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Thursday, September 29, 2011

What the heck are Stanols and Sterols?

If you are a "health junkie" like I have become, there are certain words and vocabulary that keep showing up. For me, I was noticing more and more mention of plant stanols and sterols. It turns out that they are really good for lowering our cholesterol. On a molecular level they act a lot like cholesterol  so when they are traveling around in our body they get in the way of "real cholesterol" and prevent it from being absorbed in our bloodstream and ultimately clogging our arteries. Instead the cholesterol goes out with all other waste. According to an article I read on WebMD ( webmd.com ), just three servings a day of foods containing stanols or sterols can reduce cholesterol by 20 points.

There are many foods, like butter and orange juice that are now fortified with stanols and sterols which makes it easy to fit into our daily diets. Other foods that are now fortified include cooking oils, salad dressings, milk, yogurt, snack bars, and juices. The main thing is to look on the labels to see which products include the stanols and sterols. An article on the Cleveland Clinic site actually lists products which have added stanols and sterols,  Orowheat Whole Grain & Wheat Bread, for instance (clevelandclinic.org). The key is to fit them into your daily menu and calorie plan so you aren't over-eating just to add in the benefits they provide. That would be counter productive. A condition I often have to resist!

A recent study from the University of California Davis Medical Center looked at the effects of sterol-fortified orange juice. Of 72 adults, half received regular orange juice and half the fortified OJ. After just two weeks, the people who drank the stanol-fortified juice had a 12.4% drop in their LDL cholesterol levels. The results were published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. This is a concrete example of why working stanols and sterols in our diets can be really beneficial.

For those of us who would rather find stanols and sterols in foods that contain them naturally...phytosterols are naturally present in small quantities in vegetable oil, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Evidently it is hard to consume enough stanols and sterols this way in order to have the level of effect needed to dramatically reduce cholesterol for those who have high cholesterol. Hence the development of stanols and sterols additives in other foods.