Kardea Nutrition recently sent me a sample of some of their granola bars targeting cholesterol health. I liked the chai spice best because they reminded me of a cup of chai tea! The bars contain 1g of plant sterols. So, what the heck does it mean if something has plant sterols and are these bars healthy?
Plant sterols aka phytosterols (which include both plant sterols and stanol esters) are part of the oil of a plant. An interesting fact is that plant sterols act like cholesterol for plants, meaning they help maintain the plant cell walls. When we eat plant sterols they act similarly to cholesterol, and fool the body to take the place of actual harmful cholesterol. Studies have shown that up to 2g of plant sterols per day can help to reduce cholesterol, especially LDL by 10-15% (but, of course, we still need to have larger studies performed to understand the real effects). The FDA has even approved this claim for food labels:
“Foods containing at least 0.4 gram per serving of plant sterols, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 0.8 gram, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease”.
On the other hand, there have been a few studies that have shown that plant sterols can exacerbate atherosclerosis. Yikes! That means that plant sterols may potentially increase the hardening of the arteries. So, now I am sure you are super confused… how can plant sterols reduce cholesterol and increase hardening of arteries? Well… many more studies have shown the benefits of cholesterol reduction, and if it was me, I would still eat plant sterols because they are a natural remedy, and probably only dangerous if you have a history of atherosclerosis.
Plant sterols are not a popular health food on the market yet, so you may not be familiar with where to find foods with plant sterols. Where to find plant sterols:
- Kardea Nutrition Bars, sold at Whole Foods, or check their website for more locations
- Benecol Buttery Spreads
- Corowise products which are found at grocery stores like Kroger, and many have the “active lifestyle” logo
- Oroweat Whole Grain Bread
- Promise Activ Butter Spreads
- Smart Balance Heart Right Spreads
- Silk Vanilla Heart Health Soymilk
Bottom Line: It is great to be able to add some of these products with phytosterols to your diet, but if you just eat a healthy balanced diet with healthy oils and lots of fruits and vegetables, you will likely get enough phytosterols from a healthy diet. Foods like corn oil and beans already contain fairly high amounts of phytosterols. It just shows that eating a healthy diet is always smart!