How Plant Sterols Help Cholesterol

Curious about plant sterols and plant stanols––and how they help cholesterol? Let’s dive into how they can benefit heart health and more.

a small bowl with olive oil being poured inside

What are plant sterols and stanols?

You may have heard about plant sterols and stanols. These are both a type of nutrient called phytosterols, which are naturally found in small amounts in certain foods.

These phytosterols may benefit both your cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease.

You can find plant sterols and stanols in many plant-based foods:

  • vegetable oils (like canola, sunflower, and olive oil)
  • cereal grains (such as corn and rye)
  • nuts (like peanuts and almonds)
  • avocado
  • fruits (such as apples and bananas)
  • vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots)
  • fortifieed foods, such as Benecol

Many people think that you can only get plant sterols and stanols from foods like vegetable oils. But a study in Atherosclerosis found that they’re present in foods such as certain fruits and vegetables.

a bowl of corn

How do plant sterols help cholesterol?

Plant sterols and plant stanols possess a super power: They hold a similar molecular shape to cholesterol.

This allows them the ability to compete with cholesterol for absorption in the intestine. This is how they may help lower levels of cholesterol in the blood.

And when you lower cholesterol levels, your risk of heart disease also decreases.

Although both plant sterols and stanols and are beneficial for helping cholesterol levels, plant sterols may hold the upper hand.

Plant sterols believed to be most effective phytosterol in helping to decrease both total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, per a review study by Canadian researchers.

A close up of crackers topped with a spread

How many plant sterols do you need?

Just how many phytosterols do you need for the biggest cholesterol benefit? 

Research shows this amount to be 2 grams daily.

Most people following a Western diet only naturally take in about 0.3 grams of plant sterols and up to 0.004 grams of plant stanols daily, per research.

Can you take plant stanols with statins?

Yes, you can! If you’re already taking a statin to help control your cholesterol, adding a plant-stanol-containing food to your daily diet could help to further lower both your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.

This is per research in The American Journal of Cardiology.

A close up of a cutting board topped with asparagus

Do plant sterol spreads work?

So what’s the story with cholesterol-lowering butter spreads, particularly plant-sterol spreads?

One such spread is Benecol, the only buttery spread to offer plant stanols.

Two Tablespoons of the spread contains the recommended 2 grams daily amount that is beneficial to cholesterol levels. It contains an effective amount of plant stanols and no trans fats.

The heart healthy spread may even help to reduce the risk of heart attack by lowering chances of high cholesterol. It also doesn’t alter your HDL cholesterol levels.

Asparagus topped with butter

Bottom line

When it comes to benefiting cholesterol levels, consuming plant sterols and plant stanols is a surefire way to help.

You can find these phytosterols in many common foods––such as olive oil, bananas, and broccoli––and you can take them in alongside statins.

This content was updated in August 2022. It was originally part of a partnership with Benecol®.


Curious about plant sterols and plant stanols––and how they help cholesterol? Let's dive into how they can benefit heart health and more.

 I’d love to hear from you! What are your thoughts on the plant-sterols-cholesterol connection?

Plant-Based Eating |

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