Question: I am hoping you can help me with a topic I've been wondering about. My father had a history of heart attacks and heart disease. He passed away after getting an infection after heart surgery. I've read a lot about the benefits of nuts and pistachio nuts' role in reducing cholesterol, and I've been eating pistachio nuts (roasted and salted). I tend to eat a lot of these-and I'm wondering: can too much be harmful? Especially since there is a lot of salt and fat. . I enjoy eating the nuts as a snack, but I probably eat more than a few handfuls a day.
Answer: I probably would not worry too much about the few handfuls of pistachio nuts that you eat daily. Even though these nuts are high in fat, remember there are three kinds of fats, the good (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated), the bad (saturated) and the ugly (trans-fats). "Good fats", which are abundant in pistachio nuts, have been known to improve cholesterol and decrease risks associated with heart disease. In fact, there have been studies suggesting that increasing pistachio nuts alone in your diet is an effective way of improving your cholesterol. Pistachio nuts are a true "super food" as they are also high in protein, fiber, antioxidants and a number of vitamins and minerals (copper, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and B6).
Of course, too much of anything is not a good thing. Fat in itself is not the worry with pistachio nuts as much as the impact on the total calories you eat. Keep in mind that if you eat more calories than you burn (the average person will burn somewhere between 1800-2000 calories a day), of any type of food, you will gain weight. Pistachio nuts run around 4 calories per nut, so be sure to budget them into your daily caloric goals. If you would like the benefits of the good fat without weight gain, consider replacing some of your less healthy snack foods with pistachios. Snacks between meals are a good idea in general for controlling your hunger so that you don't over eat later on. Pistachio nuts make a great snack since fat and protein work well for appetite suppression. About 50 nuts or 200 calories, is a great idea for a snack. To prevent over-eating of pistachio nuts, consider pre-portioning your snack and/or buying nuts that are still in the shell.
If you plan on considerably increasing the amount of pistachio nuts you eat, discuss with your doctor if there is concern for adding extra potassium or phosphorus in your diet. It is also a good idea to avoid salted versions, if you have high blood pressure or heart disease.
Dominic L. Ricciardi, MD
Internal Medicine/Bariatric Medicine