Lowering Cholesterol

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Lowering Cholesterol

Nutritionist, Dr Rosemary Stanton, looked at two margarines containing plant sterols, which are extracted from soy beans. Studies show that these margarines can absorb cholesterol and reduce blood cholesterol by approximately 10%. However they can reduce levels of some fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin E (by 6-8%)*, and some carotenoids (by 11-19%)*. These are valuable antioxidants in fruits and vegetables that may help reduce the risk of some cancers.

Two margarines containing plant sterols have been approved by The Australian New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA). The National Heart Foundation (NHF) also gave them its tick of approval. However, the NHF recommended those people using the margarine spreads should eat yellow and orange vegetables and fruits every day to provide extra carotenoids. They also noted that no long-term safety studies had been done.

New products with plant sterols

A whole range of products containing plant sterols has recently been released. It is now possible to buy milk, yogurt, salad dressing, breakfast bars and mayonnaise with plant sterols, and apparently there are plans to add bread, breakfast cereals, soup and biscuits to the list.

Some of these products carry a warning label saying that they’re not suitable for infants, children, and pregnant or lactating women. These groups are at greatest risk for any potential reduction in blood levels of carotenoids. The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) has proposed that the warning label should be mandatory and that the label should also advise that the margarine spreads should not be considered a substitute for cholesterol-lowering medication. We have no data about the long-term safety of foods containing added plant sterols.

The margarine spreads have been approved, but the other products will need special approval under the new food standards which come into force in June 2001. ANZFA has assessed the application for approval of products containing plant sterols, but concluded that only a restricted permission (for margarine spreads) was possible at this stage.

The best way to reduce your cholesterol

cut back on saturated fats – from both animal and vegetable sources lose any excess weight exercise more

If you are doing these three things and your cholesterol is still too high, consult your doctor, who may suggest you use one of the margarines. Rosemary suggests you skip the rest of the products until we actually know they work effectively, and we have more data on the possible adverse effects they could have on vitamins and antioxidants.

Further information

For more information about the issue of sterols in foods see the ANZFA website on: www.anzfa.gov.au

* European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999 53, 319-327