I was at the grocery store last week and a lady was handing out samples of a new kind of yogurt. She was telling us how good it tasted and how beneficial it was to your health because it contained phytosterols. At the time I glossed over the health benefits of the yogurt and bought it because the sample I tasted was good, it was on sale, and I did need yogurt. One aisle over I noticed a special display of margarine toting the same “phytosterol” benefits that the yogurt did. I recognized the phytosterol name but since I prefer butter over margarine – I moved on. The next day I was watching TV when a commercial came on for multivitamins – which, you guessed it, now contain phytosterols! OK – I guess the third time’s the charm so I decided to find out what exactly these phytosterols are and if I should go back and get the margarine and multi vitamins if they are as great as they say.
Phytosterols are often called plant sterols and they are phytochemicals which naturally occur in plants. They occur naturally in oils such as vegetable, corn and soybean oils but are present in such a small amount that they are not enough to do anything to your health. The reason they have become so popular lately and manufacturers are adding them to foods is because they have been proven to lower cholesterol levels in your body. Other benefits being researched are the ability to prevent some cancers and also to reduce inflammation in the body – as you all know, a good thing! Some studies are being done currently on the ability to improve the skin if applied topically.
This all sounds very good and we should all run out and buy all the products we can with phytosterols right?! Well – not so fast. Upon doing my phytosterol research I came across several warnings which say that taking excess phytosterols will decrease your vitamin levels – particularly D and E vitamins. Some unconfirmed reports are also showing that too much phytosterol can be damaging to the heart and blood vessels.
So – what does this all mean? Until further research is done I am not going to be too concerned about getting a lot of phytosterols into my diet. I will probably continue to buy the yogurt since I did enjoy it – but I will certainly not base a product buying decision on the amount of phytosterols it contains. I also realized upon looking at the ingredient list of the yogurt that I would need to eat at least 4 cartons of the yogurt each day for a long period of time in order to gain all the potential benefits of phytosterols – so I would not be too concerned that eating anything with phytosterols will do any damage to your health.
The conclusion that I came to is that manufacturers will always jump on the latest trend and try to tell you how great they are for you – and that we, as consumers, should always do a bit of our own research before we buy into it. There are some amazing products out there, and some amazing ingredients that are added to products, but not everything you are told is true!