterol your body absorbs, sometimes even reducing how much cholesterol your body produces.
Either way, plant sterols can succeed in lowering your blood cholesterol levels. Studies show that if you consume adequate phytosterol quantities regularly and consistently, you can lower your LDL levels by up to 10 to 14%.
What is an adequate concentration of phytosterol? Let’s explore recommended amounts next.
How Much Plant Sterol Should I Consume?
For plant sterols to be effective in their cholesterol-lowering capabilities, you should consume two grams of phytosterols daily. The FDA authorizes plant sterols’ cholesterol-lowering properties, which means there is scientific agreement between experts that there is enough available scientific evidence to support their claim.
When and how often you consume plant sterols also affects their efficacy. We recommend you spread out your two-gram dosage with meals twice daily for the best results. It is also important to note that there is a limit — just because you eat more plant sterols does not mean that you will continue LDL cholesterol lowering to a greater extent.
If you consume more than the recommended two grams daily, you will not likely affect your levels much more. Many studies indicate that consuming three or more grams of plant sterols will not lower your levels any further than two grams would.
How Can I Incorporate Plant Sterols Into My Diet?
As phytosterols occur naturally in plants, you can incorporate plant sterols into your diet if you eat more plant-based foods. Foods rich in plant sterols include vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and cereals, fruits, and vegetables.
However, these foods contain plant sterols in such small amounts that if you just focused your plant sterol intake goals on consuming these foods, you would probably only ingest a daily intake of around 500mg.
As such, you should seek to increase your dietary phytosterol intake from other sources, such as plant sterol-fortified foods and over-the-counter supplements.
Fortified Food Products
Because the average plant sterol intake is so small, many manufacturers fortify food products with plant sterols. Fortification usually occurs in fat-based spreads, such as margarine, and dairy items, such as cheese and milk. Manufacturers can also fortify orange juice and bread with plant sterols.
Each fortified product you choose to incorporate into your diet will help you reach your plant sterol intake goal at different speeds. For example, if you add two to four tablespoons of fortified margarine into your diet, you will achieve your two-gram daily goal. You can also achieve this goal by drinking two eight-ounce glasses of fortified orange juice daily.
Make sure that you reach your goal with various food options–don’t just pack on margarine every day as this is not healthy long-term and may have other risk factors! You should make sure your diet is well-rounded and diverse.
Another way to incorporate more plant sterols into your diet is to take plant sterol supplements. Zizi has you covered here with phytosterol supplements. As part of our Heart Health Reset Program, these supplements help limit your body’s absorption of cholesterol and support your overall heart health.
Are There Risks or Other Factors To Consider?
There are no present side effects of plant sterol intake, whether from fortified foods or over-the-counter supplements. Your body’s tissues do not retain phytosterols long-term, so they do not prevent your body from absorbing essential vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E, or K. Plant sterols do not lower your HDL cholesterol levels either.
However, you should always consider that even though plant sterols help lower your LDL cholesterol levels, they do not do so alone. Several factors influence your lipid profile, including diet and exercise levels.
Thus, you should incorporate plant sterols into your regular heart-healthy diet plans and exercise routine to achieve the best results. In other words, don’t just take plant sterol supplements and think you can go back to eating a diet heavy in trans fats or saturated fats and that you don’t have to stay active anymore.
You should also remember that just because plant sterols can help lower your total cholesterol levels does not mean that plant sterols automatically reduce your risk for vascular issues or heart disease. Many different, simultaneous factors influence your risk for coronary heart disease, so even if you lower your LDL levels, you might not lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Try Plant Sterols With Zizi
Plant sterols, or phytosterols, are compounds naturally present in plants that aid cell membrane structure and support. Because plant sterols are so structurally similar to cholesterol, your body absorbs them the same way it would absorb cholesterol.
This makes plant sterols good natural cholesterol-lowering agents because they compete with and block your body’s synthesis of cholesterol.
For plant sterols to effectively target your high cholesterol levels, you should consume 2 grams daily; you can increase your plant sterol intake through foods fortified with phytosterols or over-the-counter supplements.
Zizi makes heart health easy — our mission is to help you lower your cholesterol levels from the comfort of your own home. That’s why our Heart Health Reset Program includes a 30-day supply of dietary supplements that we mail to your front door, shipped carbon neutral.
Our supplements are vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free. They are also all-natural, with no artificial flavors, additives, fillers, or preservatives. In addition to our plant sterol supplements, we send you a psyllium supply as well; this soluble fiber from psyllium husk helps lower cholesterol levels and intestinal health.
Learn more about lowering your cholesterol in 30 days with Zizi’s Heart Health Reset program here, or your money back.
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