Statins are a class of drugs used to lower cholesterol levels. Plant sterols and stanols are natural statins, or phytosterols, which are plant cell components that work in the same way as statins. According to the Cleveland Clinic, consuming 2 to 3 grams of plant stanols daily helps reduce blood cholesterol levels by blocking its absorption by the small intestine. Sterols are present naturally in small amounts in foods such as legumes, nuts, oils, seeds, grains, fruits, vegetables and fortified foods. Stanols are found in even smaller quantities in many of the same foods.
Legumes, Nuts and Seeds
Phytosterol content for the following foods is listed per 100-gram serving, or around 3.5 ounces, unless otherwise indicated. Peas, kidney beans and broad beans are the legumes richest in phytosterols, providing about 130 milligrams each. Peanuts, a legume, provide 62 milligrams per 1 ounce serving. Cashews and almonds are higher in sterols than legumes, providing 158 and 143 milligrams, respectively. Other nuts, such as pecans, macadamia nuts, pistachios and walnuts, provide approximately 108 milligrams phytosterols. Seeds, especially sesame seeds, are rich in naturally occurring phytosterols, providing about 100 milligrams per ounce.
Oils, Grains and Bread
Many oils are rich sources of phytosterols, particularly rice bran oil, sesame oil, corn oil and canola oil, which offer 162 milligrams, 118 milligrams, 102 milligrams and 92 milligrams per tablespoon, respectively. Wheat germ is the richest grain food source of phytosterols, providing nearly 200 milligrams per 1/2 cup serving. Wheat bran offers less, about 58 milligrams per 1/2 cup serving. Two slices of 100 percent rye bread provides 33 milligrams. Rice bran, brown rice and whole wheat contain phytosterols as well.
Vegetables and Fruits
Fruits and vegetables, though a source of sterols and stanols, do not offer the substantial quantities of phytosterols you find in legumes, oils and nuts. Beet root and Brussels sprouts provide approximately 25 milligrams per 1/2 cup serving. Other vegetables that offer 10 to 20 mg of phytosterols per 1/2 cup include cauliflower, onions, carrots, cabbage and yams. Of the fruits, apples and oranges have the highest phytosterol content, about 25 mg per fruit. Other fruits that provide 10 to 20 milligrams per 100-gram serving include blueberries, bananas, apples, cherries, peaches and pears.
Fortified foods are those that have a nutrient or health-promoting substance, such as vitamins or minerals, added to the product, which would not otherwise contain this nutrient, such as vitamin water. Many tub margarine spreads have been fortified with substantial amounts of phytosterols, since it is difficult to consume 2 to 3 grams daily through foods alone. Take Control and Benecol margarine spreads are two examples of such foods. One tablespoon provides 1,000 milligrams and 500 milligrams of plant sterols, respectively. Other foods, such as orange juice, yogurt drinks and energy bars are fortified with plant sterols. An 8-ounce glass of Minute Maid Heartwise orange juice offers 1000 milligrams while Yoplait's Healthy Heart yogurt provides 400 milligrams per serving.