The Power of Pistachios
When we think of heart-healthy foods, olive oil and garlic come to
mind. Pistachios might deserve that title, too.
Studying the "Pistachio Effect" on Blood Vessels
Across most diets out there, nuts are usually "allowed". Paleo, Vegan, Atkins/Low Carb, Whole 30, and even diets that focus on low-fat intake include at least 1 ounce of nuts as a snack. Pistachios have positive effects on certain measures of stress in the body (Dreher M, 2012). In a study by Ravi R. Kasliwal, the researchers looked at 42 adults who had high levels of "bad" cholesterol, or a low-density lipoprotein level of 131-190 mg/dL. The adults were evaluated after a three-month intervention to determine the effects of pistachios on how well the vessels in their arms dilated, how well their arteries worked and other tests to see if the pistachios improved their blood vessel function (2015).
The 2 groups were the same, except 1 group ate 1.5 ounces of pistachios.
It was a high quality study. Although it wasn't blind (the pistachio group knew they were eating pistachios) the adults were randomly split into 2 groups. One group only followed changes in their lifestyle and the other followed similar lifestyle changes but also included 1.5 ounces of pistachios in their diets. The pistachios replaced saturated fats, a portion of carbohydrates, and dairy products in the diet. It's important to note that both groups engaged in regular physical activity for 30-45 minutes for at least 5 days/week. Each group was also given dietary advice base don the therapeutic lifestyle changes by the care center’s Registered Dietitian.
No changes in vessel function, but cholesterol improved.
At the three-month follow up, patients vessel function improved but these changes were not statistically significant. Meaning, the results may have happend by chance and not because of the pistachios themselves. But the good news is that those in the pistachio group saw a bump in their "good" cholesterol, the high-density lipoproteins. Their "bad" cholesterol also went down.
The pistachio group also had a lower fasting blood sugar level. Lastly, the difference between the two groups was that the total cholesterol to good cholesterol ratio was higher in the pistachio group versus the group that only implemented the lifestyle changes.
Medical Nutrition Therapy in Cardiovascular Patients.
Plaque build-up from saturated fats hardens the blood vessels. This is one of the major effects of aging on cardiovascular system and function (Mahan, Escott-Stump, and Raymond, 2012). These results show that eating 1.5 ounces of pistachios a day in place of saturated fats and dairy improves the fat-profile of the blood which supports the nutritional therapy recommendations made for patients who have, or at risk of developing heart disease.
Pistachios in a Heart-Healthy Diet.
A diet low in saturated fat, trans-fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is recommended to achieve optimal heart health (2012). Pistachios, and other nuts, have a nutrient profile that supports a heart-healthy diet due to their high levels of monounsaturated fats "MUFAs", phytosterols, and fiber(West et al, 2012).
Pistachios are also high in antioxidants, zinc, Vitamin E, carotenoids, and resveratrol, which aids against the oxidative stress seen in patients with heart failure (Chen, 2008). Their protein content is also known to have a higher level of arginine, which is a nitric oxide donor and a key player in blood vessel functioning (Deanfield, 2007).
Important: Check for Sodium on the Nutrition Label.
It's been long determined that too much salt in the diet is not supportive of a healthy heart. Despite that In some of the studies reviewed, the pistachios were roasted and salted (2015) these results do not negate the importance of salt restriction in those who are watching their sodium intake (or should be). Make sure to check the nutrition label when buying pistachios and other nuts.
Mind On Nutrition Recipe:
Chocolate Pistachio Energy Bars
These chocolate-y rich bars are a perfect pre-workout snack. They're balanced with the right amount of carbs, proteins, and healthy fats from pistachios with tons of other nutrients. Make them in the beginning of the week and stash 1 in your gym bag or purse for a quick snack before headed to the gym.
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup ground oats (first grind, then measure 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup plus 1 ounce of pistachios, chopped and divided
1 cup packed prunes
4 large eggs
2/3 cups unsweetened almond milk
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup dry quinoa
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch pan with parchment paper and set aside.
In a medium bowl stir together cocoa powder, oat flour, and 1/2 cup chopped pistachios and set aside.
In a food processor or blender puree the prunes, eggs, milk, honey, vanilla extract, and salt for about 1 minute.
Add canola oil and puree on high for 30 seconds.
Pour contents into a large bowl and add the cocoa mixture. Stir until evenly combined. Add quinoa and stir until it's even throughout.
Pour this batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the remaining ounce of chopped pistachios.
Bake this for ~30 minutes (at high altitude) and remove from the oven when it springs back to the touch. Remove form the oven and when cool enough, cut into 12 bars.
Serving Size: 1 bar ( ounces)
Carbohydrates 29g | Fiber 4g | Sugars 14g
Total Fat 11g | Sat. Fat 2g Monounsat. Fat 5g Polyunsat. Fat 3g
Cholesterol 62mg Sodium 260mg
Chen, C. Y., & Blumberg, J. B. (2008). Phytochemical composition of nuts. Asia Pac J Clinical Nutrition,17(Suppl 1), 329-332.
Deanfield, J. E., Halcox, J. P., & Rabelink, T. J. (2007). Endothelial function and dysfunction testing and clinical relevance. Circulation, 115(10), 1285-1295.
Dreher, M. L. (2012). Pistachio nuts: composition and potential health benefits. Nutrition reviews, 70(4), 234-240.
Kasliwal, R. R., Bansal, M., Mehrotra, R., Yeptho, K. P., & Trehan, N. (2015). Effect of pistachio nut consumption on endothelial function and arterial stiffness. Nutrition.
Mahan, L. K., Escott-Stump, S., Raymond, J. L., & Krause, M. V. (Eds.). (2012). Krause's food & the nutrition care process. Elsevier Health Sciences.
West, S. G., Gebauer, S. K., Kay, C. D., Bagshaw, D. M., Savastano, D. M., Diefenbach, C., & Kris- Etherton, P. M. (2012). Diets containing pistachios reduce systolic blood pressure and peripheral vascular responses to stress in adults with dyslipidemia. Hypertension, 60(1), 58-63.