How Pistachio Nuts Help Reduce Cholesterol and Your Waistline

Do you enjoy pistachio nuts? They can be part of a healthy diet, and studies are finding they may have beneficial effects on cholesterol and metabolic syndrome.

Wooden bowl of pistachios in shells with some nuts spilled over onto the table
Hanna Tor / 500px / Getty Images

Pistachio nuts are seed fruit of the pistachio tree (Pistacia vera) and a close relative of cashews. This tree is native primarily to the Middle East, especially Turkey and Iran. Although the shells naturally have a light brown color, processors sometimes dye the outer shell red or green.

Nutrition Information

Pistachio nuts are a nutritious snack and contain:

  • Thiamin (vitamin B1) helps your body change carbohydrates into energy
  • Potassium is a mineral that helps offset the harmful effect of sodium on blood pressure
  • Phytosterols and cholesterol have a similar structure and activity in your intestine to lower cholesterol absorption
  • Magnesium is a mineral, and a deficiency is associated with higher levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
  • Vitamin B6 may play a role in reducing your risk of heart disease
  • Calories: 158 per ounce (49 kernels)

Additionally, pistachios contain fiber and high amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are linked to improving cholesterol levels and promoting heart health.

Pistachios' Effect on High Cholesterol

Some studies examining the effects of pistachios nuts on cholesterol involved people with and without high cholesterol levels who consumed pistachios as about 15 to 20% of their daily caloric intake. 

In one study, eating 3 ounces of pistachio nuts per day, about two handfuls, for 1 month raised high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is a healthy type of cholesterol, up to an average of 15%.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and triglycerides appeared to be slightly lower in these studies, but not significantly. The researchers recommend future studies to confirm their findings.

Pistachios Help Patients With Metabolic Syndrome

A high triglyceride level and a low HDL cholesterol level are among the criteria for a metabolic syndrome diagnosis. The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk for stroke, diabetes, and heart disease.

Other risk factors include:

  • A large "apple-shaped" waistline indicating excess fat in your abdominal area
  • High blood pressure, or if you're taking medication to treat this condition
  • High fasting blood sugar, or if you're taking medication to treat this condition

In a 24-week study of 60 people with metabolic syndrome published in the journal Nutrition, researchers prescribed a standard diet and exercise protocol to all participants and added unsalted pistachios as 20% of caloric intake for half of them.

The pistachio-eating group showed a statistically significant improvement in comparison to the control in several parameters, including:

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL cholesterol
  • Waist circumference
  • Fasting blood glucose

High Calories

Pistachios, as well as other nuts, can contain a lot of calories due to their high-fat content. If you eat 3 ounces of pistachio nuts, you just added 474 calories to your daily intake. Although this may seem like a high-calorie snack, the studies did not see any significant weight gain in the participants eating pistachio nuts on a daily basis.

Bottom Line

Pistachios are a healthy snack to add to your diet. They may also help with raising your good cholesterol levels, but further study is needed.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fantino M, Bichard C, Mistretta F, Bellisle F. Daily consumption of pistachios over 12 weeks improves dietary profile without increasing body weight in healthy women: A randomized controlled intervention. Appetite. 2020;144:104483. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2019.104483 

  2. Alshehri AM. Metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk. J Family Community Med. 2010;17(2):73-8. doi:10.4103/1319-1683.71987

  3. Gulati S, Misra A, Pandey RM, Bhatt SP, Saluja S. Effects of pistachio nuts on body composition, metabolic, inflammatory and oxidative stress parameters in Asian Indians with metabolic syndrome: A 24-wk, randomized control trial. Nutrition. 2014;30(2):192-197. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2013.08.005 

Additional Reading
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: What is Metabolic Syndrome? (2015)

  • Dreher ML. Pistachio nuts: composition and potential health benefits. Nutrition Reviews. 2012;70(4):234-240. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00467.x.

By Jennifer Moll, PharmD
Jennifer Moll, MS, PharmD, is a pharmacist actively involved in educating patients about the importance of heart disease prevention.