Pistachios May Blunt Blood Sugar Spikes

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Dealing with after-meal blood glucose spikes is a familiar challenge to most people with diabetes. Now, new evidence presented at the International Diabetes Federation World Congress 2011 suggests that eating pistachios along with a high-glycemic meal may help to dampen the post-meal blood sugar response, particularly in people with metabolic syndrome (a cluster of factors that raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes). Previous research has indicated that replacing some carbohydrate foods with nuts each day has specific benefits for people with Type 2.

In a small study published earlier this year in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consuming 56 grams (approximately 2 ounces) of pistachios along with high-carbohydrate foods such as parboiled rice and pasta was shown to significantly decrease the post-meal blood glucose response in 10 healthy participants.

In an expansion of that study, the same research team looked at 20 people — 12 women and 8 men — with metabolic syndrome, an average age of 54 years, and an average body-mass index (BMI) of 37.5 (a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese). The participants were served 84 grams (roughly 3 ounces) of pistachios along with either 50 grams (about 1.8 ounces) of white bread or white bread with butter and cheese. Fingerstick and vein blood samples were collected over the course of 3 hours to check levels of glucose and insulin as well as several other hormones such as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). The research, which was funded by the Western Pistachio Association, found that the after-meal blood glucose response was lower when the carbohydrate foods were consumed with pistachios.

According to the study authors, “These data demonstrate that the addition of pistachios to foods with high available carbohydrate content reduces the overall glycemic impact of the foods studied [parboiled rice, pasta, white bread, and mashed potatoes], despite increasing the overall available carbohydrate content.” Lead researcher Cyril W.C. Kendall, PhD, proposes that the nuts, which have a relatively low carbohydrate content and healthy protein and fats, may be replacing some of the high-carbohydrate content of the meals, and suggests that further research is necessary to determine the exact cause of the modest impact on blood glucose levels.

As noted in this article on, one easy way to incorporate pistachios into your everyday diet is to keep a bag of the nuts handy to replace high-carbohydrate snacks, such as pretzels, potato chips, and sweets. A single serving of pistachios is 49 nuts and contains 158 calories, 8 grams of carbohydrate, 13 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein.

To learn more about the research, read the article “A Handful of Pistachios Can Decrease Glycemic Response” (registration required). And for more strategies on lowering after-meal blood glucose levels, check out the article “Strike the Spike II: Dealing With High Blood Glucose After Meals.”

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