Indian study claims nuts can decrease risk factors for diabetes and heart disease.
Could pistachios be health cure-all?
In a region where nut consumption is a regular part of the diet, the news that pistachio nuts could play an important role in fighting diabetes and heart disease is welcome.
According to a recent study carried out by India's Diabetes Foundation, eating pistachios can lead to a decrease in risk factors which contribute to the diseases.
Nearly 20 per cent of the population is affected by diabetes, the second-highest rate in the world. The leading cause of death is cardiovascular disease.
Dr Seema Gulati, who co-wrote the study, said: "If anything is giving you a regional benefit over diet and lifestyle modification, then it becomes really important."
The study looked into pistachios because of their positive nutritional value.
They are "high in fibre, high in protein, high in antioxidants and there is a visual cue. When you shell a nut, you can see how much you have eaten", she said.
The study focused on patients with metabolic syndrome, which is the umbrella term for risk factors such as obesity and insulin resistance.
Sixty patients were divided into two groups for the study, which saw one half modifying their diet to include pistachios. The nuts, ripe and unsalted, accounted for 20 per cent of the subjects' daily calories.
After a six-month period, patients who ate pistachios found their central weight and cholesterol levels had dropped below those of the patients in the control group.
However, said Dr Gulati, it is important that people incorporate pistachios into their diet, as opposed to adding them as an extra.
"You have to displace energy from unhealthy foods and substitute [them] with pistachios."
Dr Saleh Al Badawi, director of the National Programme for Control of Diabetes at the Ministry of Health, said he had not seen the study but was sceptical.
"When it is such a small-scale study, you cannot generalise on the whole population. Usually, they say that one of the things about a small sample is that it is not reliable."
He conceded, however, that "All nuts are very antioxidant and if eaten raw, are beneficial."
A larger sample would allow the researchers involved to more easily defend the end result, he said, adding that a small sample would not effectively utilise research methods.
"It remains doubtful."
Dr Gulati maintains that the sample size was adequate to achieve valid results.
“ The sample size was statistically calculated based on previous studies. The calculation is statistically valid and can not be questioned.
We had used ripe unsalted pistachios for the study. But even if nuts are dry roasted there is hardly any difference in nutritional value.”