Cholesterol in Plants?

By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD

Although we usually think of
cholesterol as coming from animal products, plants contain very small amounts
of cholesterol.1 The cholesterol content of plants is estimated to
be hundreds to thousands times less than that of animals.2 These low
levels of cholesterol mean that plants’ contribution to dietary cholesterol
intake is extremely small. We were only able to find estimates of cholesterol
amounts in plant oils but not in whole plant foods. Corn oil, for example, is
reported to have 55 milligrams of cholesterol in a kilogram of oil.1
This works out to less than 1 milligram of cholesterol in a tablespoon of corn
oil.  In contrast, one egg yolk has 184
milligrams of cholesterol.

     Plants contain much higher amounts of
substances similar to cholesterol but with a slightly different structure
called phytosterols or plant sterols. Manufacturers use plant sterols to make
cholesterol which is sometimes used in pharmaceuticals.

     Vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians have
higher mean intakes of phytosterols than do nonvegetarians.3 This
may be a benefit of a plant-based diet since higher consumption of plant
sterols is associated with lower blood cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol


1. Behrman EJ, Gopalan V.
Cholesterol and plants. J Chem Educ.
2005; 82:1791–1793.

2. Sonawane PD, Pollier J,
Panda S, et al. Plant cholesterol biosynthetic pathway overlaps with
phytosterol metabolism. Nat Plants. 2016;3:16205.

3. Jaceldo-Siegl K, Lütjohann
D, Sirirat R, Mashchak A, Fraser GE, Haddad E. Variations in dietary intake and
plasma concentrations of plant sterols across plant-based diets among North
American adults. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017;61(8):10.

4. Andersson SW, Skinner J,
Ellegård L, et al. Intake of dietary plant sterols is inversely related to
serum cholesterol concentration in men and women in the EPIC Norfolk
population: a cross-sectional study. Eur
J Clin Nutr
. 2004;58(10):1378-85.

5. Klingberg S, Ellegård L,
Johansson I, et al. Inverse relation between dietary intake of naturally
occurring plant sterols and serum cholesterol in northern Sweden. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(4):993-1001.

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