What are plant sterols?
Plant sterols (phytosterols, phytostanols and their fatty acid esters) are cholesterol-like substances that occur naturally at low levels in fruits, vegetables, nuts and cereals.
Most Australians consume between 150 and 360 milligrams of plant sterols naturally every day, depending on their diet.
When eaten in higher amounts, between 2-3 grams per day, plant sterols can naturally reduce LDL cholesterol. High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease, a third of all Australians have high cholesterol.
How they work
When eaten at the recommended amount, between 2 and 3 grams a day, plant sterols can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) levels in our blood. They do this by being cholesterol-like substances and are absorbed instead of LDL cholesterol. However, eating more than three grams per day does not reduce your LDL cholesterol any further.
Eating plant sterols
The consumption of plant sterols is not a substitution for medication. If you are already on cholesterol-lowering medication, continue taking it as recommended by your doctor. You can use plant sterol-enriched foods at the same time as your cholesterol medication, but check with your doctor first. Children and pregnant and lactating women do not need to reduce their cholesterol and would not benefit from doing so and therefore it is not suggested they consume plant sterols.
So how do I eat more plant sterols?
Some food products in Australia are fortified with plant sterols so they have higher levels. Margarine, milk, yoghurt and breakfast cereals, all have approval to be fortified with plant sterols.
What we recommend
Adult Australians, with high absolute risk, can include plant sterols to assist with lowering LDL cholesterol levels. The Heart Foundation recommends:
- Follow a healthy eating pattern based on the Heart Foundation's 5 Healthy Eating Principles which includes vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, fish, nuts and seeds.
- Include 2–3 g of phytosterols per day from fortified food products (currently margarine, milk, yoghurt and breakfast cereals) as part of a healthy eating pattern. Eating more than 3 grams per day does not reduce your LDL cholesterol any further.