The purpose of this review is to outline the emerging role of dietary phytosterols in human health. Dietary saturated fat, cholesterol and fiber are currently emphasized in the reduction of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. However, other dietary components such as phytosterols may have equivalent or even larger effects on circulating cholesterol and need further study with respect to the potential for coronary heart disease risk reduction. Phytosterol effects were not considered in classic fat-exchange clinical trials and may account for some of the differences attributed to the food fats studied. Phytosterols reduce cholesterol absorption while being poorly absorbed themselves and the effects can be studied in human subjects in single-meal tests using stable isotopic tracers. Because phytosterols are insoluble and biologically inactive when purified, careful attention needs to be given to ensuring that commercial supplement products are rendered bioavailable by dissolution in fat or by emulsification. Recent work shows that phytosterols in natural food matrices are also bioactive. The retention of phytosterols during food manufacturing and the use of foods with high phytosterol content may constitute an alternative to the use of supplements.