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Go "Nuts" for Your Heart: New Study Shows Pistachios Lower Cholesterol

Researchers from Penn State University recently conducted a study to investigate previous research that showed an association between pistachios and lower cholesterol. They sought to identify the mechanisms behind this effect.

Their study, published in the September 2008 edition of the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved 28 participants, 18 of which were women and 10 of which were men.

The participants started the study by eating a typical American diet for two weeks. The diet consisted of 35 percent fat and 11 percent saturated fat.

After the initial two weeks, the researchers tested three variations of the "Step I Diet," which is commonly used to lower cholesterol.

The first variation was a step I diet with no pistachios. This was used as the control and participants consumed 25 percent fat and 8% saturated fat.

The next diet included pistachio nuts that accounted for 10 percent of energy intake. Participants consumed 30 percent fat and 8 percent saturated fats.

The final diet consisted of even more pistachios, accounting for 20 percent of total energy intake. In this group participants consumed 34 percent fat and 8 percent saturated fat.

When the researchers compared the control group to the group that ate the most pistachios a 12 percent decrease in LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) was found. The group that ate less pistachios experienced a smaller decrease.

More importantly, the researchers found that the mechanism behind these results was likely associated with lower levels of something called Stearoyl CoA Desaturase (SCD). SCD is an enzyme that is involved in the body's synthesis of fatty acids. Increased levels of this enzyme have been associated with increased body fat, diabetes risk and high cholesterol.

This study not only adds to the growing body of evidence associating pistachios with lower cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk, it also gives us an idea of the mechanisms behind this reduction. Further studies will serve to verify these findings and dig deeper behind the benefits of pistachios and tree nuts in general.

Previous research has identified a number of other health benefits with pistachios. Some of these include high levels of protein and fiber, reduced risk of macular degeneration, and high antioxidant levels. To maximize these benefits it is important to avoid salted, oil-roasted nuts.
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