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Pectin is a complex carbohydrate derived from plant cell walls. In addition to its thickening properties, it is used to improve the texture of foods like yogurt. Because pectin forms a gelatin-like consistency when added to water, it can affect how quickly food moves through the intestines and how much cholesterol is absorbed from the diet. Previous studies have shown that these types of “gelling fibers” can lower serum cholesterol by 3 to 7%.
Various factors, such as the chemical structure, molecular weight, and source of the pectin (apple or citrus peel, for example), can all affect the cholesterol-lowering action of pectin in the body. To put these different properties to the test, researchers from Department of Human Biology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and the Cargill Corporation designed a two-part study.
In the first part, 30 people with mildly elevated cholesterol levels were given 15 grams of pectin or cellulose (nontreatment) each day for four weeks. The pectin was added to cereal bars, fruit preparations, and capsules. Seven different pectin types were tested, including
In the second part, 30 people with slightly elevated cholesterol levels received 6 grams of pectin or cellulose each day for three weeks. This time, two types of citrus pectin with different molecular weights were studied. Here’s what they found:
“Generic claims for all pectin types to reduce cholesterol cannot be supported based on our data, and molecular characterization of pectin and dose should be considered for health claims,” concluded the researchers. In other words, to ensure people receive a health benefit, differences between pectin types should be identified and products should be marketed with those differences made clear to consumers.
Since the amounts of pectin needed for health benefits are higher than amounts a person gets through diet, and at the moment, it is difficult to know which supplements would be most helpful, here are some other things that you can do to help lower your cholesterol. The more strategies you incorporate, the better your chances of keeping your numbers in check.
(Eur J Clin Nutr 2011;doi:10.1038/ejcn.2011.208)