Phytosterols are compounds found in plants that resemble cholesterol (i.e. are structurally similar to cholesterol). When phytosterols are consumed, they compete with cholesterol absorption in digestive tract, blocking it and, as a result, lowering blood cholesterol levels. Some studies have found that getting just two grams of phytosterols a day may help you lower your LDL cholesterol by as much as 10%. Unfortunately though, most people aren’t getting nearly this much in their everyday diets. In fact, today, dietary intake of phytosterols ranges between 78 and 500 mg per day, even with food manufacturers enriching common foods we eat with these compounds.
Getting Phytosterols from Foods
The National Institute of Health reports that there are 200 different kids of phytosterols, and the highest concentrations of phytosterols are found naturally in vegetable oils, beans, and nuts. But what you might not know, is that many products also have added phytosterols. At the store for example, you might see orange juice or margarine advertising phytosterol content (Moll, 2017). Foods containing at least 0.65 grams (650 mg) per serving of plant sterol esters, eaten twice a day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels.
The following foods contain the highest amounts of phytosterols:
- Nuts: Nuts contain high amounts of phytosterols, ranging between 95 and 270 mg per 100 g serving of nuts. Studies have shown that a handful of most nuts can have a favorable impact on your lipid profile. If you’re going to load up on nuts, these nuts have the greatest amount of phytosterols: almonds, walnuts, pistachios. Avoid eating salted nuts, since these may have adverse effects on your health.
- Whole grains: Foods with whole grains, like barley, rye, and oatmeal, are high in many types of nutrients. Some whole grain products also contain high amounts of phytosterols, so aim for these: flaxseed, wheat germ, and rye bread. Flax seeds can be added as a nutritious oatmeal topping, as can wheat germ. As for the rye bread, try toasting it and adding a nut butter, as opposed to a sugary jam, to reap the greatest benefits.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables contain less phytosterols than nuts and whole grains, but they also contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other healthy ingredients that are great for cholesterol. These fruits and vegetables contain the greatest amount of phytosterols, so load up: broccoli, red onion, carrot, corn, Brussel sprouts, spinach, and strawberries.
Studies have shown that, on average, phytosterol supplements produce an average decrease in LDL cholesterol of 5 percent to 15 percent, with greater decreases shown with higher doses (2 grams per day). Notably, there is also individual variation in how much people respond to phytosterols. Genetics and other factors may play a role as well. For maximum benefit, it’s generally advised to take phytosterol supplements with meals and split your daily dose so you take the supplement two or three times each day. Kyolic Formula 107 contains aged garlic extract and phytosterols, which naturally support healthy cholesterol levels and overall cardiovascular health, and would be a great addition to help keep cholesterol in check.
Another lesser known benefit of phytosterols pertains to skin care. One of the main factors in the aging of the skin is the breakdown and loss of collagen – the main component in the connective skin tissue – and sun exposure is a big contributor to the problem. When the body ages, it is not able to make collagen as it once has. A German medical journal reported a study that showed that applying a topical treatment containing phytosterols and other natural fats stopped the slowdown of collagen production, and even encouraged new collagen production too (Joy, 2018).
So, whether you get them through, nuts, fruits, vegetables, supplements or even your face cream, loading up on phytosterols can pay off and help your health in the long run!