The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recommends that 2-3 grams of plant sterols and stanols (phytosterols) should be consumed daily to lower LDL, which is the ‘bad’ cholesterol (NCEP). The problem is that the program does not really give any recommendations in regards to how you are supposed to get that much phytosterols in your diet. When you look through the foods that have the highest amount of phytosterols it becomes clear that it is nearly impossible to get 2-3 grams per day on a normal diet.
As an example, lets look at some of the foods that contain the most sterols and stanols in a single serving:
Vegetable oil (1 tablespoon) – 161 mg
Whole cucumber with skin (301 grams) – 42 mg
Asparagus (1 cup) – 32 mg
Two medium tomatoes – 22 mg
Cauliflower (1 cup) – 18 mg
As a reminder, it takes 2000 mg to equal 2 grams. That means that it would take over 12 tablespoons of vegetable oil every day to reach your daily recommended dose of phytosterols. That doesn’t sound like fun, plus this is nearly 1500 calories so now you have to worry about weight gain.
How many tomatoes do I have to eat?!?
If you wanted to go the healthy route and only eat vegetables to get your phytosterols it would take 48 cucumbers, 62 cups of asparagus, 180 medium tomatoes, or 111 cups of cauliflower to reach your daily dosage. It is starting to look like it can be quite difficult to get your daily amount of stanols and sterols.
So, what are we to do? Luckily, scientists have been able to extract phytosterols and have been producing it as a no-calorie, no-flavor additive. Margarine manufacturers are some of the first to make use of this additive and there have been spreads that have high amounts of phytosterols. For instance, one of the first cholesterol lowering margarine spreads was Benecol. With four servings this spread contains 3.4 grams of plant stanol esters, which comes out to 2.0 grams of plant stanols (Benecol). That is the exact amount that the NCEP recommends in order to lower LDL cholesterol.
Don’t trade cholesterol lowering spreads for weight gain
One serving of a spread like Benecol is 1 tablespoon and contains 70 calories. We are aware that being overweight is a big risk factor for heart disease and high cholesterol so preventing weight gain should also be a concern. Four servings, which would help you achieve 2 grams of phytosterols, would make you consume 280 calories. This a more than enough calories to make an impact on your body weight.
The good news is that most cholesterol reducing spread companies now offer ‘light’ versions. These typically have around 50 calories per tablespoon while containing the same amount of phytosterols as the regular versions of the spreads. Therefore, four servings would be 200 calories. This is still a lot of extra calories. If you are not replacing these spreads with something else in your current diet, such as butter, you should look over your diet and see what you can cut out to make room for an extra 200-280 calories.
Are there other options to add phytosterols to my diet besides margarine spreads?
There is great news now for those that are looking to get at least 2-3 grams of sterols in their diet without having to eat spoonfuls of margarine spreads. Plant sterols have been added to many products now so you are able to get your 2-3 grams and still have a diverse diet. Here are just some of the new products that contain phytosterols:
The amount of plant sterols in one serving of each product is listed below.
Minute Made Heart Wise Orange Juice – 1.0 gram
Corazonas tortilla chips and potato chips – 0.4 grams
Corazonas oatmeal squares – 0.8 grams
Rice Dream beverage – 0.65 grams
Lifetime Low Fat Cheese – 0.65 grams per slice
Some vitamins also contain significant amounts of phytosterols:
VitaFusion HeartOne Gummy Vitamins – 400 mg (0.4 g) of plant sterols per serving
Centrum Cardio – 800 mg (0.8g) of plant sterols per serving
As you can see, it is now easier than ever to get at least 2-3 grams of plant sterols every day and you can choose from a variety of food products to reach this goal.
Don’t just trust that some product has phytosterols if the packaging just says “heart healthy” or something similar. Read the label in the back and look at the ingredients. If there are phytosterols in the food one of the ingredients must be either ‘plant sterols’ or ‘plant sterol esters’. Of course, it would be nice if the product also mentions how much is in each serving.