Potato or tortilla chips aren’t the usual remedy for high cholesterol — unless they’re special chips. Cholesterol-lowering margarines, yogurts and other sensible foods have been around for some years but the right chips can work in the same way.
These types of foods are approved as heart-healthy by the FDA. They contain an added ingredient that blocks the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine: plant sterols that occur naturally in the cell membranes of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains.
If we ate enough plant foods, they would also reduce cholesterol levels. In fact, sterols are probably one reason why vegetarians tend to have lower cholesterol, in addition to plant-based diets being naturally lower in saturated fat.Sterol Science
In 1953, scientists discovered that plant sterols lower cholesterol. In the 1990s, food manufacturers began adding them to margarine-style spreads and then, in 2003, the FDA recognized that the ingredient could also be added to other types of foods. Since then, more heart-healthy options with added sterols have become available, including different yogurts, cheese, milk, bread, orange juice, and chewy candies.
Several dozen studies show that 0.8 grams of plant sterols per day is sufficient to lower “bad” LDL and total cholesterol by an amount that is therapeutic. In studies of larger doses, up to approximately 3 grams daily, cholesterol has generally decreased more than with the minimum 0.8 grams, with no adverse effects.
The FDA requires a minimum of 0.4 grams of plant sterols per serving in any food that makes a heart-healthy, cholesterol-lowering claim, and two servings daily are recommended. The sterols don’t seem to affect the taste of food.How Low Does Cholesterol Go?
Clinical trials have tested many types of foods with added sterols, including chips. Overall, “bad” LDL and total cholesterol have dropped between 4 and 15 percent, without any negative effect on “good” HDL cholesterol. The correlation between dose and cholesterol drop varies from one person to another.
For anyone taking statin drugs, plant sterols can improve results. In some of the research, people who ate sterol-enriched foods while taking statins experienced cholesterol lowering comparable to double the actual dose of medication.Choosing the Right Chips
Chips with plant sterols were introduced a few years ago, by Corazonas, but were initially available only in some health food or specialty stores and online. Now, they’re much easier to find, in Costco and some supermarkets.
The chips come in two varieties, potato and tortilla, with several flavors of each and about the same number of calories as regular chips. If you’re a cookie fan, Corazonas also makes bars in chocolate chip, brownie and other classic flavors. With 190 calories, one bar could replace one or two cookies.
Standing behind its products, the company is offering a 28-day challenge: Get your cholesterol tested, eat two servings (2 ounces, totaling 0.8 grams of sterols) of chips daily for 28 days, and then get retested. Or, eat one bar to get the daily 0.8 grams of sterols. If your cholesterol doesn’t drop, Corazonas will refund your cost of the snacks. (See “Freedom to Snack Sensibly” at www.corazonas.com
Sterol-enriched foods don’t replace the need for a healthy diet. However, snacks that lower cholesterol can help you stay on a heart-healthy track.