Do spreads enriched with plant sterols really help reduce cholesterol?

by Jennifer Bowden / 23 May, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Plant sterol spreads cholesterol

Photo/Getty Images

QUESTIONThe makers of cholesterol-lowering spreads such as Flora ProActiv say there is scientific evidence for their products’ properties. Does continuing to use the product keep lowering and lowering cholesterol levels or does it maintain cholesterol at that lowered level?

ANSWERFoods and dietary supplements enriched with plant sterols are not new: they’ve been around since Elvis Presley was shimmying across the stage in the 1950s. Since then, the cholesterol-lowering powers of plant sterols have been well researched – hence the manufacturers’ claims.

We now know that consuming 1.5-2.4g of plant sterols each day can reduce blood levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol by up to 10%. Elevated total and LDL cholesterol levels are considered major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

In the gut, plant sterols compete with cholesterol for absorption, so when regularly consumed, they gradually lower circulating cholesterol levels over several weeks.

The richest natural source of plant sterols are vegetable oils, followed by nuts and seeds, then grain products, fruits and vegetables; however, the quantities found are relatively small. For example, a recent Chinese study found vegetable oils had the highest phytosterol content (150-1230mg per 100g). So, to benefit from a daily dose of 2g of sterols, you’d need to consume at least half a cup and as much as four cups of plant oil each day.

But it is relatively simple to consume 2g of sterols in plant-oil-based spreads that are enriched with the odourless, tasteless compounds. In the case of ProActiv, 25g (1 tablespoon) contains 2g of sterols.

Studies have found that you will get no further cholesterol-lowering benefit from consuming more than 2-3g of sterols a day, nor will ongoing use further lower cholesterol levels below the initial 10% reduction.

However, good diet and lifestyle may reduce LDL cholesterol levels by a further 5% – a total of 15% from the original starting point.

A daily 30g serving of nuts is a great place to start in boosting your heart health. Nuts are a rich source of protein, fibre, heart-healthy fats, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, plant sterols and many other important nutrients. A large study in Spain of otherwise healthy adults at high risk of cardiovascular disease, Predimed, found that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with either extra-virgin olive oil or mixed nuts reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 30% compared with a low-fat diet.

Eating healthier fats, such as oily fish, avocado, seeds and vegetable oils and spreads, rather than animal fats, boosts heart health, as does eating less trans fat, which is found in some bakery and pastry products, along with potato chips, breakfast bars and takeaway foods.

A diet rich in wholefoods – fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats, chicken, seafood and wholegrains – and with fewer ultra-processed foods will reduce the intake of trans fats. What’s more, fruit and vegetables are also useful sources of plant sterols, cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre, vitamins and many other nutrients.

Oats and barley are also effective in improving heart health, because both are rich in a soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which binds cholesterol in the gut and prevents it from being absorbed. Studies have found that eating about 3g of beta-glucan a day may reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels by about 5% and 7% respectively. Depending on the type of oats (whole, rolled or oatmeal), ½-23 of a cup would provide the recommended 3g of beta-glucan fibre.

So, enjoy the health benefits of a spread enriched with plant sterols, along with the bounty of health-promoting nutrients and fibre found in a wholefood-rich diet.

This article was first published in the April 14, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Give Kate A Voice: Bringing Kate Sheppard's speeches to life
96352 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z History

Give Kate A Voice: Bringing Kate Sheppard's speech…

by Noted

Famous Kiwi women read the powerful words of Kate Sheppard, who fought for the right for women to vote.

Read more
Ladies in Black – movie review
96686 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Ladies in Black – movie review

by Russell Baillie

This nicely nostalgic female coming-of-age tale set in a Sydney department store almost sings.

Read more
A Southern man goes for gold in Garston growing hops
95518 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z Small business

A Southern man goes for gold in Garston growing ho…

by Mike White

Nelson and Motueka are well known for their hops but Garston hops are starting to be noticed by brewers.

Read more
How to lower your exposure to potentially toxic household products
96525 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z Health

How to lower your exposure to potentially toxic ho…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Alexx Stuart advocates changing one thing a week. With personal-care items, she says the place to start is body lotion.

Read more
The unrest in Chemnitz is a sign that Germany has a populist problem too
96655 2018-09-23 00:00:00Z World

The unrest in Chemnitz is a sign that Germany has …

by Cathrin Schaer

The populist contagion sweeping Europe spreads to Germany, Cathrin Schaer writes from Berlin.

Read more
The alarming new evidence about chemicals and plastics we use at home
96233 2018-09-23 00:00:00Z Science

The alarming new evidence about chemicals and plas…

by Nicky Pellegrino

From sperm counts to obesity, scientists are only beginning to understand the long-term health effects of many chemicals in everyday use.

Read more
Why preservative-free cosmetics are a tough commercial product
96522 2018-09-23 00:00:00Z Health

Why preservative-free cosmetics are a tough commer…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Preservative-free cosmetics that survive in your bathroom cupboard are a challenge, says Evolu founder Kati Kasza.

Read more
The arguments for and against allowing medicinal use of cannabis
96641 2018-09-23 00:00:00Z Psychology

The arguments for and against allowing medicinal u…

by Marc Wilson

There’s an increasing amount of evidence on cannabis effects, but it's far from straightforward.

Read more