New Research Reveals The Benefits Of A Pistachio Habit

New PREDIMED research suggests eating nuts such as pistachios more than three times per week as part of a Mediterranean diet may provide long-term health benefits

Research has shown pistachios can be an important part of a heart-healthy diet. A new observational cohort study on mortality adds to the good news with evidence that adding tree nuts, such as pistachios, to a healthy Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Building on previous research that found a small but significant protective effect of nut consumption, this study aimed to explore the relationship by studying individuals at high cardiovascular risk with higher-than-average nut consumption habits.

The observational cohort study appears in the July issue of BioMed Central Medicine, and was conducted on behalf of the research collective behind the PREDIMED study. The new study examined food questionnaire data from the PREDIMED study and used multivariable analysis to assess the association between nut consumption, including pistachios, and mortality.

The PREDIMED study is a long-term randomized-controlled trial that evaluates how the Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases by comparing three diets: the Mediterranean diet with additional extra virgin olive oil (EVOO); the Mediterranean diet with additional nuts (i.e. walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds); and a low-fat diet.

More than 7,200 men and women, in Spain, ages 55 to 80 years old took part in the PREDIMED study. At baseline, study participants did not have cardiovascular disease but did have risk factors such as: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight, diabetes, smoking, or a family history of premature cardiovascular disease.

Frequent Nut Eaters Found Healthier and More Likely to Eat Healthy

At baseline, people who ate nuts more frequently took in more calories than those who did not eat nuts, yet the frequent nut eaters had lower body mass index and waist circumference scores. Frequent nut eaters were also less likely to smoke, and more likely to exercise, and to eat vegetables, fruit, and fish.

Mediterranean Diet: Is the Secret Ingredient Nuts?

It may be tempting to assign credit for the positive results to the overall Mediterranean diet pattern. However, this study suggests that adding greater than 3 servings per week of nuts in the framework of an already healthy Mediterranean diet has benefits in addition to the Mediterranean diet alone. Small, but significant results were seen in the intervention arm with added nuts, but not in the EVOO or control arms of the study.

The Mediterranean diet is primarily a plant-based eating pattern, including fruits, vegetables, nuts such as pistachios, seeds, beans, and grains, with smaller amounts of fish, poultry, eggs, yogurt, and cheese. There is an emphasis on seasonal, fresh, and locally grown foods. Olive oil is the preferred main dietary fat over butter and margarine, and this diet has a moderate intake of wine, usually with meals.

The research suggests that those who ate more than three servings of nuts per week in connection with the Mediterranean diet may have a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, when compared to people who did not eat as many nuts as part of their diet.

On average, those in the Mediterranean diet and nuts group increased their intake of nuts by 16 grams per day (that’s about 23 pistachios). In contrast, consumption of nuts went down in both the EVOO group (-8g/d) and control group (-3.1g/d).

This observational study is an important addition to the body of research on nuts and heart health; however, given its observational nature it is not possible to conclude that the inverse relationship between nut consumption and the risk of cardiovascular mortality reflects cause and effect.

Pistachios: A Tasty Way to Get Three Servings per Week

Pistachios make a great healthy snacking choice, and can be an easy way to get three or more servings of nuts per week. A one-ounce serving of pistachios equals approximately 49 nuts, which is more nuts per serving than any other snack nut. A naturally cholesterol-free food, 90-percent of the fat in pistachios is the healthy unsaturated type. It’s easy to spot the good nutrition provided by pistachios, the colorful nut, which owe their green, yellow, and purple-red colors to the antioxidants and polyphenols found in the kernels and skins. Pistachios are a great-tasting, convenient, and healthy snack with protein, fiber, and antioxidants.