Your heart is like the engine of a car — without it, your body can't run properly. Your heart beats about 2.5 billion times throughout your lifetime, working tirelessly to pump blood throughout the body and support essential bodily functions, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Considering the importance of the heart, it makes sense to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle. This includes exercising regularly, following an overall healthy diet pattern and avoiding tobacco products, per the American Heart Association.
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With so much nutrition information out there, trying to figure out how to eat for your heart health may seem challenging. But according to cardiologists, you could reap major benefits by simply adding a handful of pistachios to your daily routine.
1. Pistachios are Associated With Lower Cholesterol
One of the first indicators of a healthy heart is your cholesterol levels. There are two types — LDL and HDL. High levels of LDL cholesterol can raise your risk of heart disease, so it's often referred to as "bad" cholesterol, according to the CDC. Meanwhile, higher levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk.
One way to improve cholesterol levels is with the help of a healthy diet, per the National Library of Medicine (NLM). This involves choosing healthy fats, such as nuts, to make up anywhere between 20 and 35 percent of your daily calories.
"Most of the fat in pistachios are unsaturated fats, which are linked to lower cholesterol," explains Jim Liu, MD, a cardiologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "There are studies specifically linking pistachios to lower LDL cholesterol levels."
It's true: A small study showed including pistachios can improve total cholesterol levels and other metabolic risk factors in adults with type 2 diabetes, according to results in the November 2016 issue of Metabolism.
Blood pressure (aka hypertension) is another marker of heart health. It's often referred to as the "silent killer" because it usually has no warning signs but can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is often recommended to those with hypertension. It's a low-sodium eating plan created by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The plan calls for two to three daily servings of healthy fats and four to five weekly servings of nuts, seeds, beans and peas. Regular servings of pistachios are encouraged on the DASH diet.
Eating 1.5 ounces (or about a handful) of pistachios daily was associated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, according to June 2020 research in Nutrients.
3. Pistachios Are Rich in Fiber
Dietary fiber is an important nutrient for overall health. It aids in digestion, weight loss and even heart health. People who eat the highest amounts of fiber have a significantly lower risk of heart disease and heart disease mortality, according to a December 2017 review in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine.
Specifically, a high-fiber diet supports heart health by helping to lower cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation, according to the Mayo Clinic.
An ounce of pistachio nuts has 3 grams of dietary fiber, or roughly 11 percent of your Daily Value (DV), according to the USDA. The average adult requires between 20 and 35 grams of fiber per day, per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
4. Pistachios Have Antioxidants
One of the most important nutrients relating to heart health is antioxidants. This includes vitamins C and E, selenium and beta carotene, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Antioxidants support heart health by fighting oxidants (aka free radicals), which can cause cellular damage and have been linked to heart disease.
"High antioxidant levels can lower the risk of heart disease," says Ankit Shah, MD, a sports cardiologist and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. Pistachios are especially rich in the antioxidants vitamin E, polyphenols and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Compared to other nuts, pistachios have the highest levels of antioxidants like vitamins E and K, carotenoids and thiamin, according to an April 2015 review in The British Journal of Nutrition. In fact, they're in the top 50 antioxidant foods, according to a December 2021 review in Plants.
5. Pistachios May Support Healthy Blood Sugar
One of the heart health benefits of pistachios has to do with blood sugar. There's even a link between diabetes, a blood sugar condition, and heart health: Over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and the nerves that help control your heart, and those with diabetes may be at increased risk for heart disease, according to the CDC.
Eating pistachios has been associated with lower blood sugar and insulin levels and better overall metabolic health in people with prediabetes, according to an October 2014 clinical trial in Diabetes Care. That means a healthy heart!
How Many Pistachios Should You Eat?
"Like most other things in life, moderation is key," Shah says. Pistachios are high in calories, so even small servings add up quickly.
A serving of pistachios is about 1 ounce or 28 grams, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This equals about 159 calories, per the USDA. To keep sodium levels in check, opt for unsalted raw pistachios for a heart-supporting, cardiologist-approved snack.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Heart Health"
- American Heart Association: "The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations"
- National Library of Medicine: "How to Lower Cholesterol with Diet"
- CDC: “LDL and HDL Cholesterol: "Bad" and "Good" Cholesterol”
- Metabolism: "Effects of pistachios on the lipid/lipoprotein profile, glycemic control, inflammation and endothelial function in type 2 diabetes: a randomized trial"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Antioxidants & Heart Health"
- Cleveland Clinic: "3 Reasons Why Pistachios Can Boost Your Health"
- The British Journal of Nutrition: "Nutrition attributes and health effects of pistachio nuts"
- Plants: “Pistachio Nuts (Pistacia vera L.): Production, Nutrients, Bioactives and Novel Health Effects”
- My Food Data: “Pistachio Nuts”
- Journal of Chiropractic Medicine: "Dietary Fiber Is Beneficial for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses"
- USDA: "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet"
- U.S Department of Health and Human Services: "Blood Pressure Matters"
- CDC: "Diabetes and Your Heart"
- Nutrients: "Effects of Pistachio Consumption in a Behavioral Weight Loss Intervention on Weight Change, Cardiometabolic Factors and Dietary Intake"
- Diabetes Care: "Beneficial Effect of Pistachio Consumption on Glucose Metabolism, Insulin Resistance, Inflammation and Related Metabolic Risk Markers: A Randomized Clinical Trial"
- Cleveland Clinic: "A Diet Tip for People With Type 2 Diabetes: Eat More Nuts"