Plants Sterols and Stanols May Improve Cholesterol Levels

Did you know plants can improve your cholesterol?  Sterols and stanols, which are components of plant membranes, structurally resemble cholesterol.  In fact, their structures are so similar to cholesterol that our bodies can’t distinguish the difference.  However, plant sterols and stanols are either not absorbed or minimally absorbed in the body.  When they are present in sufficient quantities they compete with cholesterol in the digestive tract to form “mixed micelles”, which are particles needed to absorb cholesterol.  Therefore, sterols and stanols decrease the amount of cholesterol absorbed in the body and can help to improve cholesterol levels.

So how much do you need?  It is recommended that you consume 2-3 gm of plant sterols/ stanols per day in order to lower LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) by 10-15%.  HDL (the “good” cholesterol) levels are unchanged by these compounds.  It is often recommended to consume this level in two servings eaten at different times of the day (i.e. breakfast and dinner) to get maximum benefits.

Plant sterols/stanols are found naturally in many fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, cereals and legumes.  However, they are only present in small quantities.  Therefore, there have been many foods that have been fortified to help achieve the desired level.  See the chart below for a list of some popular products that contain plant sterols and stanols.

One disadvantage to these products is that the calories can add up and lead to weight gain if you don’t compensate by lowering calories in another area in the diet.  Any weight gain could take away from the cholesterol lowering benefits these products provide.  These products are also not meant to replace cholesterol lowering medications, but they are just one component of a healthy diet that may aid in improved cholesterol levels.

Product Serving Size Plant Sterols or Stanols Total Calories
Promise activTM Buttery Spread 1 Tbsp 1 gm 70 calories
Promis activeTM Light Spread 1 Tbsp 1 gm 45 calories
Benecol® Spread 1 Tbsp 0.85 gm 70 calories
Benecol® Light Spread 1 Tbsp 0.85 gm 50 calories
Smart Balance® Omega Plus 1 Tbsp 0.45 gm 80 calories
Promise ActivTM Supershots 1 Bottle (3 oz) 2 gm 70 calories
Benecol® Smart Chews* 1 Chew 0.85 gm 20 calories
Nature Valley Healthy HeartGranola Bars 1 Bar 0.4 gm 150-160 calories
Minute Maid Heart Wise 8 oz 1 gm 110 calories
Rice Dream Heartwise Rice Milk (Original and Vanilla) 8 oz 0.65 gm 120-130 calories

* Benecol ® Smart Chews are only available on-line at