There Is Cholesterol in Some Plants
How many times has your doctor or your dietician told you, "if you want to reduce your cholesterol levels you must eat less red meat or fatty food?" We all know that the consumption of too much red meat and fatty foods is not good for you, but do you know that the consumption of plants is another source of cholesterol? I can see all the reactions from people who are reading this right now. That right there is some cholesterol in plants, but at a much lower level than those found in meat. In fact, the levels are so low that the labels on canned vegetables and frozen vegetable packages always list the amount of cholesterol as zero. There are currently several articles on other websites that clearly state that plants do not contain cholesterol. These articles are wrong.
Brief Overview of Cholesterol
Many of us are familiar with low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) that our doctors often mentioned when he’s discussing our blood test results with us.There is also a very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). These are the carriers of cholesterol in our bloodstream since it is a fatty substance. Cholesterol must be transported in this way since a fatty molecule and a water molecule (our blood) do not mix. We would be in serious trouble if these lipoproteins were not in our bloodstream to perform this function. Despite all the bad things you have heard about cholesterol, it serves many vital functions in our bodies. Cholesterol is responsible for the production of the cell membrane in animals. It is also the main chemical pre-cursor for the production of sex hormones. Contrary to popular belief, most of the cholesterol in our bloodstream is produced by our own body. Only half of the cholesterol in our diet is absorbed into our body. That is why it is so difficult to bring your cholesterol level down by dieting alone. The liver produces about 25% of the cholesterol in our body and the rest is produced by other organs. The liver is one of the few organs that is capable of eliminating excess cholesterol with help from the gallbladder. It is eliminated in the bile and the bile ultimately releases it into the small intestine for elimination or re-absorption.
The Two Sources of Cholesterol
Plants and Cholesterol
It seems odd that the words “plants and cholesterol” can be found together in the same sentence. As mentioned in the introduction, plants do contain cholesterol. As a matter of fact there is one plant, the European False Flax that contains as much as 200 mg of cholesterol per kg of plant oil.This plant is used as vegetable oil and used in animal feed. Despite it high cholesterol level, it contains a high level of heart healthy omega-3-fatty acid. For comparison, animals can contain as much as 5000 mg of cholesterol per kg. Cholesterol averages in plants on a whole is about 50 mg per kg or 100 times less than the levels found in meat. Plants contain about 250 steroids and the predominant one is called sitosterol. This cholesterol is found mostly in the leaves of the plant. The good news is that the cholesterol in plants behaves differently and in a beneficial way in our body versus the cholesterol produced by animals. Sitosterol blocks the intake of dietary cholesterol and reduced the level of low-density lipoprotein in our blood. This plant cholesterol is also used in the treatment of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and in the treatment of hair loss when used with Saw Palmetto. Currently there are many research studies going on, especially in the European countries, to determine other beneficial uses of this cholesterol found in plants. However, too much of a good thing can be bad for you. It has been determined that high levels of sitosterol can cause coronary diseases and tendon xanthomas, a condition that affect the tendons due to high levels of lipoprotein in the blood.
You will notice in the following photos that the molecule of cholesterol, testosterone, progesterone, and sitosterol all share the same chemical structure but with different groups in different positions on the four rings. There are many more molecules in our body that share the same chemical structure of cholesterol. This is the reason we need some cholesterol in our body to produce other molecules in our body with the same basic chemical structure as cholesterol.
The Molecular Structure of Cholesterol
Testosterone Molecule (Male Hormone)
Progesterone Molecule (Female Hormone)
Sitosterol (Plant Cholesterol)
Below is list of cholesterol levels in other plant and animal products. Animal products are included for comparison.
mg cholesterol / kg
Sunflower Seed Oil
less than 30
0.5 - 2.0
The table above clearly show that there is some cholesterol from plant sources, but in much lower levels compare to the levels of cholesterol from animal sources. The table also indicates Olive oil has a very low level of cholesterol as compared to the other oils in the table. This probably the other reason why Olive oil is such a healthy alternative than other oils in our diet.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2010 Melvin Porter