I’ll admit, when I first heard about cholesterol lowering Weetbix, I was skeptical. Could it really make that much difference? Was it really going to be that different from eating regular Weetbix? Especially as it does cost at least twice the amount of standard Weetbix...
How does it work?
To make Weetbix “cholesterol lowering”, Sanitarium have added plant sterols to their trusty staple. What are plant sterols, I hear you ask? Plant sterols, or phytosterols, are naturally occurring components of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, grains and leaves. They are cholesterol-like substances, and so when we eat them, the body will absorb the plant sterols instead of absorbing the unhealthy LDL cholesterol – winning, right? We do eat these in our regular diets, about 200-300mg per day.
But will your two Weetbix be enough to cause a reduction in your levels?
Well, its recommended that we eat 2-3g of plant sterols per day to have an impact (about 15-17% reduction in cholesterol levels). Surprisingly, 2 weetbix gives 2g of plant sterols! So yes, its actually worth it! If you want to boost your intake to closer to 3g, there are other plant sterol enriched foods such as milks, margarines and yoghurts, but olive oil and vegetable oils also contain plant sterols naturally and are great for healthy cooking and dressings. What if I aim for more than 3g per day? Unfortunately, more than 3g has no further effect, so I wouldn’t worry about it.
Does this mean you can stop taking cholesterol lowering medication?
Unfortunately not. While there is a definite benefit to including foods supplemented with phytosterols into a healthy diet, it does not replace cholesterol lowering medications. As well as medication, there are other lifestyle factors that will reduce your cholesterol, such as eating a healthy diet, being physically active, not smoking, limiting alcohol intake to the recommended 2 standard drinks per day, and being in a healthy weight range. Controlling your cholesterol levels certainly isn’t dependent on buying expensive fortified foods!
The take away: Phytosterols, or plant sterols, can a natural part of a healthy diet found in foods such as vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and nuts. Foods with added phytosterols can help to reduce cholesterol levels in people at high risk but they do not replace cholesterol lowering medications. They are also more costly, and remember you can get plant sterols in lots of healthy foods, so if you don’t want to pay the extra cost, focus on including lots of veggies with your meals, snack on nuts, replace meat with legumes in some dishes and choose wholegrain cereals wherever possible.