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Antioxidants in Pistachios Target LDL Oxidation for Heart Health

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Pistachios are loaded with antioxidants that can help curb heart disease and lower cholesterol. Previous studies have shown that pistachios reduce heart disease risk. Now researchers find that pistachios have multiple benefits that can help maintain blood vessel health and reduce the risk of heart attack associated with oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Pistachios contain the antioxidants beta-carotene, lutein that promotes eye health and gamma tocopherol, comparabe to other nuts. Researchers have not been certain of the role of antioxidants contained in foods and supplements. Some studies suggest supplements with antioxidants can lead to harm. For the first time researchers from Penn State have found that antioxidants in the nuts help prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol that is a predictor for heart attack.

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Penny Kris-Etherton, distinguished professor of nutrition, Penn State says antioxidant studies have been disappointing. "Maybe we are not studying people long enough. Maybe there is something in the food that travels with the antioxidants." To find the heart health benefits of antioxidants in pistachios researchers studied pistachio enhanced diets in a controlled setting.

Three diets were compared. All of the study participants started by eating a typical American diet for two weeks that was 35 percent total fat and 11 percent saturated fat. Next the scientists tested three diets for four weeks, all of which were heart healthy with 8 percent of saturated fat. The three diets were further separated into no pistachios, or either 10 or 20 percent of fat supplied by pistachios. The 10 percent pistachio diet had 30 percent total fat and the 20 percent pistachio diet had 34 percent total fat that included 1.5 and 3 ounces of nuts respectively.

Changes in LDL cholesterol from consuming pistachios compared to the typical Western control diet were notable. Eating 3 ounces of pistachios along with a heart healthy diet raised levels of beta-carotene and gamma-tocopherol. The study shows that antioxidants in pistachios have the added benefit of reducing serum oxidized LDL levels... "in part through cholesterol lowering, and also due to an added benefit of the antioxidants in the pistachios," said Kris-Etherton.