September 26, 2008
Pistachios Improve Blood Cholesterol

Pistachios are good for your heart and arteries.

The participants began the study by eating a typical American diet consisting of 35 percent total fat and 11 percent saturated fat for two weeks. They then tested three diets for four weeks each with about a two-week break between each diet. All three diets were variations on the Step I Diet, a cholesterol-lowering diet in general use. The diets included, as a control, a Step I Diet with no pistachios and about 25 percent total fat and 8 percent saturated fat. The pistachio enhanced diets were Step I Diets with 10 and 20 percent of the energy supplied by pistachio nuts, respectively. The 10 percent pistachio diet had 30 percent total fat and 8 percent saturated fat and the 20 percent pistachio diet had 34 percent total fat and 8 percent saturated fat.

The pistachios change cholesterol metabolism.

The participants ate half their pistachios as a snack and the rest incorporated into meals.

The researchers report in the most recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that "Inclusion of pistachios in a healthy diet beneficially affects cardiovascular disease risk factors in a dose-dependent manner, which may reflect effects on Stearoyl CoA Desaturase (SCD). " The researchers used the ratio of two fatty acids, 16:1 and 16:0 in plasma as a marker for SCD, an enzyme that is involved in the body's synthesis of fatty acids.

"SCD is an important enzyme involved in cholesterol metabolism," says Gebauer.

They found the ratio of 16:1/16:0 was significantly lower, suggesting a decrease in SCD activity, after eating the 20 percent energy pistachio diet compared to the control diet which had no pistachios. Also, the change in the 16:1/16:0 ratio was correlated with the change in cholesterol, suggesting that SCD activity may contribute to the lipid-lowering effects of pistachios. That, accompanied by the dose-dependent effects of the pistachios, begins to unravel the way in which pistachios improve cardiovascular health.

So pistachios contain some to-be-discovered compound(s) that help improve your blood lipids. Foods are pharmaceuticals, mostly by accident.

Note that the pistachio fats did not displace the other fats in the diet. They added to total dietary fat but in a way that improved blood lipids.

Compared to the control diet, the 20 percent pistachio diet lowered LDL cholesterol -- bad cholesterol -- about 12 percent and the 10 percent energy pistachio diet lowered LDL cholesterol by 9 percent that suggests a 9 to 12 percent decrease in coronary heart disease risk. The relationships of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol may be more powerful predictors of cardiovascular risk. The effects of the 10 and 20 percent energy diets showed a dose dependent effect on these ratios.

Phytosterols in pistachios might be behind the protective effect.

However, the researchers note that the reduction in LDL cholesterol observed was seven times greater than would be expected from only the fatty acid profile of pistachios. They suggest that the lipid lowering effects not only reflect the fatty acid profile of the diet, but also are the result of other bioactive substances in pistachios, perhaps phytosterols and fiber.

I'd like to see this experiment repeated with other kinds of nuts to see the relative potencies of different nuts.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 September 26 11:05 PM  Aging Diet Heart Studies

Rick Z said at September 27, 2008 7:43 PM:

Awesome. My two favorite nuts are almonds and pistachios, but I had favored almonds for health reasons. Now I can balance them a bit more and feel good about it.
Wouldn't it be funny if further testing with other nuts showed no effect on blood cholesterol and retesting pistachios discovered that the benefit actually derives from that awful red food coloring? If that were the case, I'd be out of luck--I won't touch the red ones.

Randall Parker said at September 27, 2008 7:59 PM:


I love it when I can make my site so practical and utilitarian.

niko said at September 28, 2008 2:11 AM:

You have just saved me from years of guilt and shame.

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