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updated: 9/7/2012 11:18 AM

Eat right, live well: Good health in a nutshell

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  • Heart-healthy pistachios and almonds make this couscous a nutritious dish.

      Heart-healthy pistachios and almonds make this couscous a nutritious dish.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer


Looking for a healthy, satisfying snack with the added benefit of decreasing your risk for heart disease? Look no further than pistachios.

A growing body of evidence says a diet containing pistachios can assist in reducing the risk of heart disease that affects millions of adults in the United States and is a leading cause of death. Studies have found that pistachios improve lipid profiles by increasing HDL (the good cholesterol) and decreasing total cholesterol and LDL (the bad cholesterol), thus reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.

Pistachios provide a variety of heart-healthy benefits. For starters, they are free of cholesterol trans fats and naturally abundant in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats -- those good-for-you fats that help reduce blood cholesterol and lower your risk of heart disease.

Pistachios are also rich in arginine. Arginine is a precursor of a chemical agent called nitric oxide that can widen blood vessels and thus time may help treat arteries that get clogged over time. In addition, pistachios are rich in phytosterols; these compounds work wonders by actually lowering the absorption rate of dietary cholesterol from other foods floating around in our system.

Pistachios are packed with potassium, magnesium, vitamin B and antioxidants. A 1-ounce serving (about 49 nuts) contains about 6 grams of protein, 3 grams fiber and plenty of unsaturated fats -- altogether promoting good digestive health and helping you feel full. The Food and Drug Administration authorized a health claim which states that scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. That means pistachios along with almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and pine nuts carry those benefits.

So how can you incorporate pistachios into your diet?

First, choose unsalted pistachios to cut down on the sodium content, and grab a handful as a ready-to-eat snack at any time throughout the day. Pistachios can be healthy alternatives to salty snacks such as chips or buttered popcorn. You can also slice pistachios thin to add as a topping to your favorite salads or desserts or try them in this African-inspired couscous.

• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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