Can Pistachio Nuts Lower Cholesterol?

Pistachio Nuts Have Heart-Friendly Benefits

Pistachio nuts laying on a table
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Do you enjoy pistachio nuts? They can be part of a healthy diet and studies are finding they may have beneficial effects on cholesterol and metabolic syndrome.

Pistachio nuts are seed fruit of the pistachio tree (Pistacia vera) and a close relative of cashews. This tree is native primarily to the Middle East, especially Turkey and Iran. Although the shells naturally have a light brown color, processors sometimes dye the outer shell red or green.

Nutrition Information on Pistachio Nuts

Pistachio nuts are a nutritious snack and contain:

  • thiamin (vitamin B1) helps your body change carbohydrates into energy
  • potassium is a mineral that helps offset the harmful effect of sodium on blood pressure
  • phytosterols and cholesterol have a similar structure and act in your intestine to lower cholesterol absorption
  • magnesium is a mineral, and a deficiency is associated with higher levels of LDL
  • vitamin B6 may play a role in reducing your risk of heart disease
  • calories: 158 per ounce (49 kernels)

Additionally, pistachios contain fiber and high amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are linked to improving cholesterol levels and promoting heart health.

Pistachio's Effect on High Cholesterol

Most studies examining the effects of pistachios nuts on cholesterol involved people with and without high cholesterol levels who consumed pistachios as about 15 to 20 percent of their daily caloric intake.

 

Most studies indicate that eating 3 ounces of pistachio nuts per day, about 2 handfuls, for 1 month can raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, up to an average of 15 percent. 

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and triglycerides appeared to be slightly lowered in these studies, but not significantly.

The researchers recommend future studies to confirm their findings but feel the data suggests eating pistachio nuts can raise your “good” cholesterol.

Pistachios Help Patients with Metabolic Syndrome

A high triglyceride level and a low HDL cholesterol level are two out of three metabolic risk factors required for your health care practitioner to give you a metabolic syndrome diagnosis. The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk for stroke, diabetes and heart disease.

Other risk factors include:

  • a large "apple-shaped" waistline indicating excess fat in your abdominal area
  • high blood pressure, or if you're taking medication to treat this condition
  • high fasting blood sugar, or if you're taking medication to treat this condition

In a 24-week study of 60 people with metabolic syndrome published in the journal Nutrition, researchers prescribed a standard diet and exercise protocol to all participants and added unsalted pistachios as 20 percent of caloric intake for half of them. 

The pistachio-eating group showed a statistically significant improvement in comparison to the control in several parameters, including:

  • total cholesterol
  • LDL cholesterol
  • waist circumference
  • fasting blood glucose

    High Calories

    Pistachios, as well as other nuts, can contain a lot of calories due to their high fat content. If you eat 3 ounces of pistachio nuts, you just added 474 calories to your daily intake. That's as much as a quarter pounder hamburger. Although this may seem like a high-calorie snack, the studies did not see any significant weight gain in the participants eating pistachio nuts on a daily basis.

    Bottom Line

    Pistachios are a healthy snack to add your diet. They may also help with raising your good cholesterol levels, but further study is needed.

    Sources:

    Dreher ML. Pistachio nuts: composition and potential health benefits. Nutrition Reviews. 2012;70(4):234-240. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00467.x.

    Gulati S, Misra A, Pandey RM, Bhatt SP, Saluja S. Effects of pistachio nuts on body composition, metabolic, inflammatory and oxidative stress parameters in Asian Indians with metabolic syndrome: A 24-wk, randomized control trial. Nutrition. 2014;30(2):192-197. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2013.08.005. 

    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: What is Metabolic Syndrome? (2015)

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