Phytosterols, a plant-derived ingredient, have recently been introduced to a limited number of foods. They are intended for adults who want to lower their cholesterol and improve their heart health. However before introducing a new product to any diet, there are a few things that should be considered: effectiveness, safety, and the bottom line.
Phytosterols reduce cholesterol by limiting its absorption in your gut. Clinical trials have concluded that foods enriched with phytosterols (~2g/day) can lower LDL-cholesterol by about nine per cent.
Although established to be safe for up to one year, phytosterols may inhibit the absorption of carotenoids (an antioxidant) and some fat soluble vitamins. Consuming five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, with at least 1 serving of carotenoid-rich vegetables help maintain carotenoid levels. The safety of foods enriched with phytosterols has not been tested on children, pregnant or breast-feeding women.
Following a heart-healthy diet that is low in cholesterol, saturated and trans fats, and is high in soluble fibre, can provide a similar reduction to LDL-cholesterol yet comes with additional health benefits. Including phytosterol-enriched foods to your diet may provide additional benefits, just make sure you talk to your doctor or registered dietitian first, or consider increasing phytosterol intake through plant foods (see table below – click to enlarge).