Can plant-power help lower cholesterol?

If you’re one of the 1 in 5 Kiwi adults with high cholesterol, then you will want to learn more about plant sterols.

These naturally occurring plant compounds help lower LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels by reducing cholesterol absorption in the gut.

In fact, the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation also endorses this finding and suggests New Zealanders needing to lower their cholesterol, include 2 grams per day.

What are plant sterols?

Plant sterols (or phytosterols) are compounds found naturally in plant foods such as grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and oils, but only in small quantities. They can also be added to fortified foods such as cereals, and spreads.

How do they work?

Plant sterols and cholesterol have a very similar chemical structure. This similarity means they compete for absorption in the small intestine reducing the amount of cholesterol being absorbed.

Eating 2-3 grams of plant sterol enriched foods daily helps lower bad cholesterol by 5-15%. Eating any more than this doesn’t seem to supercharge the results - but isn’t harmful either.

There are ways to lower the bad cholesterol even further. The trick is to eat both plant-sterol enriched foods and follow a healthy diet that includes healthy fats (unsaturated fats) and limits bad fats (trans fats and saturated fats).

Check out these meal plan ideas for a healthy heart

How do I eat 2 grams of plant sterols every day?

While plant sterols are found in a wide variety of plant foods, unfortunately they are only in very small quantities.

Getting your daily dose is quite challenging, with most people, on average, only consuming between 150-360 milligrams.

To put this in perspective, eating 2 grams a day would see you eating:

  • 15.4kg of apples; or
  • 12.5kg of carrots; or
  • 8.9kg of baked beans; or
  • 5kg of rolled oats; or
  • 5kg of broccoli; or
  • 2.9kg of tofu.

An easier way to get your daily dose is to eat plant sterol enriched products – these are foods that have had plant sterols added to them. Try foods like cereals - including Weet-BixTM Cholesterol Lowering and plant-sterol enriched spreads.

To find foods that have been enriched with plant sterols check the nutrition panel on the back of the packet. See the below nutrition panel of Weet-Bix™ Cholesterol Lowering as an example:

Do I really need to eat 2 grams a day for plant sterols to work their magic?

You need to consume 2 grams each and every day as part of a meal to reduce bad cholesterol.  

An easy way to do this is to eat 1 serve (2 biscuits) of Weet-Bix™ Cholesterol Lowering each day. We’ve come up with a range of recipes to make this easier for you and help you have your ‘2 a day’. 

What if I am taking cholesterol-lowering medication?

Research shows that plant sterol enriched foods work together with statins, to have an even bigger impact on lowering bad cholesterol.

The National Heart Foundation of Australia recommends that people taking statins should also eat plant sterol-enriched foods.

For more information, check out our Cholesterol Resource Centre for more information on Weet-Bix™ Cholesterol Lowering, heart healthy tips, recipes and more.

Do you have a diet question? Or have you seen a nutrition study and wondered about what it means? We’d love to hear from you.

Contact our team of expert dietitians by using the free Ask a Dietitian service - online form here, or you can email or call on 0800 673 392.