Melvin is a retired scientist and enjoys cruising around the Caribbean during the summer with his family.
The Truth About Cholesterol in 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 discussing blood test results. 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.
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 Camelina sativa, or 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 its 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 reduces 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 plant cholesterol. 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 affects 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 with the same basic chemical structure as cholesterol.
Below is list of cholesterol levels in other plant and animal products. Animal products are included for comparison.
|Source||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 compared 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 is the other reason why olive oil is such a healthy alternative to 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.
© 2010 Melvin Porter
timo on April 06, 2019:
do you want to post some reference sources to studies done showing the cholesterol levels?
Where did you find this information?
Peer reviewed studies are great. thanks
Cherryl Gibson on February 13, 2015:
This article is NOT rubbish and it is not the only article which says that plants contain cholesterol. If people disagreeing with this would like to do some research they may find the truth out for themselves!
Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on December 26, 2013:
Ladybluewriter, thanks for stopping by to read my hub.
ladybluewriter from United States on December 25, 2013:
Frederick on March 15, 2013:
Just to be a little picky: your statement "Cholesterol is responsible for the production of cell walls in both plants and animals. " is incorrect. One, animal cells are not surrounded by a cell wall, they only have a cell membrane. Two, cholesterol is found in the cell membrane, not the cell wall. The cell wall of plants is primarily made up of carbohydrates we cannot digest (cellulose being one of them).
Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on October 11, 2012:
Dan, thanks for your comment. Many people do not realize we cannot lower as our cholesterol too much because low cholesterol levels are just as bad as high cholesterol level. Also, as you mentioned in your comment, cholesterol plays a crucial role in our physiology to maintain normal functions in our cells. It also plays a major role in the production of major hormones, especially our sex hormones.
Dan Ford on October 11, 2012:
Thank you SO MUCH for this information, I am coming away from animal products and want to make sure I am getting enough cholesterol. I will most certainly b getting some False Flax oil.
From Dr Mercola...
I have been educating the public about the under-reported, adverse effects associated with lowering cholesterol through drugs like statins for many years, but what many still do not know is that low cholesterol is linked to dramatically increased rates of suicide and para-suicide, as well as aggression towards others.
This increased expression of violence towards self and others may be due to the fact that low membrane cholesterol decreases the number of serotonin receptors in the brain (which is approximately 30% cholesterol by weight). Lower serum cholesterol concentrations therefore may contribute to decreasing brain serotonin, which not only contributes to suicidal-associated depression, but prevents the suppression of aggressive behavior and violence towards self and others.
Melvin on February 25, 2012:
*doing* good work
Melvin on February 25, 2012:
Thank you for this article! This explains why I don't always get "0 mg" in the listing for cholesterol when I enter recipes from vegan cookbooks into my recipe manager. I was disappointed until I saw the contrast of animal cholesterol levels with plant cholesterol levels. Way to go! Don't let the nay sayers discourage you from dong good work!
Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on April 06, 2011:
Lk, all of this information in this article were obtained from several scientific research references. There were too many to list here. All this information is correct and there are no misspellings in this article. Kg is kilogram written in short form and mg is milligram written this way also. These are facts, nothing was made up here. The chemical structure of each compound clearly illustrates this and I am a chemist with 34 years of experience in the area of pharmaceutical research and development. I should know this from my schooling as a Chemistry major with a lot of courses in Biology.
LK on April 06, 2011:
Lol this article is not credible. You made this up on your own as there is no citation. Lol there are spelling mistakes too.
Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on February 01, 2011:
nj, all plants contain very low levels of cholesterol. As mentioned before these articles are wrong. I clearly included the facts here. Just look up the word Sitosterol. The labels on packaging containing vegetables always show the level of cholesterol as zero because the levels in vegetables are very low but it is there. Also the cholesterol in plants are the good cholesterol and are used sometime as supplements to lower the bad cholesterol in our blood. False Flax is one plant with a significant amount of cholesterol in it and is popular in the European countries.
nj on February 01, 2011:
I don't see any cited sources or the name of an author. This is irresponsible and leads me to doubt this article. Why would "many articles" say plants do not contain cholesterol and only this one say they do?