Sunflower seeds and pistachio nuts are top snacks for reducing cholesterol. Scientists have known for a long time that nuts and seeds are rich sources of phytosterols, plant compounds that are structurally related to cholesterol and may lower LDL levels. Keeping cholesterol in check may be your goal, but it’s not realistic to accomplish this without some work…as in exercise.
It’s been a few years since Science Daily first reported the news that chemists at Virginia Polytechnic Institute found the plant sterols in pistachios and sunflowers seeds to be valuable assets in the fight against rampant cholesterol numbers. (ScienceDaily, 7 Dec. 2005. Web. 19 Aug. 2011.) “Sesame seed and wheat germ had the highest total phytosterol content and Brazil nuts the lowest,” said scientists at VPI. (Phillips. 2005) But these are not typically consumed as snack foods. Sunflower seeds and pistachio nuts, on the other hand, are, and were found to be richest in these compounds.
Dietary phytosterols favorably alter cholesterol metabolism in a dose-dependent manner by reducing intestinal cholesterol absorption. (Racette. 2010) Even a moderate intake can be obtained from a healthy diet, without supplementation. Of course, you have to eat the right foods. Plants contain a large range of phytosterols, which are structural components of the cell wall. (Plants have cell walls and cell membranes; animals just the membrane.) What phytosterols do for plants, cholesterol does for animals.
As functional foods, plant sterols and stanols demonstrate a strong lipid-lowering effect. (Moore. 2011) Including them as part of the diet may reduce risk for heart disease. Studies at McGill University concentrated on patients with Type 2 diabetes and found that plant sterols had a significantly more profound effect on the cholesterol levels of Type 2 patients than on patients with high cholesterol without diabetes. (Lau. 2005) LDL levels were lowered while the desirable HDL was relatively untouched. Additional lipid study in Israel learned that consuming plant sterols also results in a drop in circulating insulin levels, pointing to their use as food enhancers that can reverse insulin resistance and hyperlipidemia, and possible help to control body weight. (Ziv. 2009)
Controlling lipid levels with food or supplements is considerably more desirable than using drugs. Suggested intake of two to three grams of these plant compounds a day, either from food, fortified foods, or supplements, can reduce lipids by almost ten percent. (Baumgartner. 2011) More than that affords no increased benefit.
Whether raw or roasted, sunflower seeds have a dedicated following. Because they’re high in oil, the seeds are prone to rancidity, so refrigeration is a good idea. They aren’t just for snacks, either. They match pretty well with all the food groups and can really up the ante on nutrition. Sauté them with vegetables, add them to your salads, fold them into meatloaf and mix them with baked goods and even eggs. An ounce will give you two grams of fiber, almost half a day’s vitamin E, and a healthy ration of minerals.
American Chemical Society. Sunflower Seeds, Pistachios Among Top Nuts For Lowering Cholesterol. ScienceDaily, 7 Dec. 2005. Web. 19 Aug. 2011.
J. Agric. Food Chem., 2005, 53 (24), pp 9436–9445 Phytosterol Composition of Nuts and Seeds Commonly Consumed in the United States Katherine M. Phillips, David M. Ruggio, and Mehdi Ashraf-Khorassani
Am J Clin Nutr January 2010 vol. 91 no. 1 32-38 Dose effects of dietary phytosterols on cholesterol metabolism: a controlled feeding study Susan B Racette, Xiaobo Lin, Michael Lefevre, Catherine Anderson Spearie, Marlene M Most, Lina Ma, and Richard E Ostlund Jr
Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2011 Aug 11.
Am J Clin Nutr June 2005 vol. 81 no. 6 1351-1358 Plant sterols are efficacious in lowering plasma LDL and non-HDL cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic type 2 diabetic and nondiabetic persons Vivian WY Lau, Mélanie Journoud and Peter JH Jones
Lipids Health Dis. 2009 Oct 12;8:42. A high oleic sunflower oil fatty acid esters of plant sterols mixed with dietary diacylglycerol reduces plasma insulin and body fat accumulation in Psammomys obesus. Ziv E, Patlas N, Kalman R, Pelled D, Herzog Y, Dror T, Cohen T.
Curr Pharm Des. 2011;17(9):922-32. Plant sterols and stanols in the treatment of dyslipidemia: new insights into targets and mechanisms related to cardiovascular risk. Baumgartner S, Mensink RP, Plat J. Department of Human Biology, School for Nutrition, Toxicology and Metabolism, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.