Phytosterols: Plant's "cholesterol"
Phytosterols which includes sterols and stanols are chemical compounds similar to cholesterol which are found only in plants. Only source of them is diet because our bodies can't produce them.
They can lower cholesterol, by tricking the body into thinking that there is enough cholesterol which leads to lower production of cholesterol in the liver.
Sterols and stanols work by acting on cholesterol receptors thereby reducing absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. This causes the body to decrease natural production of cholesterol and to increase excretion of cholesterol through stool by stimulating bowel movements.
There are over 40 known phytosterols but beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol are the most well known and the most commonly plant sterols found in foods.
While cholesterol is essential for many vital processes in human body such as production of hormones, too much of it can reflect negatively on human heart and blood vessels.
Luckily for us, they are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes as well as in oils which have the highest phytosterol content from all of them.
Although fruits have low amount of sterols, there are still a significant source due to their higher total intake.Avocados-unusually rich source of sterols among fruitsOrangesBananasApplesCherriesBerriesPeachesPears
Vegetables have similar sterol content as fruits do but are eaten in smaller quantities which makes them less significant source of plant sterols.Beet rootBroccoliBrussels sproutCauliflowerOnion and GarlicCarrotsYamsCabbage
NUTS AND LEGUMES
Nuts and legumes are superior source of phytosterols, when compared to fruits and vegetables but not as rich as oils.PeanutsCashew nutsAlmondsPeasBeansPistachiosWalnuts
Oils made from whole grains, seeds and other plants are the richest source of sterols and stanols. Sesame oilCorn oilcanola oilRice bran oilWheat germ oilFlax seed oilCottonseed oilSoybean oilOlive oilCoconut oilPalm oil
NOTE: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and oils are listed in order. The ones with the highest amounts of sterols and stanols are on the top, while the ones with lower amounts are on the bottom of the list.
While phytosterols have shown to be effective in reducing LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and risk of coronary heart disease, they also have additional benefits.
They can lower triglycerides and reduce the risk of cancer, by opposing carcinogens, while promoting cellular death of abnormal cells.
So, whether you have or don't have heart disease, eating foods containing sterols will reflect positively on your health, in more ways then one.
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