The Norman Transcript

March 16, 2014

Keeping heart healthy

By Ashley Giddens, MS, RD/LD
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Q: What are plant stanols and sterols, and why are they important?

A: When it comes to keeping the heart healthy, many factors come into play. Diet is a large factor, as it not only affects weight but also triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Since cholesterol is unable to dissolve, it will circulate in the blood.

When an overabundance of LDL, or often termed “bad” cholesterol, is present, it can gradually accumulate in the arteries to the heart and also the brain. When blockages occur, heart attack and stroke can, as well. This is why it is important to be mindful of what foods are put into the body.

Plant stanols and sterols come from plant products such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. When eaten and undergoing digestion, stanols and sterols are recognized by the body as having a structure similar to cholesterol, which will work to prevent the absorption of actual dietary cholesterol. This “blocked” cholesterol is then passed from the body as waste, and a favorable decrease in LDL cholesterol levels may occur.

Plant stanols and sterols have also been added to foods, like margarines, cooking oils, salad dressings, cereal products and juices.

Studies have found that about two to three grams consumed each day is particularly helpful for adults with high cholesterol levels, although ongoing studies are needed to provide recommendation of plant stanols and sterols for the general population.

An added benefit of including more fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains into the diet is that they are great sources of fiber, which decreases the absorption of cholesterol.

For more information, visit the American Heart Association, heart.org.

For nutritional counseling, Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians. Those interested can schedule an appointment for an assessment with a referral from their family physician.

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