Reducing levels of blood cholesterol (not dietary cholesterol, they’re kinda different!) is one of the most solid evidence-based health recommendations for lowering heart disease risk. Certain foods can help with that, and a group of compounds known as ‘phytosterols’, which comprise both plant stanols and plant sterols, have strong evidence of reducing blood cholesterol levels (there is no clinical, statistically relevant difference between stanols and sterols regarding their cholesterol-lowering effects, so we’ll refer to them as ‘phytosterols’). Products like Flora ProActiv are butter substitutes that contain high levels of these phytosterols, and can help to reduce blood cholesterol.
So, how do phytosterols work? These compounds, which are found in all plant foods, are actually quite similar to cholesterol in their structure. Because of their similarity, and the fact that they are poorly absorbed, they inhibit cholesterol uptake in the liver, and also assist in cholesterol elimination (our bodies recycle cholesterol). When they’re absorbed by the intestines, phytosterols signal for the excretion of excess cholesterol, which is taken to the liver to be cleared from circulation. In these ways, they help to reduce the actual circulating levels of cholesterol in the blood.
Phytosterols can lead to a 12% reduction in LDL cholesterol from 3g per day, which would be around 30g of a food product like ProActiv. Significant cholesterol lowering effects can be obtained from 2-3g per day of phytosterols, with no adverse effects noted at this dose in long-term human studies. So, these commercially available food products are a safe, effective, and proven way to help to maintain low levels of blood cholesterol. And the best thing? They still taste like butter! Maybe swap the spread on your morning toast if you’re looking for a way to keep your blood cholesterol levels in check.
As always, stay fit and stay healthy!
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