Plant sterols, also known as Phytosterols, or Plant-Based Cholesterol, is seen to be as bad cholesterol in meat in many cases, and worse in others. Wonderful and totally non-biased sources (ha!) such as Authority Nutrition give these phytosterols a particularly bad rap, but why?
Because Phytosterols are biologically similar, but not equal to, dietary cholesterol, and gives them a good dead horse to beat up on while trying to make a poorly-lined excuse to continue high consumption of cholesterol-ridden foods. No well-researched scientific health and nutrition organization is interested in the almost non-existance health effects of Phytosterols, but the people who DO enjoy mentioning this often are almost always low-carb enthusiasts.
Phytosterols are not absorbed by our bodies in any more than trace amounts because biomarkers in our liver realize that human’s are not plants, so why do low-carbers even bring this up? Easy: Sitosterolemia.
What is Sitosterolemia? It’s a very rare inherited autosomal disorder that has only been known to affect 80 people since it was first discovered in 1974. It is basically useless in a comparison between dietary cholesterol, which is connected with Saturated Fat, both of which are connected with increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease in hundreds of millions of people who live with heart disease. But this is the low-carb way of saying “PLANTS HAVE CHOLESTEROL TOO!” and that is just pathetic. But hey, don’t take my word for it!
Two systematic reviews were done, one on phytosterols and their risk for cardiovascular disease, and one on phytosterols as a potential effect on inflammation, both of them concluded “Our systematic review and meta-analysis did not reveal any evidence of an association between serum concentrations of plant sterols and risk of CVD.”, regardless of what observational studies Authority Nutrition might link to, and the one on inflammation even showed that the consumption of phytosterols lowered LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. This is something that is also mentioned by the European Atherosclerosis Society. But Authority Nutrition seems to think that is a bad thing:
“However, it’s important to realize that cholesterol levels are just a risk factor for heart disease.
Just because something has positive effects on a risk factor for a disease, it does not guarantee that it prevents the actual disease.”
That’s EXACTLY what it means! Saying this is like saying that smoking is just a risk factor for developing lung cancer, so lowering the amount of cigarettes you smoke per day does not guarantee a lower risk for lung cancer. Or that consuming processed red meat is just a risk factor for colorectal cancer, and does not guarantee that it will prevent colorectal cancer if you don’t eat it. It’s a “it won’t stop it 100%, so why bother” kind of attitude. “An evidence-based approach” hm? This article was written in 2015 so it’s not like they didn’t have those systematic reviews available, they just ignored them.
Foods that are high in phytosterols are vegetable oils, avocado, olives, and other high fat plant foods, which should not be eaten en masse anyways, but are a good food to have in moderation.
According to the bulk of the evidence, phytosterols are NOT a nutrient of concern. So you don’t need to worry or even think about them at all.