Harvard Heart Letter

Eating your way to lower cholesterol

Foods fortified with plant sterols or stanols can help nudge down high cholesterol.

It's odd, but true, that eating foods fortified with a cousin of cholesterol can lower your cholesterol. These substances, called plant sterols and stanols, are being added to foods ranging from granola bars to chocolate as companies try to cash in on an FDA-approved health claim. Although eating extra plant sterols or stanols won't control seriously high cholesterol, it could be a boon for people who need a little extra help.

Plants contain a host of compounds that are chemically related to cholesterol. There are two main families: sterols and stanols. They do for plants what cholesterol does for us — they help make hormones, vitamins, and the "skin" that surrounds cells.

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