GO NUTS

A diet consisting of pistachios favourably improves lipid profile and reduces the risk of heart diseases

Written by Ishi Khosla | Published:February 28, 2010 5:58 pm

With a pale green flesh and reddish purple skin,pistachio nuts have been a part of the traditional Indian culinary art. With concerns ranging from high cholesterol and high fat content to their ability to cause obesity,the truth is that pistachios are actually cholesterol-free and are useful in lowering cholesterol levels. They also have several other cardio-protective elements; such as helping control blood pressure and weight reduction. Owing to their fatty acid profile,nutritional properties and bioactive constituents,pistachios have been found to be useful in the prevention and treatment of several disorders and maintaining good health.

The fat in pistachios is 90 per cent unsaturated. Mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) comprise 55 per cent of the total fat content. This type of fat is found in olive oil and has several desirable effects on our health. It has been shown to reduce bad cholesterol levels and increase good cholesterol. Thus a diet consisting of pistachios favourably improves lipid profile and reduces the risk of heart diseases.

Interestingly,pistachios are one of the richest sources of phytosterols and have been known to be a good source of other antioxidants (natural substances known to fight diseases and delay ageing) including beta-carotene (precursor for vitamin A),tocopherols (precursor for Vitamin E),carotenoids (zeaxanthin and lutein),selenium,and flavanoids. Carotenoids (zeaxanthin and lutein) protect against degeneration of the retina of eye and have a potential contribution in the prevention of heart disease and stroke. Their richness in selenium and other powerful antioxidants also contributes to their role in prevention of heart disease,diabetes and cancer.

Due to their similarity in structure to that of cholesterol,it is believed that phytosterols “block” dietary cholesterol absorption in the body. They are also a good source of protein,fibre and potassium. Like most tree nuts,pistachios are a good source of arginine (an amino acid) known to have heart protective properties. In addition,this essential amino acid is also necessary for synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain,helping in alleviating depression,controlling addictive behaviour and encouraging mental alertness. Pistachios also provide B vitamins. Vitamin B6 plays an important role in various biochemical reactions and efficient functioning of the immune system,red blood cell metabolism and haemoglobin production. It is also responsible for synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine,both of which are necessary for nerve cell communication.

They have recently been studied for their role in improving glycemic (blood sugar) control and preventing diabetes-related complications. A study conducted by the University of Toronto claimed that pistachios,when eaten with high carbohydrate food items like white bread,may actually slow the absorption of carbohydrates in the body,resulting in a lower than expected blood sugar level.
In fact,they also help in weight reduction. It has been reported that Oleoylethanolamide or OEA,an appetite-suppressing compound in oleic acid,helps one feel fuller longer after a meal.

The high potassium levels make pistachios a great choice for controlling hypertension and preventing arrhythmias (irregular heart beat). One serving of pistachios contains 310 mgs of potassium,a whopping 36 per cent of the daily recommended amount.
Pistachios can be consumed year round and provide not only nutrition,but also enhance taste and texture of food.

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