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Plant sterols:

Plant sterols and stanols are naturally occurring substances found in grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruit and vegetables.  They are similar in structure to cholesterol and work to reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine, ultimately leading to the excretion of the cholesterol.

One such plant sterol, Beta-sitosterol, has been recognized as a dietary cholesterol blocker.  The FDA labeled sterols and stanols as a “health claim”, which illustrates that experts agree that they contain cholesterol lowering benefits.

Various studies have been carried out to show the effects of sterols and stanols. In 2005, researchers gave 29 individuals with high cholesterol and 14 with type II diabetes, an edible beta-sitosterol spread.  The participants were aged between 40-80 years old – the average being 55.  Both diabetic and non-diabetic participants experienced a greater reduction in LDL (bad cholesterol) by 27% and 15% respectively, versus the control subjects.

In its 2006 Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended that individuals consume approximately two grams (2000 mg) per day of plant stanols and sterols from a variety of foods and beverages, in order to help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.  This is consistent with the National Cholesterol Education Program’s Adult Treatment Panel III which stated that the intake of two to three grams per day of plant sterol / stanol esters would reduce LDL cholesterol by 6% to 15%.

The University of California Davis Medical Center performed a more recent study on 72 adults, whereby half the participants received sterol-fortified orange juice and the other half ordinary orange juice.  After two weeks, the group who drank the fortified orange juice showed a 12.4% drop in their LDL cholesterol levels.  The results were published in the journal:  Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

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