August 18, 2021

Lower your LDL cholesterol with plant sterols and stanols

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A registered dietitian can help you create a nutrition plan to lower your cholesterol naturally. Here’s how.

High levels of LDL cholesterol, often referred to as “bad cholesterol,” can increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. A healthy lifestyle and a heart-smart diet can help raise HDL (good cholesterol) and lower LDL. But, if you practice these behaviors and your LDL is still high, there are other steps you can take.

One solution is to take a statin, a prescribed medication that reduces the amount of LDL cholesterol your body produces, helping your body absorb the cholesterol that is building up in your arteries.

Another option is to consume plant sterols and stanols, which are naturally occurring substances that are present in small amounts in many fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. When they travel through our digestive tracts, they block the absorption of cholesterol, preventing it from entering our bloodstream. Instead of clogging up arteries, the cholesterol becomes an eliminated waste product.

Unfortunately, naturally occurring plant sterols and stanols found in foods are at very low levels making it very difficult to consume the recommended amount to actually lower LDL with these foods alone. However, there are options available in supplement form you can take to reach the correct dose that will have an impact on cholesterol levels. 

“Eating naturally occurring sterol- and stanol-containing foods is helpful in lowering LDL cholesterol, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Adding plant stanol supplements is another way to promote LDL reduction.”

Registered dietitian Cindy Osborn, who works at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Lipid and Preventive Cardiology Clinic, confirms that “eating naturally occurring sterol- and stanol-containing foods is helpful in lowering LDL cholesterol, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease. And, adding plant stanol supplements that are available in tablet form, chocolate chews and a specific fortified margarine is another way to promote LDL reduction for patients.” 

Advice from the National Lipid Association is to consume at least 2-3 grams (2000-3000 mg) of plant sterols/stanols each day to help lower LDL by 7.5 to 12%. Consuming naturally occurring plant stanols from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans daily along with taking a supplement will ensure you are obtaining the recommended amount to decrease bad cholesterol levels. Be sure to read the label on the supplement you plan to use for the correct dose of plant stanols.  

The National Lipid Association also provides a few additional things to think about when consuming plant stanols and sterols:

  • Eating plant sterols and stanols may lower the absorption of some vitamins. Be sure to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, like spinach, kale, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
  • There is no cholesterol-lowering benefit in consuming more than 3 grams of plant sterols and stanols each day, so stick with the National Lipid Association’s recommended 2-3 grams.

A registered dietitian can help you make a heart-healthy diet plan that works best for your lifestyle. Learn more about what a registered dietitian can do for you, or consider an appointment with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Nutrition Clinic, whose registered dietitians are available for counseling sessions.