Pistachios and Cholesterol

Dietitian, Juliette Kellow highlights new American research which showed that eating a handful of pistachio nuts could help to reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing levels of bad cholesterol.

Going Nuts for a Healthy Heart

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

New American research reveals that eating a handful or two of pistachio nuts could help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing levels of LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Participants in the study, which was carried out by researchers from Pennsylvania State University, followed three different diets for four weeks each, with a two-week break between each one.

The first diet contained no pistachio nuts and consisted of 25 percent fat.

The second diet contained 1.5oz (one handful) of pistachio nuts each day and consisted of 30 percent fat.

The third diet included 3oz (two handfuls) of pistachios and consisted of 34 percent fat.

All the diets contained just eight percent saturates. Half of the pistachios were given as a snack and the remaining half were included in dishes such as muffins or pesto.

Blood tests revealed that when 3oz of pistachios were eaten, total cholesterol dropped by more than eight percent, and LDL cholesterol by almost 12 percent. The ratios between total cholesterol to HDL (‘good’) cholesterol also decreased, a good sign in terms of heart health.

The researchers looked at the effects of eating pistachios on the level of antioxidants in the blood and discovered that the diets that included the nuts were linked to higher levels of an antioxidant called lutein, which has been associated with lowering cholesterol levels.

Dr Penny Kris-Etherton who led the study concludes, “Our study has shown that pistachios, eaten with a heart healthy diet, may decrease a person’s cardiovascular disease risk profile.”

WLR says:

This is an interesting study and confirms the findings of many other studies that show nuts may help to keep the heart healthy.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration allows the following health claim to be made on packaging for certain nuts: “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

The types of nuts eligible for this claim include almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts.

It’s always worth remembering that nuts are high in calories though and so should only be eaten in small amounts.

They are also high in fat, but much of this is heart-healthy polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats rather than artery clogging saturates.

Salted and roasted varieties can also be high in sodium, so it’s important to opt for unsalted, fresh nuts if you fancy a nibble.

Type of nut Per 100g Fat (g) Saturates (g)
Cashews 584.5 48.9 9.6
Pistachios (no shells, salted and roasted) 601 55.4 7.4
Pistachios (with shells, salted and roasted) 608 54.5 7.3
Peanuts 609.3 52.1 8.2
Almonds 610 53.5 4.7
Hazelnuts 655 63.5 4.7
Brazils 687.4 68.3 16.4
Walnuts 691.3 68.5 5.6
Pecans 692.5 70.1 5.7
Pine nuts 695.3 68.6 4.6
Macadamia (salted) 748 77.6 11.2

All values are for unsalted nuts and nuts without shells unless otherwise stated. Source: WLR Food Database.

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