What Foods Are High in Plant Sterols?

Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
almonds

It may be possible to lower cholesterol naturally by eating foods high in plant sterols. According to FDA studies, as well as reports from Harvard Medical School, adding these foods to a healthy diet and exercise plan can be a step in significantly lowering your cholesterol.

Foods High in Sterols

According to most nutritional studies, the average American gets about 250 milligrams of sterols in his diet every day. Vegetarians get a bit more, averaging around 700 milligrams, and people who exist on fast food getting significantly less. The amount recommended by most researchers is two grams.

It is difficult to get significant amounts of sterols in your diet from foods you eat. It is, however, important to eat high sterol foods because these foods contain important vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber. In fact, by eating foods that naturally contain sterols, you will also naturally increase your intake of dietary fiber.

All vegetables contain anywhere from five to forty milligrams of plant sterols, with fruits containing slightly less. The amount of sterols can be increased by drying since vegetables contain a lot of water. Cooking, milling and refining processes all remove a lot of the sterols from the finished product. Grating or juicing retains sterols because the food is left in a raw state.

Manufacturers are beginning to overcome the difficulty of getting enough sterols in the diet by adding them to a variety of foods. Many different kinds of foods have been fortified in this way, from orange juice to margarine.

Cereals

All whole grains are rich in plant sterols. Some that have the highest amounts are:

  • Rice bran
  • Wheat germ
  • Oat bran
  • Bran
  • Whole wheat
  • Brown rice

Legumes

Legumes are a great source of sterols:

  • Dried peas
  • Dried beans
  • Lentils

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are a good source of plant sterols as well. Peanuts are one of the best sources of natural sterols.

  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables have trace amounts of plant sterols. The amounts are so small that you would need to eat just under 50 pounds of produce to get the recommended .8 grams of plant sterols per day. Fruits and vegetables that are a good source of sterols are:

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Dill
  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Tomato
  • Vegetable oils
  • Wheat germ oil
  • Blueberries

Fortified Foods

Since it can be difficult for people to get the recommended amount of sterols from the foods they eat, many manufacturers have begun to fortify common foods with plant sterols. Studies have shown that consumers who ate two servings per day of these foods had a 10 to 15 percent drop in LDL cholesterol. It is important to note that the American Heart Association recommends fortified foods with caution. These foods are for people with raised cholesterol levels and should not be eaten by people with normal cholesterol levels. Check with your health care provider about these recommendations. Almost anything can be fortified:

  • Orange juice
  • Margarine
  • Cookies
  • Energy bars
  • Yogurt drinks

You can also get sterols in supplement form.

Exactly What Foods are High in Plant Sterols?

Sources of Sterols
Food Serving Size Amount
Almonds 1 oz. 30 mgs.
Apple one 25 mgs.
Benecol 1 tbs. 450 mgs.
Corn oil 1 tbs. 135 mgs.
Garbanzo beans 1 oz. 10 mgs.
Minute Maid Heartwise O.J. 8 oz. 1000 mgs.
Promise Activ Super Shots 1 tbs. 2000 mgs.
Sesame seeds 1 tbs. 100 mgs.

Use Supplements with Caution

It isn't enough to know what foods are high in plant sterols. You need to plan a menu and take some supplements. A lasting positive change in health comes from lifestyle changes rather than finding the magic pill. Getting plenty of exercise, eating healthy, fresh foods, and getting plenty of rest are all important factors in your good health. While plant sterols can be part of that healthy lifestyle, they cannot create health on their own.

In fact, too many sterols from supplements and fortified foods can cause nausea or constipation. Researchers found that since plant sterols lower cartenoid levels in the blood, people who take too much may actually increase their risk of coronary heart disease.

Choose a Variety of Foods

The best way to ensure that you get enough sterols in your diet to guard against high cholesterol, and the medical problems associated with it, is to make sure that you eat a variety of foods every day. Including more fresh produce in your diet is an easy way to get more of the nutrients your body needs for health. If you feel you need to add sterol supplements be sure to discuss your choices with your health care practitioner before adding any supplement to your diet.

What Foods Are High in Plant Sterols?