12 january 2013
With pale green flesh and reddish purple skin, pistachio nuts are a part of traditional Indian culinary art. They provide a mild yet distinctive flavour and are often used chopped as colourful garnish in both sweet and savoury foods. However, unlike almonds that have been prized for centuries for their health benefits, the benefits of pistachios are not well known.
With concerns ranging from high cholesterol and high fat content to their ability to cause obesity, the truth is that pistachios are cholesterol–free and useful in lowering cholesterol levels. They have several other cardio–protective properties and also help in reduction of blood pressure and weight. 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. There is also substantial evidence that pistachios help in preventing cancer, delaying ageing, maintaining good vision.
The fat in pistachios is 90 per cent unsaturated. Mono–unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) comprise 55 per cent of 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. A diet consisting of pistachios favourably improves lipid profile and reduces risk of heart disease. Adding 45 g to 90 g of pistachios every day to an NCEP (National Cholesterol Education Program) Step 1 diet resulted in a nine to 12 per cent reduction in LDL–cholesterol levels.
HDL cholesterol levels in women increased when 90 g pistachois were added to their diet every day.
The Harvard School of Public Health advises that nuts like pistachios have a favourable effect on blood lipids, and may protect against coronary artery disease through vasodilation, which inhibits platelet aggregation and adhesion, protecting us from atherosclerosis and angina.
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. The antioxidant polyphenols, selenium, tocopherol (precursor of vitamin E), lutein and dietary fibre in pistachio nuts may be the components that help prevent cancer.
Pistachio nuts 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 prevent heart disease. This essential amino acid is also necessary for synthesis of neurotransmitters in brain and thereby helping in alleviating depression and controlling addictive behaviour.
Pistachios have recently been studied for their role in improving glycemic (blood sugar) control and preventing diabetes related complications.
Pistachios also help in weight reduction. Oleoylethanolamide or OEA, an appetite–suppressing compound in oleic acid reportedly helps one feel full for longer. Another study reported that low–calorie diets supplemented with nuts produce a more lasting and greater magnitude of weight loss among obese subjects while improving insulin sensitivity. Overall, pistachios are rich in nutrients and a high–satiety food for weight watchers.
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well–being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: "To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all."