Eating Phytosterol Foods to Keep Cholesterol in Check

These compounds block cholesterol absorption, lowering levels

Eating foods with phytosterols may help reduce your blood cholesterol levels. Phytosterols are a group of plant-derived compounds that are structurally similar to cholesterol in the human body. When consumed, they compete with cholesterol absorption in the digestive tract and block it.

The following foods contain the highest amounts of phytosterols:

  • Nuts
  • Whole grain products
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits

Some studies have found that consuming 2 grams (g) of phytosterols a day may help you lower your LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, by 10%. Most people, however, are not getting anywhere near this amount.

This article reviews foods with phytosterols, as well as what's known about phytosterol supplements.

Nuts in woman hands
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Phytosterol Foods

Though phytosterols are difficult to quantify in foods because more than 200 of them exist, the most commonly found phytosterols in foods are sitosterol, stigmasterol, anthrasterol, and campesterol.

While this list isn’t inclusive, it should give you an idea of phytosterol content in healthy, whole foods. Due to the different methods used in research studies, measured phytosterol content may vary slightly.


Nuts contain high amounts of phytosterols, ranging between 95 and 271 milligrams (mg) per 100 g serving of nuts. Studies have shown that a handful of most nuts can have a favorable impact on your lipid profile.

The following nuts have the highest phytosterol content:

  • Almonds: 161 mg per 100 g serving
  • Walnuts: 143 mg per 100 g serving
  • Pistachios: 271 mg per 100 g serving
  • Cashews: 120 mg per 100 g serving
  • Pecans: 150 mg per 100 g serving

Roasting or eating them plain are healthy ways to prepare nuts. Frying or heavily salting nuts could have an adverse effect on your heart health if you consume them on a regular basis. 

Whole-Grain Foods

Whole-grain foods—including rye, barley, and oatmeal—are high in many types of nutrients. Some whole-grain products also contain high amounts of phytosterols.

The following grains have the highest phytosterol content:

  • Flaxseed: 210 mg per 100 g serving
  • Wheat germ: 197 mg per one-half cup
  • Rye bread: 33 mg per two slices

You might try using flax seed or wheat germ as salad toppings or add them to your morning smoothie or oatmeal. And to keep the rye bread healthy, don't top it with a sugary jam. You might try a nut butter, such as almond, instead.

Fruits and Vegetables 

Although fruits and vegetables may contain lower amounts of phytosterols compared to nuts and whole grains, they also contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, soluble fiber, and other healthy ingredients that make them cholesterol-friendly.

In addition, dressing your salads or vegetables with olive oil boosts the phytosterol content; one tablespoon packs 30mg.

The following fruits and vegetables contain the highest amounts of phytosterols:

  • Broccoli: 49.4 mg per 100 g serving
  • Red onion: 19.2 mg per 100 g serving
  • Carrot: 15.3 mg per 100 g serving
  • Corn: 70 mg per 100 g serving
  • Brussels sprouts: 37 mg per 100 g serving
  • Spinach (frozen): 10.2 mg per 100 g serving
  • Strawberry: 10 mg per 100 g serving
  • Blueberry: 26.4 mg per 100 g serving
  • Banana: 16 mg per 100 g serving
  • Lettuce: 38 mg per 100 g serving

The typical dietary intake of phytosterols ranges between 150 to 450 mg per day, even with food manufacturers enriching many common food products with the compound.

Phytosterol Supplements

While there are supplements that contain phytosterols, the jury is still out on whether they are safe for long-term use (after a year).

While they tend to be well-tolerated, the limited research available on their effects is conflicting. Some studies suggest they lower heart disease risk, while others say research doesn't support it.

For this reason, many experts recommend getting phytosterols from whole food sources instead.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Higdon J. Phytosterols. Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center.

  2. Cabral CE, Klein MRST. Phytosterols in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia and prevention of cardiovascular diseasesArq Bras Cardiol. 2017;109(5):475–482. doi:10.5935/abc.20170158

  3. Kim Y, Keogh J, Clifton PM. Nuts and cardio-metabolic disease: a review of meta-analysesNutrients. 2018;10(12):1935. doi:10.3390/nu10121935

  4. Kornsteiner-Krenn M, Wagner KH, Elmadfa I. Phytosterol content and fatty acid pattern of ten different nut types. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2013;83(5):263-270. doi:10.1024/0300-9831/a000168

  5. Cabral CE, Klein MRST. Phytosterols in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia and prevention of cardiovascular diseasesArq Bras Cardiol. 2017;109(5):475–482. doi:10.5935/abc.20170158

Additional Reading
  • Cleveland Clinic. Phytosterols, Sterols, and Stanols.

  • Higdon, Jane, Drake, Victoria, J., Delage, Barbara, Racette, Susan B. The Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center. Phytosterols

  • Othman RA, Myrie SB, Jones PJ. Non-cholesterol sterols and cholesterol metabolism in sitosterolemia. Atherosclerosis. 2013;231(2):291-299.

  • Racette, Susan B, Lin, Xiaobo, Lefevre, Michael, Anderson Spearie, Catherine, Most, Marlene M, Ma, Lina, and Ostlund, Jr., Richard E. Am J Clin Nutr. Dose effects of dietary phytosterols on cholesterol metabolism: a controlled feeding study. 2010 Jan; 91(1): 32–38.

  • Rolfes SR, Whitney E. Understanding Nutrition, 13th ed.

By Jennifer Moll, PharmD
Jennifer Moll, MS, PharmD, is a pharmacist actively involved in educating patients about the importance of heart disease prevention.