Blood cholesterol reduction health claims on phytosterols can now be judged against EFSA new scientific advice
EFSA experts have concluded that foods such as yoghurt and margarine containing certain levels of plant stanols and sterols can reduce blood cholesterol levels. This advice will now help further guide the European Commission and Member States in any future authorisation of such health claims.
Professor Albert Flynn, Chair of EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA), said: “EFSA has identified the daily intake of plant stanols and sterols necessary to achieve a significant reduction in cholesterol and how long it takes for it to work. We also looked at the type of foods best suited to achieve this effect.
“This advice will help the European Commission and Member States when considering the authorisation of relevant health claims and will ultimately help ensure that consumers are not misled about the scientific basis for such claims.”
Scientists on the NDA Panel said in an Opinion that cholesterol in the blood can be reduced on average by 7 to 10.5% if a person consumes 1.5 to 2.4 grams of plant sterols and stanols every day. The scientists found that the effect is usually established within the first 2-3 weeks. Studies, which covered periods of up to 85 weeks, showed that the effect could be sustained throughout that period.
The NDA Panel also concluded that foods such as yoghurts and milk, including low-fat yoghurts and cheese, margarine-type spreads, mayonnaise, salad dressing and other dairy products, were the most suitable for delivering the cholesterol-lowering effects from plant stanols and sterols to the body. For other foods, either information was lacking or they appeared to be less effective in reducing blood cholesterol levels.
What are plant sterols and stanols?
Plant sterols and stanols are present in small quantities in many fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, cereals and legumes. Plant sterols and stanols are sometimes added to foods such as yoghurts, yoghurt drinks, and margarines to help lower blood cholesterol. Sterols and stanols work by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine and lowering blood levels of the low density lipoprotein (LDL), often referred to as 'bad' cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is called "bad" cholesterol because elevated levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Related work by EFSA in this area
EFSA has so far issued three opinions on applications for plant sterols and plant stanols in line with Article 14 of the Regulation on nutrition and health claims.
The European Commission asked EFSA to gather and analyse data across the EU on the consumption of plant stanols and sterols. A report presenting these findings carried out by EFSA’s Data Collection and Exposure Unit was published in March 2008.