Pistachios are one of the tastiest and oldest nuts around.
They have been enjoyed for thousands of years and good reason. They contain a ton of nutrients and offer an array of health benefits.
Eat them as a snack or with foods like topping them on some savory and sweet dishes.
Keep reading to find out all you need to know about pistachios.
Fun Fact:Pistachio has been consumed for such a long time that it was one of the only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.
Table of Contents
History and Facts
The pistachio, which is the seed that comes from the pistachio tree, is also known as the pistachio vera (1). It is a member of the cashew family and a member of the Anacardiceae family. It is native to regions of Central Asia, Iran, and Afghanistan and has always been considered a delicacy food in these areas (2). There is evidence that pistachios date back to 6750 BCE and were used as food even then.
Pistachio was cultivated 3000 years ago, and it has been for many years in Mediterranean regions and California. In the 1880s, imported pistachios were popular in the USA, especially with Middle Eastern immigrants. The main producing countries are the USA, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Afghanistan. Within the USA, the states of California, Arizona, and New Mexico represent 100 percent of the U.S. commercial pistachio production (3).
The green nut kernels are mainly eaten raw, roasted, and roasted-salted (4). They most often come in packages with or without their shells.
Did You Know?:Pistachios rival the antioxidant power of blueberries, pomegranates, cherries, beets, and red wine.
Pistachios are most known for being a nutritious food. And, for good reason.
In one serving (one ounce) of raw pistachios, there are the following macronutrients (5):
- Calories: 159 calories (kcal)
- Protein: 5.7 grams (g)
- Total fat: 12.8 grams (g)
- Saturated fat: 1.68 grams (g)
- Monounsaturated fat: 6.6 grams (g)
- Polyunsaturated fat: 4.08 grams (g)
- Carbohydrate: 7.7 grams (g)
- Fiber: 3 grams (g)
Although pistachios are nutrient-dense and higher in calories, they are one of the lowest calorie-containing nuts. One ounce of raw pistachios contains 159 calories when compared to walnuts (185 calories) and pecans (196 calories) (6).
Pistachios are a great source of healthy fats including mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (7). Additionally, they are a good source of protein and fiber (8). Most Americans do not get adequate fiber in their diets. Eating a diet rich in fiber can help increase the feeling of fullness, reduce blood sugar spikes, lower cholesterol, and promote gut health (9).
The protein in these mighty nuts is considered a complete protein (10). This means that pistachios contain all 9 of the essential amino acids necessary for maintaining health and supporting growth (11). Other sources of complete proteins include meat, eggs, seafood, and dairy. So, this makes pistachios a convenient complete protein snack that does not require any cooking or refrigeration.
Summary:Pistachios are nutrient-dense and high in fiber and healthy fats. Furthermore, it is considered a complete protein making it convenient and small but mighty.
Vitamins and Minerals:
In one serving (one ounce) of raw pistachios, there are the following vitamins and minerals (12):
- Calcium: 29.8 milligrams (mg)
- Iron: 1.11 milligrams (mg)
- Magnesium: 34.3 milligrams (mg)
- Phosphorus: 139 milligrams (mg)
- Potassium: 289 milligrams (mg)
- Folate: 14.5 micrograms (mcg)
- Vitamin A: 7.37 micrograms (mcg)
- Beta carotene: 86.5 micrograms (mcg)
- Alpha-carotene: 2.84 micrograms (mcg)
- Lutein + Zeaxanthin: 822 micrograms (mcg)
Pistachios are a great source of B vitamins, potassium, and folate (13). Folate is important for fighting off infection and assisting in red blood cell formation. It is also a necessary nutrient for healthy cell growth and function, especially during pregnancy. B vitamins give support to enzymes throughout the body to help them do their job and give the body energy to do so (14). Potassium is a crucial mineral that supports normal blood pressure and muscle contraction.
Other than calcium and potassium, pistachios are extremely high in several antioxidants which are vital for good health. Pistachios contain higher amounts of antioxidants than other nuts and seeds. Antioxidants prevent cell damage and reduce free radicals in the body. Free radicals circulate the body and can cause health conditions like cancer and inflammation. Foods that are high in antioxidants can be a powerful weapon against disease and premature aging of the body and brain.
Pistachios are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin which are other type of important antioxidants that have a direct effect on eye health (15). Eating them has been suggested to decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a common vision problem in older adults.
Summary:Pistachios are extremely high in the nutrients potassium, calcium, and antioxidants including lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta and alpha carotenes.
When it comes to pistachios, there are tons of health benefits that they provide.
May Lower Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a type of fat that is necessary for the body but can become harmful when the levels in the blood become too high. High levels of bad cholesterol can lead to heart disease, stroke, and other health complications (16). Fortunately, research has shown that eating pistachios can help lower bad cholesterol levels, also known as LDL cholesterol (17).
