The effects of beta-glucan, soy protein, isoflavones, plant sterols and stanols, garlic and tocotrienols on serum lipoproteins have been of great interest the last decade. From a critical review of the literature, it appeared that recent studies found positive as well as no effects of beta-glucan from oats on serum LDL cholesterol concentrations. These conflicting results may suggest that the cholesterol-lowering activity of products rich in oat beta-glucan depends on factors, such as its viscosity in the gastrointestinal tract, the food matrix and/or food processing. The effects of beta-glucan from barley or yeast on the lipoprotein profile are promising, but more human trials are needed to further substantiate these effects. It is still not clear whether the claimed hypocholesterolemic effects of soy can be attributed solely to the isoflavones. Several studies found no changes in serum LDL cholesterol concentrations after consumption of isolated soy isoflavones (without soy protein), indicating that a combination of soy protein and isoflavones may be needed for eliciting a cholesterol-lowering effect of soy. Therefore, the exact (combination of) active ingredients in soy products need to be identified. The daily consumption of 2-3 g of plant sterols or stanols reduces LDL cholesterol concentrations by 9-14%. It has been demonstrated that functional foods enriched with plant sterols and stanols are effective in various population groups, and in combination with cholesterol-lowering diets or drugs. Whether garlic or garlic preparations can be used as a lipid-lowering agent is still uncertain. It is important to characterize the active components in garlic and their bioavailability after ingestion. It is not very likely that tocotrienols from palm oil or rice bran oil have favorable effects on the human serum lipoprotein profile.
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