Like a person who always wants to go one step further (or climb one more summit), functional foods go beyond other typical foods. They look like typical foods and can be part of your daily diet, while providing additional benefits (eg reduced risk of chronic disease). Omega 3s in salmon and beta glycans in your oatmeal are known examples, but do you know about phytosterols?

Why be concerned with phytosterols?

Even if you are active and out on the trails most weekends, you don’t have to put aside your heart health. More than 40% of Canadians are affected by high cholesterol, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. When faced with the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, athletes do not always get out of it: age, heredity and sex are non-modifiable risk factors. On the other hand, knowing that the majority of risk factors are controllable (hypertension, weight, high blood cholesterol, stress, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet), it is really time to act and physterols can help you lower your blood cholesterol levels.

What are phytosterols?

Found naturally in plant cells, phytosterols are in fact vegetable fats from the same family as cholesterol. They work by binding to dietary cholesterol in the intestine to decrease its absorption, which can eliminate 30 to 40% of dietary cholesterol through the stool. The body does not synthesize them and only absorbs them in minimal quantities.

According to studies:

More recently, studies have been done to determine the effect of phytosterols on cholesterol levels when used as a functional food. The products with integrated physterols (eg: margarine) can considerably reduce the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) compared to the placebo, according to the various results of the studies carried out between 1992 and 2006. The researchers therefore recommend that people at risk or having heart disease consume 2 g of phytosterols each day.

According to studies, this dose would reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood by 5 to 15% and thus reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 20%. However, there is no advantage in consuming more than 3g to obtain these benefits. They should also be included in a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, high in fiber and low in saturated and trans fats. In addition to having effects on cholesterol, phytosterols have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, anti-atherogenic and antioxidant properties. All assets when looking for a healthy lifestyle and to perform well during physical exertion.

Where are they found?

A typical diet in North America provides 150 to 400 mg of phytosterols daily, less than a quarter of the therapeutic dose recommended by studies. This is why since May 2010, Health Canada has allowed the fortification of certain foods with plant physterols.

Fortified products should not contain more than 1 g of phytosterols per serving and per reference amount, which equates to approximately 50% of the recommended daily amount.

Here are some examples of products that contain plant physterols, as well as their quantity:

  • Becel ProActiv margarine: 0.75 g for 2 tbsp. teaspoon (10 ml)
  • Danacol (drinkable yogurt): 1 g per bottle
  • Oasis CholestPrevent Health Break Juice: 1 g per 250 ml (1 cup)
  • Astro Bio Best probiotic yogurt: 1 g per 100 g container (1 jar)

But before advising you to drink more juice to lower your cholesterol level, I suggest that you increase your consumption of foods naturally rich in phytosterols and fill the gap with these functional foods if you have one or more risk factors. cardiovascular disease. Note that most of these foods are high in fat, so eat small amounts and combine them with a source of carbohydrate if you want to consume some during a night out.

The main sources of phytosterols can be found naturally in foods of plant origin such as oils, nuts and seeds.

The best natural sources of phytosterols

  • Dehydrated sesame seeds
  • Corn oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Wheat germ oil
  • Dry roasted pistachios
  • Safflower oil
  • Dehydrated sunflower seeds
  • Dehydrated pine nuts
  • Dry roasted cashews
  • Linseed oil
  • Unbleached almonds roasted in oil
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Hazelnuts, filberts, unbleached, dry roasted
  • Roasted pecans in oil
  • Soybean oil
  • California Orange
  • Olive oil
  • Nut oil
  • Boiled asparagus
  • Dehydrated walnuts

Other tips to improve your lipid profile

Several nutrients offer protection against atherosclerosis, for example: soluble fiber, soy protein and some fats. In addition, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides additional protection. To increase your intake of nutrients that protect you against atherosclerosis, you can, among other things:

  • Use olive or canola oil for cooking.
  • Use oils from other nuts and seeds (e.g. linseed, safflower, sesame, soybean oil) to mix into your dressings.
  • Add nuts, almonds and seeds to your snacks or in your breads, muffins, cakes and in your salads or Asian dishes, for example.
  • As often as possible, eat meat substitutes such as legumes, tofu, soy protein and fatty fish.
  • Consume oatmeal and other oatmeal cereals more often for their soluble fiber.
  • Substitute refined rice or pasta with quinoa and other whole grains.
  • Eat more fruits like apples, grapes and citrus fruits.
  • Practical recipes for hiking

Even on the trails, it is possible to choose snacks rich in phytosterols! It’s just a matter of finding recipes that include the main sources of this nutrient, as shown in the table above. So go on an adventure with these practical snacks:

Sesame seed granola

Asian pasta salad

Question / answer

If I have high cholesterol, should I take a phytosterol supplement?

First of all, it’s important to talk to your nutritionist and doctor about all kinds of supplements that you might be tempted to take, whatever they are. Some supplements can interact with medications and thus change their effect or cause side effects. Due to the limited choice of products fortified with phytosterols currently and the low intake from food, some people may benefit from a supplement.

However, these supplements can make medicines more effective, so the dose of the medicine sometimes needs to be adjusted. Some side effects have also been reported: Phytosterol supplements can reduce the level of carotenoids (antioxidants) in the blood. It is therefore recommended to increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables each day to curb this problem (make sure you eat regularly citrus fruits, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash). Occasionally, supplements can also cause mild gastrointestinal upset, such as constipation, diarrhea or cramps. And finally, if you decide to take a supplement with your doctor’s consent, make sure it is esterified, the dose is adequate (3g maximum), and that you take it with a meal.

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