Plant Sterols - A Cholesterol Lowering Agent

By Cardiac Fitness Institute - London Health Science Centre - Ontario)
By Kristi-Jayne Hurst, Dietetic Intern

Plant sterols are found naturally in the diet in small amounts, such as vegetable oils, legumes (e.g. kidney beans, chick peas, lentils), fruit and vegetables and breads or cereals. The most predominate plant sterols are sitosterol, campesterol and stigmaesterol. It has been proven that plant sterols can lower blood cholesterol.

Cholesterol absorption is reduced in the gut by plant sterols, therefore lowering serum concentrations of cholesterol. Cholesterol that is unabsorbed will be crystallized and excreted in the feces. This results in a decreased LDL (bad cholesterol) level and the HDL (good cholesterol) remains unaffected.

A study conducted by Hendricks et al. (1999) concluded that if 1.6 g of plant sterols per day are consumed, LDL cholesterol can be reduced by 10% within 3 weeks. With this reduction in LDL cholesterol, the risk of heart disease could be reduced by 25%, which is a more significant effect than by simply reducing saturated fat in a diet.
Becel has developed a margarine containing plant sterols called "Becel pro-active", which has all of the same heart health benefits as other Becel margarine (low in saturated fat and non-hydrogenated). Saturated fat tends to increase blood cholesterol levels.

A serving (2 teaspoons) of Becel pro-active contains 0.8 g of plant sterols, therefore 2 servings (4 teaspoons) would equal 1.6 g of plant sterols per day. Becel pro-active is recommended for adults with elevated cholesterol, who are looking for a dietary way to help manage their cholesterol (Becel, 2001). There is an advisory for this product which states that Becel pro-active margarine may not be nutritionally appropriate for people with special dietary needs (pregnant and breastfeeding women, children under the age of 5). Also, anyone who is currently taking medication for their cholesterol, should consult a physician before consuming Becel pro-active.

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