Pistachios Protect Against Lung Cancer

Nuts, nuts, nuts — researchers seem to find more healthful benefits almost every time they study them. But the latest nut news really struck me, since it involves one of the worst diagnoses anyone can get — lung cancer.

The new study, from Texas Woman’s University-Houston Center, found that eating pistachio nuts daily may help to reduce the risk for lung cancer. The heroic nutrient is gamma-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E that has been shown to be protective against lung cancer and that epidemiologists believe may also lower the risk for other types of cancer, including prostate cancer. It is abundant in pistachio nuts.

In this particular study, researchers asked 36 healthy individuals — men and women — to consume their normal diets for two weeks. Then, for four weeks, 18 of the study participants added about 68 grams (about 2.4 ounces) of pistachios to their diets, while the other 18 participants continued eating normally. At the end of the study, individuals on the pistachio diet had indeed accumulated higher levels of gamma-tocopherol in their blood. Since it is an antioxidant that may protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, it’s thought this may help prevent lung cancer from developing.

Pistachio Power

Pistachio nuts provide other important nutrients as well, including fiber, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, thiamine (vitamin B-1), iron, magnesium and potassium. And they can also benefit the cardiovascular system by improving lipid profiles, said study author Ladia Hernandez, PhD, RD, LD, a senior research dietician in the department of epidemiology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

When I asked her if there’s any downside to eating pistachios (assuming that you aren’t allergic to them), she noted they do have lots of calories but told me “the results of this study showed that consumption of 68 grams per day of pistachios did not lead to significant weight gain.” (Note: When the nuts were weighed, they were unshelled and roasted, and participants were given the choice of salted or unsalted pistachios.)

Of course, as nuts go, pistachios aren’t cheap. But to many people, pistachios are very delicious — more so than other nuts — and they can be used in many healthful ways, raw or roasted… in salads, meatloaf and stuffing for chicken and other fowl… ground and used as a crust for fish… combined with fresh fruit in desserts. We’ve always enjoyed them as an occasional snack in my house, but now they’ll be a regular item on my shopping list.