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Pistachios Pummel Cholesterol

Pistachios, Sunflower Seeds Richest in Cholesterol-Lowering Phytosterols

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 9, 2005 -- Pistachios and sunflower seeds may be some of the best snacks for people watching their cholesterol levels.

A new study shows pistachios and sunflower seeds contain the most cholesterol-lowering phytosterols of commonly eaten nuts and seeds.

Phytosterols are a group of chemicals found in plants that are similar in chemical structure to cholesterol. Several studies have shown that high doses of the plant chemicals through supplementation can lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of some types of cancer.

But researchers say recent studies show that much lower levels of phytosterols, such as those obtained through a diet rich in natural sources of phytosterols, may also be effective at lowering cholesterol. Therefore, determining the phytosterol content of popular foods is important in helping people achieve the maximum cholesterol-lowering benefits.

Cholesterol-Lowering Content Varies

Nuts and seeds are rich sources of phytosterols, but researchers say until now a comprehensive analysis of their phytosterol content hasn't been conducted.

In the study, published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers assessed and compared the phytosterol content of 27 popular nut and seed varieties.

Although sesame seeds and wheat germ contained the highest overall level of phytosterols, researchers say they are not commonly consumed as individual foods.

Among commonly eaten nuts and seeds, pistachios and sunflower seeds had the highest phytosterol content, followed by pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, black walnuts, pecans, cashews, peanuts, and hazelnuts. In comparison, chocolate ranked between black walnuts and pecans in phytosterol content.

Brazil nuts and English walnuts ranked the lowest in phytosterols. But researchers say phytosterols are only one potential cholesterol-lowering ingredient found in nuts and seeds and other ingredients may also provide heart-healthy benefits.

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Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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