Do you know what your cholesterol levels are? September is National Cholesterol Education Month, which is the perfect time to find out. If your numbers are higher than they should be, don’t despair. There are many ways to reduce them naturally─without the unwelcome side effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins.

Foods with High Phytosterols

While you may be familiar with a healthy diet and exercise as drug-free strategies to get your cholesterol back in check, there’s another effective, natural tool you should know about: phytosterols. These are cholesterol-like molecules found in plant foods like seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes. These plant sterols─which are structurally similar to cholesterol─act in the intestine to block cholesterol absorption.

One study noted that increasing your intake of phytosterols may be a practical way to reduce your odds of developing coronary heart disease with minimum risk. In fact, phytosterols can reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 10% when consumed at 2 grams per day.1 Another study found that phytosterol intakes of 2 to 3 grams per day reduce LDL cholesterol levels by up to 11%.

So, are you getting enough of these important, cholesterol lowering allies? Maybe not, if you’re like most people. A survey of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) shows that only 10-15% of the population consumes foods supplemented with phytosterols, and phytosterol intake is less than the effective dose.2

If you want to maximize the benefits offered by these natural plant esters, a high-quality supplement is advised, since average dietary intake varies from about 167-437 mg/day. That means that even the healthiest eaters obtain less than half a gram through food alone, whereas 2 grams/day is the goal for measurable cholesterol reduction.3

While some foods like cooking oils, salad dressings, snack bars, juices, and margarines are “fortified” with small amounts of plant sterols, think before consuming these belly-bulking foods. You can obtain plant sterols at far more optimal levels without the calories, fat and unhealthy sugar in a high caliber nutritional supplement. Does that not make better sense─assuming you prefer a sleek waistline along with that healthy heart?

1 Curr Opin Lipidol. 2004 Feb;15(1):37-41
2 Orv Hetil. 2009 Mar 15;150(11):483-96
3 Annu Rev Nutr. 2002;22:533-49. Epub 2002 Apr 4