Plant sterols: what are they and how to include them in the diet?


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If you have problems with your lipid profile, eating foods with plant sterols may benefit you. Find out what foods they are found in.

Plant sterols or phytosterols are a series of compounds with a structure similar to cholesterol, but of plant origin. Within the body they compete with the lipid compound to be part of an emulsion, so they could help improve the lipid profile. In fact, an intake of between 1 and 2.5 grams of plant sterols each day is recommended to improve health.

Before we begin, we must point out that the position of science regarding cholesterol has changed in recent years. The accuracy of this marker in predicting cardiovascular risk is now in doubt, at least as it used to be interpreted.

Experts say that what is really dangerous is not the total number of lipoproteins in the blood, but their rate of oxidation. Something that is not always paid attention to. Do you want to know more about the function of this plant compound?

Where are plant sterols found?

Plant sterols are often present in products such as soybeans, sunflower or olive oil, nuts, and legumes. However, they can also be found in other foods such as lettuce, tomato, banana, apple or corn.

Simply including these foods in the context of a varied and balanced diet would be enough to guarantee their optimal intake. In fact, just guaranteeing the presence of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables in the daily schedule would suffice.

It is even a way to enhance the contribution of other phytochemicals with antioxidant capacity. These elements manage to neutralize the formation of free radicals and their subsequent accumulation in the body’s tissues. This effect has been shown to reduce the incidence of many chronic and complex pathologies.

Where are plant sterols found?
Soy and its derivatives are an abundant source of plant sterols.

Benefits of plant sterols

Plant sterols are able to help modulate the lipid profile. This reduces cardiovascular risk in the medium term. Unlike some drugs for the same purpose, they do not usually cause side effects. For example, statins are linked to a higher incidence of type 2 diabetes.

In fact, the possibility of enriching certain foods —such as milk— with plant sterols is currently being studied to exert a positive effect on total cholesterol levels. A study published in the journal Nutrición Hospitalaria is quite optimistic about it.

Beneficial effects would be achieved with very few associated risks, since we are talking about natural compounds.

And it is that, among other things, plant sterols could help reduce levels of inflammation and oxidation in the internal environment, something that is considered decisive for maintaining good health.

Both oxidation and inflammation are necessary, but to a certain extent. When they get out of control or when the body is not able to suppress them efficiently, serious alterations in homeostasis are experienced.

How to include phytosterols in the diet?

The best way to include phytosterols in the diet is by increasing the presence of fruits and vegetables in the daily routine. The health authorities advise the consumption of 5 servings a day to achieve a state of well-being.

As far as beverages or foods enriched with phytosterols are concerned, some care should be taken. In excess they are usually not beneficial for the body. You always have to be careful with functional products, since there may be a lot of marketing behind it.

Not on all occasions they are as beneficial as they promise. They could even contain poor quality fatty acids or excessive additives. Both compounds could trigger a chronic inflammatory response if consumed regularly.

It is essential to ensure that the lipids that appear in the pattern are always of the “cis type”.

vegan woman.
The best way to include plant sterols in your diet is by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Plant sterols, elements that manage to improve the lipid profile

As you have seen, plant sterols are a series of natural compounds present in fruits and vegetables that can exert beneficial effects on the lipid profile and on the body.

For this reason, it is positive that they appear in the diet on a daily basis. They must always be included in the context of a balanced and varied guideline, of course. But in these circumstances they help reduce the incidence of cardiovascular pathologies.

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