Phytosterols are naturally occurring compounds found in plants that resemble the chemical make-up of cholesterol. Plant cholesterol, though, can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels in the human body. Phytosterols help prevent the bad cholesterol from accumulating in the blood stream by blocking absorption of the fatty substance, resulting in less cholesterol entering the bloodstream. Certain foods are naturally high in phytosterols and food manufacturers are fortifying products with phytosterols to make them more heart friendly.
Pecans, cashews, walnuts and almonds contain high concentrations of phytosterols. Add these to your diet as snacks and include them in stir fry dinners. Peanuts are also high in phytosterols, but are actually a legume or bean. Include unsalted peanuts in your diet anyway, because they taste good, but do so in moderation.
Whole Grains and Seeds
Cereal grains, such as whole wheat and barley, contain phytosterols. Substitute processed white breads, pastas and baked goods made from refined flour for whole grain products to increase your intake of phytosterols. Seeds such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are high in phytosterols. Add these to homemade whole grain quick breads for heart healthy snacking.
Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and vegetables are part of a heart healthy diet, but they contain lower concentrations of phytosterols than nuts, legumes and whole grains. Nonetheless, they should be included as a source of these cholesterol fighting compounds. The positive effects of phytosterols are cumulative, so eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables throughout the day can supplement your intake.
If you are allergic to nuts or unable to eat whole grain foods due to celiac disease or gluten intolerance, fruits and vegetables, along with seeds, may be your primary sources for phytosterols.
Cooking oils, such as olive oil and vegetable oil, contain naturally occurring phytosterols by way of their ingredients, though some of the concentration of phytosterols, and other beneficial fats, may be reduced through processing and high cooking temperatures. Some companies are opting to fortify their products with phytosterols to increase the heart-healthy benefits of using their oils. Use sunflower, safflower and canola oils as well in your cooking, as these not only diversify the flavors in your dishes, they offer higher concentrations of phytosterols.
Fortified Dairy Products
Phytosterol fortified milk, cheeses, butters and margarines are available in supermarkets and other food outlets. Just as with cooking oils, companies that produce these products incorporate phytosterols into the production process to make the foods more heart healthy. If you have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, use vegan friendly products, such as Earth Friendly butter substitute, soy or rice milk, and soy-based cheeses.