Plants contain compounds that are chemically similar to cholesterol, called plant sterols, which are part of plant cell membranes. The most abundant plant sterol or phytosterol is beta-sitosterol. Plant sterols may look like cholesterol; however, they do not have any destructive effects on health. In fact, plant sterols have been found to help improve the health of the heart, as well as benefit the prostate and the immune system.
Plant sterols have cholesterol-lowering properties. They appear to inhibit the absorption of dietary cholesterol. Beta-sitosterol inhibits intestinal absorption of cholesterol by competing for the limited space in mixed micelles, which are small fat clusters formed by bile in our gut to ease absorption. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, beta-sitosterol can decrease cholesterol absorption in the gut by about 50% and even lower total cholesterol levels by anywhere from 10 to 15%.
In order to benefit from plant sterols, you need to consume at least 2 grams of plant sterols per day. The best sources of plant sterols are rice bran, brown rice, wheat germ, sesame oil, pistachio nuts, olive oil, cocoa butter oil, almond butter, sesame seeds, macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Other foods with plant sterols include broccoli, cauliflower, red onion, spinach, Brussel sprouts, dill, apples, avocados and blueberries. Consuming a combination of some of these foods in your daily diet should get you to the 2-gram recommended number.
If your diet is not high in the foods listed above, consider a supplement. Pathway Cholesterol Support is a comprehensive formula that contains plant sterols for heart healthy benefits. Before taking any supplement, consult with your primary healthcare practitioner.