Pistachios are a rich source of unsaturated fats, fiber, and plant sterols, all of which have been linked to lower cholesterol levels. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that participants who consumed pistachios daily for four weeks experienced a significant decrease in their LDL cholesterol levels.
The study also reports that pistachios do not affect the participants’ total cholesterol levels or their levels of good cholesterol, also known as HDL cholesterol.
Pistachios also contain plant sterols, which are natural compounds that can block the absorption of cholesterol in the gut, causing levels of cholesterol to be lower in general (18).
Summary:Pistachios have been noted to help decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol levels with no effect on total or HDL (good) cholesterol.
May Improve Heart Health
Numerous studies have shown that adding pistachios to your diet can help lower your risk of heart disease. One of the primary ways that pistachios promote heart health is by reducing the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood. They are rich in plant-based compounds, such as phytosterols and fiber, that help block the absorption of cholesterol in the gut.
In addition, pistachios contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that help raise the levels of good cholesterol in the blood, which in turn lowers the risk of heart disease. Moreover, pistachios are also an excellent source of antioxidants, which are crucial for preventing heart disease.
Pistachios also contain high levels of vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that helps protect the cells from damage caused by free radicals. Aside from that, pistachios also help lower blood pressure, another major risk factor for heart disease.
Summary:The healthy fats, fiber, and nutrients in pistachios have all been noted to promote heart health in one way or another, decreasing the overall risk of heart disease.
May Improve Eye Health
Recent research has shown that consuming pistachios regularly can help strengthen your vision and protect your eyes from age-related diseases.
Pistachios contain essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which are crucial for maintaining healthy eyesight (19). Vitamin E, in particular, is a potent antioxidant that helps protect the eyes from oxidative stress and inflammation (20). Both are factors that contribute to age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.
Lutein and zeaxanthin, on the other hand, are two carotenoids that are present in high concentrations in the retina, which is the part of the eye responsible for processing visual information. These nutrients act as natural sunscreens, filtering out harmful blue light and protecting the delicate cells in the retina from damage.
Studies show that consuming pistachios can improve blood flow to the eyes, which can help reduce the risk of glaucoma and other eye diseases that are caused by poor circulation. Pistachios are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation and improve overall eye health (21).
Summary:The nutrients in pistachios, like vitamin E, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids can help strengthen vision and protect the eyes from age-related diseases.
Ways to Consume
Pistachios are a type of nut that one can consume in a variety of ways. Eat them as a snack on their own, in the shell, or de-shelled too. Some pre-packaged pistachios have added flavors like salt, pepper, garlic, and barbecue.
Other ways to eat pistachios include:
- Topping them on your favorite salad
- Adding them to pizza
- Incorporating into baked goods recipes like muffins, breads, and cakes.
- Pistachio ice cream
- Eat as nut butter or made into pesto
- Add to your favorite granola recipe
- Mix into your favorite smoothie
- Use chopped pistachios as a crust for fish dishes
- Top on a tasty yogurt parfait
Fun Fact:Mangoes are considered one of pistachio’s distant cousins because they are both part of the evergreen tree family.
- Allergy: Those with allergies to tree nuts are likely to have an allergy to pistachio. Tree nut allergies may result in vomiting, itchiness, indigestion, congestion, cramps, and nausea (22). Check with a medical provider if this pertains to you before incorporating pistachio into the diet.
- Can Affect the Digestive System: As we now know, pistachios are a fiber-rich food source. Because of this, consuming pistachios in large quantities may cause digestion issues. Some of the types of indigestion that have been reported include diarrhea, bloating, gas, and stomach cramps.
Summary:Pistachios are overall a safe food to eat and part of a balanced diet, however, may cause allergy for some and can have negative effects on the digestive system.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are pistachios best stored?
Pistachios should be stored in an air-tight container to maintain their freshness and quality. They will store longer in the refrigerator (for up to about 3 months) and even longer if they are stored unshelled (up to a year in the freezer). If stored at room temperature, they should be stored away from direct sunlight.
Why do some pistachios look purple?
Most pistachios you will find are typically yellow and green. Once in a while, however, you may come across pistachios that look purple. Don’t fret! This is due to the anthocyanins in pistachios, which are responsible for their skin color in addition to the color of many flowers and plants. Anthocyanins are a type of compound that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Did You Know?:In India, during the coldest winter months, people will binge on pistachios, which they call the “hot nut”. They believe that pistachios quite literally can warm a person from the inside out.
Adding more pistachios to the diet is one of the smartest things you can do. They contain a ton of nutrients, and antioxidants, and are high in fiber.
Pistachios are an easy go-to snack and can be incorporated into several different kinds of foods. They may offer health benefits like lowering cholesterol and boosting heart and eye health.
Get your hands on some pistachios today to start reaping their benefits!