Researchers have known for some time that nuts and seeds are rich sources of phytosterols, a class of plant chemicals that have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and improve heart health. In what is believed to be the most comprehensive analysis to date of the phytosterol content of nuts and seeds, chemists at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va., analyzed some 27 nut and seed products and found that pistachios and sunflower kernels had the highest levels of phytosterols among the nuts and seeds that are most commonly consumed as snack foods in the United States. Their study appears in the Nov. 30 issue of the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Sesame seed and wheat germ actually ranked highest but are not consumed as frequently as individual foods, the researchers say. Brazil nuts and walnuts ranked the lowest in phytosterols, they say. The chemists caution that phytosterols are not the only food component involved in lowering cholesterol and that other compounds may also play a role. A well-balanced diet and frequent exercise are important keys to good health, they stress.
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