Plant Sterols (Phytosterols) in Foods

Plant sterols are naturally occurring compounds that can be found in plants. In Canadian diets, vegetable oils are a major source of plant sterols but they can also be found in other plant-derived foods, such as nuts, cereals and legumes.

In May of 2010, Health Canada's Food Directorate approved the addition of plant sterols (phytosterols) to a limited range of foods B spreads, mayonnaise, margarine, calorie-reduced margarine, salad dressing, yogurt and yogurt drinks, and vegetable and fruit juices. This decision was made following the completion of a safety assessment in response to submissions from the food industry. Health Canada also reviewed the relationship between the ingestion of plant sterols as part of the daily diet and the lowering of cholesterol levels in the blood, and is in agreement that sufficient evidence exists to support this claim.

Studies have shown that plant sterols mimic cholesterol in the small intestine and partly block cholesterol absorption. Therefore, regular consumption of a variety of foods containing plant sterols results in the lowering of LDL-cholesterol levels, while having no detrimental effect on HDL-cholesterol levels (often referred to as good cholesterol). This would benefit those who want to lower their blood cholesterol levels, i.e., especially those who have moderate to high blood cholesterol.

Other regulatory agencies, such as the US, EU and Australia have already approved the use of added plant sterols in certain foods.

For more information on plant sterols please refer to:

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