Once upon a time cheese was the last food you would find on a heart healthy eating plan. By my how times change in the fast paced world of nutrition science, especially in the field of functional foods. Recently we caught up with researcher, Professor Peter Clifton to chat about plant sterols. Our latest FOOD FLASH post reviews the new kid on the cholesterol lowering block – Kraft Live Active cheese range
The Dietitians Association of Australia describes plant sterols as:
A naturally occurring ingredient that can help to reduce the absorption of cholesterol from food. They are found in small amounts in: nuts, seeds and legumes; vegetable oils; breads and cereals; fruits and vegetables. When eaten in the right amounts, plant sterols have been shown to lower blood cholesterol by up to 10-15% when combined with a healthy lifestyle. This is because they block the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol, leading to lower levels of cholesterol in the blood.
According to Professor Clifton, “The daily dietary intake of plant sterols is 160-400 mg among different populations. Dietary sources include vegetable oils (especially unrefined oils), nuts, seeds and grains so vegetarians may [naturally] eat up to 750mg a day, which would provide some degree of cholesterol lowering.”
Plant sterols have been added to our doctored food supply for at least 10 years in products like table spreads, yogurts and milks……even orange juice in countries like the USA. And now there is a cheese to please. You can read more about the safety and approval of plant sterols on our food regulator’s, FSANZ website.
Several international studies support the addition of plant sterols to cheese. Professor Clifton (unpublished) also has assessed the effect of 2g/day of plant sterols in cheese slices and cream cheese. Forty-eight subjects completed the study. They had an average BMI of 28 (range 19-39.2), age 58 years (range 38-71 years), an average total cholesterol of 5.7 (range 4.1-7.6 mmol/L) and LDL cholesterol of 3.7 (range 2.6-5.8 mmol/l). LDL cholesterol decreased by 4 and 4.8% respectively (both p‹0.01). If only participants with a baseline [elevated] total cholesterol of 5.5 mmol/L or above are considered, then the change in LDL cholesterol is 0.23 mmol/L (or 6%) and 0.29 mmol/L (or 8%) for cheese slice and cream cheese respectively.
Kraft Live Active Low Down
The product comes in reduced fat cheese slices as well as mini tubs of reduced fat cream cheese. The Heart Foundation of Australia recommends 2-3g of plant sterols per day for cholesterol management. This can be obtained from 1 x 40g minitub of the cream cheese or 2 cheese slices.
What we like:
– It’s just feels better promoting a food with essential nutrients like calcium, rather than piling on a spread for bread. Live Active cheese has the lowest fat per serve compared to spreads and milk products enriched with plant sterols on the Australian market (as of August 2010). Two serves, containing the recommended amount of 2g of plant sterols per day, provides less than 5g of fat. To get the same benefit you would have to eat 1.5 tablespoons of plant sterol containing spread.
– It tastes just like cream cheese. We didn’t roll out the blindfolds for a taste test, but we felt like we were eating regular cream cheese. Dr Clifton confirmed that subjects in the clinical trial did not detect palate changes.
What you need to know:
– There is no additive or extra benefit to consuming more than 3g of plant sterols (or 3 serves of plant sterol enriched products) per day.
– While they are safe for the whole family, there is no benefit to children or adults who do not have elevated cholesterol levels. Stick to regular reduced fat cheese products and save your pennies.
– Plant sterols can be effective with results seen in a short period of time (3 weeks) but they are not a magic bullet. Make sure you speak with an Accredited Practising or Registered Dietitian about your total heart healthy eating plan and lifestyle. And consult with your doctor about any existing cholesterol medication you have been prescribed.
So how about it readers? Have you had success with plant sterol containing foods? Do you support doctored, functional foods? Or do you feel that all natural is the way to go, like oats with cholesterol lowering beta-glucan? Go on, leave a comment below. We truly value your views, further insights or any questions.
Disclosure: Professor Peter Clifton was involved in the research and education on Live Active on behalf of Kraft. He was previously with the CSIRO and is co-author of The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet. He is now Head of Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institutes Nutrition Intervention Laboratory.