Heart Healthy Additives

Consuming more plant-derived sterols and stanols lowers cholesterol, and a new study finds it helps to consume such items throughout the day.


| October 1, 2010



Margarine-based products marketed to lower cholesterol.

Margarine-based products marketed to lower cholesterol.

courtesy Agricultural Research Service/Keith Weller

Plant-derived sterols and stanols are known to be heart healthy compounds. When consumed in amounts greater than those found naturally in foods, these compounds lower blood cholesterol concentrations in humans. To help consumers gain this benefit, food companies add sterols and stanols to foods.

Now, authors of a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-supported study have found that blood plasma low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol) is lowered most when plant sterols are consumed in smaller amounts more often throughout the day, rather than in one large amount each day.

Numerous clinical trials have shown that consuming foods enriched with at least 0.8 grams and up to 3 grams of plant sterols or stanols daily lowers LDL cholesterol. Margarine spreads or orange juice enriched with the compounds, for example, often are consumed once daily as part of breakfast.

Researcher Alice Lichtenstein and her colleagues studied the effect on blood cholesterol levels of giving volunteers plant sterols once in the morning, compared with giving sterols three times a day. Lichtenstein is director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Mass. The research was partially funded by the Agricultural Research Service, USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency. 

Lichtenstein analyzed lipid (blood fat) profiles of 19 study volunteers from blood samples taken after each of three 6-day study phases-a relatively short intervention period.

For the control phase, the volunteers were given a precisely controlled weight-maintaining diet, with no plant sterols. For the second phase, the volunteers were given the same diet, but with a standardized amount of 1.8 grams of plant sterols in margarine with breakfast. For the third phase, the volunteers were given the same diet, but also 1.8 grams of plant sterols divided equally and given during each of the three meals per day.

rosalie learmont
10/5/2010 8:39:56 AM

Feedback addressing "DAWN'S" COMMENT is really needed in this case, because so many of us have always stayed away from margarine and oils super-heated, and "hydrogenated oils. Now I am really confused. I will continue to stay away from margarines for now. But I would like more info on whether these "heart-healthy margarines are beneficial. Dawn is right about the article being disappointing. It reads more like an advertisement for those products, with very limited information on these "sterols and stanols". What plants have them? Is it possible to obtain the amounts of the sterols and stanols used in the studies by eating a whole foods "way of life" diet rich in plant foods? Grit would have seemed more unbiased if it had presented info of its own research of where sterols come from and how we can include them in our diets without having to buy and consume a non whole foods processed product.


dawn
10/1/2010 2:25:54 PM

I am disappointed to find such a misleading article featured on GRIT. Studies have proven that "plant-based" hydrogenated highly processed rancid oils like the margarine shown in the photo CAUSE heart disease, not LOWER your risk. Margarine most closely resembles plastic on a molecular level and should NOT be consumed by ANYONE, much less individuals seeking to improve their health. While the studies may show that eating more plant sterols and stanols can improve ones cholesterol, it is imperative that those "sterols and stanols" be part of the actual vegetables one would eat, not some separated out processed food-like substance. I had more faith in GRIT, as a sister magazine to Mother Earth News, to present a view of health and nutrition more in keeping with a whole foods, traditional approach, not the nutritionism that is promoted by such compromised entities as the USDA and the FDA who clearly have their own agendas and cannot be trusted to give an unbiased view of health and wellness. For better info that is more in keeping with what is a healthy human diet for heart health, check out http://www.westonaprice.org/modern-diseases/cardiovascular-disease/585-what-causes-heart-disease.html






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