What are plant sterols and stanols and what are their sources?

Plant sterols and stanols are components of our everyday diet as they are found in all plant-based foods (see sources of plant sterols and stanols in Table 9). They are bioactive components in plants with similar functions as that of cholesterol in mammals.

In the general population, the daily intake of plant sterols is about 300 mg. Those following a vegetarian or vegan diet may ingest up to 600 mg/day2.

Plant stanols are present in smaller amounts than plant sterols in everyday foods2,3. The amounts of plant stanols ingested from the diet is 17-24 mg/day3 .

SOURCES OF PLANT STEROLS AND STANOLS:

Vegetable oils (e.g. corn, rapeseed, soybean, sunflower), margarines, cereals (e.g. corn, rye, wheat, barley, millet, oat), legumes (e.g. peas, beans and lentils), seeds (e.g. sunflower) and nuts (e.g. peanuts and almonds), vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, carrots) and fruits (e.g. avocado, raspberry, orange).

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Plant sterols and stanols are also added to foods such as vegetable fat-based spreads and margarine as well as to milk, yoghurt, yoghurt drinks and other foods.

Table 9: Plant sterols and stanols content in naturally occurring food sources (in mg/100 g edible food)
Food group Plant sterols and stanols (mg/100 g of edible portion) Food group Plant sterols and stanols (mg/100 g of edible portion)

Vegetable Oils:

  • Sunflower oil
  • Olive oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Soybean oil

 

  • 436
  • 177
  • 773
  • 349

Nuts and seeds:

  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pistachio nuts

 

  • 208
  • 116
  • 322
  • 297

Vegetable oil-based margarines:

  • Full-fat
  • Half-fat
  • 200
  • 164

Vegetables:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Chick peas

 

  • 39
  • 43
  • 16
  • 35

Grains and cereals:

  • Bran flakes
  • Museli
  • Oat bran
  • Wheat bran
  • Rye bread, dark
  • Whole meal break

 

  • 65
  • 35
  • 46
  • 100
  • 51
  • 86

Fruits:

  • Avocado
  • Pineapple
  • Apple
  • Orange
  • Berries
    (e.g. raspberry, blueberry)

 

  • 113
  • 19
  • 13
  • 24
  • 20-30

Sources: Normen L. et al. 19994; Normen L. et al. 20025; Normen L. et al. 20076; Piironen et al. 20007

Plant sterols and stanols are widely distributed in plant-based foods, but daily intake of plant sterols and stanols from those natural sources is not sufficient for an effective LDL-cholesterol lowering effect.