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Stanols and sterols are substances found in plants and foods that come from plants. They can help lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Most people eat about 300 mg of plant sterols and 60 mg plant stanols a day. A diet rich in plant foods (like a vegetarian diet) can have as much as 600 mg plant sterols per day.
You may be able to lower your bad cholesterol by 6-15% if you eat 2 grams (2000 mg) of plant sterols or stanols a day. A plant-rich diet is not enough to reach the 2 gram per day goal; therefore, you need foods with added stanols or sterols (fortified) or supplements.
Rather than prescribe or increase the dose of a medicine to lower cholesterol, your doctor may suggest daily use of stanols or sterols. For the best results, spread them out throughout the day. There is no extra benefit of eating more than 2 grams per day.
How do they work?
Stanols and sterols help to reduce the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed in the intestine. This can lead to lower LDL cholesterol in the blood. They do not affect triglyceride or HDL cholesterol. In most people, only small amounts of plant stanols or sterols are absorbed into the body.
Many foods are rich sources of plant sterols and stanols, such as:
Whole grains (rice bran, wheat germ, oat bran, bran, whole wheat, brown rice).
Some legumes (dried peas, beans, lentils, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds).
Fruits and vegetables (oranges, apples, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts vegetable oils, wheat germ oils, and berries).
We must eat large amounts of these foods to meet the 2 grams per day goal. Therefore, we suggest fortified foods.
Some margarine, juice, and other foods are fortified with plant stanols or sterols. The content can vary, so you should check labels or websites. Look to see how much of the food you would need to eat to reach 2 grams (2000 mg) per day.
Because these foods also have calories, sugars, and fats, you should reduce the amounts of other foods you eat so you don’t gain weight. The chart on the third page gives details for some foods.
Capsules or Chews
Plant stanols or sterols also come in supplements. The content can vary, so you should check labels or websites. Look to see how much of the food you would need to eat to reach 2 grams (2000 mg) per day.
The long-term safety of these supplements is not known. There is a rare genetic condition that causes large amounts of sterols to be absorbed which can increase the risk of heart disease. Some doctors prefer stanols over sterols because they are not absorbed. Stanols and sterols can also reduce how much carotene (similar to Vitamin A) you absorb, so make sure that your diet is rich in fruits and vegetables.
While there have been many studies that show plant stanols and sterols reduce blood cholesterol. It is not known if they reduce the risk of heart and blood vessel disease.
These foods can be expensive. They can cost from $.50 to $1 per day.
*Click "Download & Print" above to view a list of food items that contain plant stanols and sterols.
Who to Call
If you are a UW Health patient and have more questions, please call UW Health at one of the phone numbers below. You can also visit our website at www.uwhealth.org/nutrition
Nutrition clinics for UW Hospital and Clinics (UWHC) and American Family Children’s
Hospital (AFCH) can be reached at (608) 890-5500.
If you are a patient receiving care at UnityPoint – Meriter, Swedish American or a health system outside of UW Health, please use the phone numbers provided in your discharge instructions for any questions or concerns.