What is Sterols and What Does it Do?

Regarding understanding the benefits of dietary cholesterol, most people think of it as a villain. And, in the past few years, there’s been a lot of noise about the possible connection between high cholesterol and heart disease.

So, what are Sterols?

Sterols are a type of cholesterol. They are not the same as the steroid hormones called cholesterol. They are, in fact, a type of fat that our bodies produce naturally. These natural fats are an important part of a healthy diet. They give foods like lean meats, fish, eggs, and nuts their characteristic flavor and texture.

Sterols help provide other benefits as well. They function as soluble fiber, helping to keep the bowels healthy by slowing down the movement of food through the digestive system. They also help to maintain the natural balance of good bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. People who have digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis may be deficient in sterols and other beneficial bacteria.

Sterols found in foods, such as olives, seeds, and other plant foods, may also lower cholesterol levels slightly. However, the sterol content in these foods is too low to make a significant difference on its own.

In other words, unless you have a specific deficiency of sterols, you don’t need to worry about not consuming enough of this beneficial type of fat.

Speaking of Cholesterols, you should read about this! What Are the Best Diets to Lower Cholesterol? – The 5 Most Effective Diets

What foods contain sterols?

Sterols are found in a wide variety of plant foods such as avocados, olives, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and other nuts, flaxseeds, olive oil, and canola oil. They are also found in some meats such as sardines, salmon, and mackerel. As noted above, these foods are good for you because they contain healthy fats.

Good sources of sterols

  • Vegetables:
    • Artichokes, Olive Oil, Olives, Avocados, Eggplant, Broccoli, Winter Squash, Brussels sprouts, Asparagus, Cauliflower
  • Fruits:
    • Bananas, Oranges, Grapefruits, Papayas Nuts
  • Seeds:
    • Chia seeds, Flaxseeds, Sesame Seeds

Bad sources of sterols:

  • Meats:
    • Bacon, Sausage, Pork chops, Roasts
  • Dairy:
    • Cheese, Yogurt, Kefir
  • Oils:
    • Canola, Corn, Sunflower, Safflower
  • Sugars:
    • Honey, Maple Syrup

How much cholesterol is too much?

There is no established upper limit for cholesterol in the diet. However, it’s important to keep in mind that “good” cholesterol (HDL) and “bad” cholesterol (LDL) are not the same. HDL can ferry both “good” and “bad” cholesterol throughout the body.

In fact, a large body of research shows that a high intake of natural plant foods (including foods high in cholesterol such as olives, nuts, and avocados) do not raise blood cholesterol levels in humans. According to the American Heart Association, a diet high in fruits and vegetables is likely to reduce blood cholesterol levels.

Bottom line

The key to getting more than enough sterols and other beneficial plant fats in your diet is to eat more healthy, natural foods.

  • Include more fruits and vegetables in your diet and opt for low-fat options where possible.
  • Eat foods with a fat content of at least 1%, and preferably 3% or more.
  • Limit your intake of saturated fat and trans fat, found in fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and certain processed foods.
  • In general, a healthy diet that includes a variety of plant foods high in fiber and volume is the best way to get all the sterols you need for good health.