February 20, 2006 3:48 AM   Subscribe

What is the difference between plant stanol esters and plant sterol esters? Two popular butter substitutes claim to have been proven to lower cholesterol by using these substances. Which one is better at doing it?

And why in the world does one (or both - I don't recall) use hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, which return saturated fats to the equation?
posted by megatherium to Food & Drink (6 answers total)
Stanol esters are saturated, sterol esters are unsaturated. They are pretty much equally effective at reducing LDL levels so that isn't really a ceterming factor in your choice. Both work, so you can base your decision on other factors.

I'm not sure about the second part of your question; I'd have to see the label myself.
posted by Justinian at 5:38 AM on February 20, 2006

The wikipedia article on trans fats gives you good answers to your second question. Short answer: hydrogenation gives longer shelf life and allows the melting point to be manipulated to give the "melt in your mouth" effect.

The article also notes that partially hydrogenated oils are effectively banned in Denmark, Canada seems likely to follow.
posted by teleskiving at 6:01 AM on February 20, 2006

Whoops, I didn't really parse your question properly - I thought "one" was a personal pronoun! I can only guess that they are using a very small amount of the stuff, otherwise it doesn't make any sense.
posted by teleskiving at 6:07 AM on February 20, 2006

usually eating no butter is better at lowering cholesterol. And those 'studies' have the absolute worst testing parameters funded by the companies who make them so they are pretty much inconclusive.
posted by cdcello at 6:33 AM on February 20, 2006

Yeah, stanols are basically the hydrogenated (saturated) version of sterols. Though sterol esters and stanol esters do reduce cholesterol equally well on a short-term basis, a few recent studies have suggested that stanols may work better on a long-term basis. (Here's one abstract.) More research needs to be done before anything conclusive can be said, but I might go with stanol esters just in case.

Regarding the second part of your question, teleskiving has it. Partially hydrogenated oil is used in butter substitutes to improve their texture; saturated fats are solid at room temperature, so the addition of small amounts makes the end product behave more like butter without significantly increasing the saturated fat or trans fat content.

On preview, cdcello, you are incorrect. Plant stanols and sterols have been known to reduce cholesterol levels for over 50 years, long before the invention of Benecol or any of that stuff. In fact, before the advent of statins, these compounds were actually used to treat high cholesterol. The problem at the time was that they weren't well-absorbed by the body, but that has been remedied by esterifying them to fatty acids, which increases their absorption as well as their solubility in fat-containing foods. That's the reason for the renewed interest.
posted by purplemonkie at 6:50 AM on February 20, 2006

Some people can not tolerate statins and for these people especially, stanol esters, like Benecol, are a godsend. They also have little or no side effects, whereas statins carry some potentially dangerous side effects. For mildly elevated cholestorol stanol esters provide an option with reduced risk.
posted by caddis at 9:30 AM on February 20, 2006

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