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What are plant sterols? 

Plant sterols (also known as phytosterols) are substances that can help lower your cholesterol. They are found naturally in small amounts in a variety of plant foods. Manufacturers have also added plant sterols to foods and supplements. An intake of 2 grams of plant sterols per day is necessary to reduce blood cholesterol by 10% or more. 

What foods are high in plant sterols? 

Plant sterols are found in a variety of plant foods. Plant oils, legumes, nuts, and seeds have the highest concentration of plant sterols, whereas fruits and vegetables have lower concentrations. In the United States, the most common sources of plant sterols come from plant oils. 

Plant oils with the highest concentration of plant sterols include: 

  • Rice bran oil, 
  • Corn oil, 
  • Grapeseed oil, 
  • Sesame oil, 
  • Flaxseed oil, 
  • Peony seed oil, 
  • Soybean oil, and 
  • Peanut oil. 

How do I get 2 grams of plant sterols a day? 

Asian and vegetarian style diets provide significantly more plant sterols than the standard American diet. Eating a diet rich in plant-based foods particularly plant oils, legumes, nuts, and seeds will get you closer to the 2 gram plant sterol recommendation to lower cholesterol. However, even if you consume a diet rich in plant-based foods, it is unlikely you will consume 2 grams of plant sterols. The average intake of plant sterols from natural food sources on a vegetarian diet is about 600 mg. To get to the amount that will have a cholesterol lowering effect (2 grams) you may need to take a plant sterols supplement or consume foods fortified with plant sterols such as margarine. 

Are plant sterols dangerous? 

In the recommended amount of 2 grams per day, plant sterols can help lower cholesterol and have antiinflammatory properties. However, due to the way plant sterols interfere with cholesterol absorption, they can also interfere with absorption of other nutrients. Plant sterols can interfere with absorption of carotenoids (the plant form of vitamin A) and fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. To counteract this, it is important to not consume more than the 2 grams of plant sterols per day and to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to get enough of these nutrients. 

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Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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