Tasty Pistachio Nuts Have Unique Cardiovascular Benefits

New research on the heart health benefits of pistachios means we can toss these popular nuts into the “party mix” of good-for-us nuts — right along with the almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, cashew nuts, Brazil nuts and pecans we’re already enjoying with no guilt. A study from Pennsylvania State University finds that these tasty nuts deliver a handful of cardiovascular benefits, more so than other nuts. To learn more about the study and its implications, I consulted lead author Sarah K. Gebauer, PhD, the graduate student who worked on the study, currently a post-doctoral research associate at the USDA Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland.


Current government nutrition guidelines recommend consuming between 20% to 35% of calories from fat. In the study at Penn State, participants followed one of three diets: one diet (control group) was lower in total and saturated fat than the typical American diet and consisting of 25% fat… another diet included one serving (approximately 1½ oz) of pistachios and a total of 30% fat… and a third diet included two servings of pistachios (roughly three ounces) with a total of 34% fat. All diets were rich in fruit, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains. For the two nut-eating groups, nuts were consumed as a snack, roasted and salted, and in food that incorporated roasted, unsalted pistachios.

Dr. Gebauer and her colleagues found that both pistachio-rich diets significantly decreased blood levels of blood lipids including LDL, the so-called “bad cholesterol,” while also lowering systolic blood pressure. According to Dr. Gebauer, the beneficial effects of pistachios on cardiovascular disease risk factors may be attributed to their unique nutrient profile, including their…

  • Low level of artery-clogging saturated fat and rich level of healthful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • High fiber content.
  • Large amounts of disease-fighting antioxidants such as lutein, gamma-tocopherol and beta-carotene.
  • High levels — the highest of all commonly consumed nuts — of plant chemicals known as phytosterols, which may help decrease LDL-cholesterol.


Eating nuts is just one element of an overall heart-healthy diet, Dr. Gebauer emphasizes. Experts generally recommend that you consume 1½ ounces of nuts per day. For more information about pistachios or to get a free copy of a new brochure of pistachio recipes from celebrity chefs such as Todd English, Gale Gand and Michelle Bernstein, visit the Web site of the Western Pistachio Association at http://www.westernpistachio.org.

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