It’s no secret that nuts are loaded with healthy fats that help reduce the risk of heart disease. However, one particular nut is starting to make waves in terms of its heart-protective benefits, especially for diabetics who have a heightened risk of heart disease.
Make mine a handful
The results of a recent study have found that eating two servings of pistachios a day lowered stress-related vascular constriction (narrowing of arteries). This lessens the load on your heart because your arteries are more dilated.
In the study, patients who consumed pistachios also had significantly lower blood pressure, specifically systolic blood pressure during sleep. Systolic blood pressure was reduced by about four points, which according to the researchers will “lower workload on the heart.”
Previous research has shown that a diet rich in pistachios reduces systolic blood pressure and vascular responses to stress in patients with high cholesterol. Pistachios are also rich in the antioxidants lutein, beta-carotene, and gamma-tocopherol (vitamin E) compared to other nuts. Eating one or two servings of pistachios a day has been shown to increase blood levels of these antioxidants, which in turn lower ‘bad’
LDL cholesterol levels.
Another reason for pistachios’ heart benefits is that they contain the amino acid l-arginine – a precursor of nitric oxide, which offers multiple heart benefits especially for people with an increased risk for heart disease, like diabetics.
A study, published in the journal Circulation, found that people with abnormally high levels of lipids (blood fats), like cholesterol and triglycerides, were able to significantly reduce their heart disease risk factors by snacking on nuts, while those who snacked on whole-wheat muffins got no such benefit.
Adding to that, a study published in Nutrition Reviews, found that people who ate pistachios for 24 weeks lost an average of 0.7 inches from their waists. They also reduced their cholesterol by 15 points, improved their blood sugar, and lowered inflammation.
According to the researchers, it seems that people often use nuts to replace processed foods when they are trying to lose weight, which is why they’re associated with weight loss. Nuts are also an excellent source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which tend to target belly fat and, according to another weight loss study, participants who consumed pistachios had a lower body mass index and triglyceride levels, compared to those who consumed a pretzel snack.
So, it seems that snacking on pistachio nuts instead of whole grains (often touted as a heart-healthy alternative) is a far better option to not only lose weight but also to protect your heart health.
However, there is one warning when it comes to eating pistachios: like peanuts, they have a high risk of being contaminated with a carcinogenic mould called aflatoxin.
Aflatoxin is thought to be the most potent natural carcinogenic and is known to cause liver cancer and immune suppression in humans. To minimize your risk of exposure to aflatoxin, be sure you buy your pistachios from a reliable supplier, which dries the nuts immediately after harvest to minimize decay. For instance, pistachios from Iran and Morocco have been found to contain dangerously high levels of aflatoxin.
Here are some further tips to reduce your risk:
Choose organic, in-shell pistachios (shelled pistachios are much more likely to be contaminated with aflatoxin).
Avoid bleached or dyed pistachios (usually red or green), which may cover up staining.
Avoiding eating pistachios that have a sour taste or signs of mould, excessive moisture, or insect damage.
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Journal of the American Heart Association June 30, 2014
Hypertension. 2012 Jul;60(1):58-63
Circulation. 2002 Sep 10;106(11):1327-32.
J Nutr. 2010 Jun;140(6):1093-8.
Nutr Rev. 2012 Apr;70(4):234-40.