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4 evidence-based health benefits of eating pistachios

4 evidence-based health benefits of eating pistachios

Pistachio nuts, which are “cousins” to cashew nuts, feature a similar, sweetish flavor.  Although pistachio shells are traditionally dyed red, this can be a bit misleading.  The natural hue of the meat inside is usually greenish-beige – a testament to the levels of beneficial chlorophyll in this nutritious nut.  (Technically pistachios, like cashews, are seeds – but let’s not get hung up on classifications!)

Not only are pistachios tasty and satisfying to nibble on, but they are rich in heavy-duty antioxidants and polyphenols - which gives them some serious scientific “cred” when it comes to promoting health.  Let’s see what these flavorful little nuggets can do!

Preserve precious vision with pistachio nuts

Pistachios contain generous amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, a pair of antioxidant plant pigments found in leafy greens and in yellow/orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, pumpkins, tangerines and corn.  The American Optometric Association reports that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the chances of developing age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in adults over 65.  In addition to getting adequate amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, optometrists and nutritionists advise protecting your vision with antioxidant vitamin C, zinc, vitamin E (which pistachios also happen to provide) and essential fatty acids such as omega-3s (ditto).

Pistachios can help protect your heart

According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease claims over 659,000 lives every year – amounting to a death every 36 seconds.  But pistachios, in a modest way, may help protect against this killer disease by working against obesity (a major risk factor for heart disease).  A 2020 controlled study published in Nutrients showed that 1.5 ounces of pistachio nuts a day helped reduce body mass index and waist circumference in obese adults.  Interestingly, the participants who consumed pistachios decreased their consumption of high-sugar, high-fat foods – although they weren’t counseled to do so.  (It was almost as if consuming pistachios helped reduce “junk food” cravings and led to wiser dietary choices).  Pistachios may also help lower high blood pressure - another risk factor for cardiovascular disease - with one scientific review showing that they were the most effective of all nuts at regulating both systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure.  Finally, pistachios contain prebiotic fiber, which is believed to lower levels of harmful LDL cholesterol.   

Pistachio nuts may act against type 2 diabetes

Pistachios have a low glycemic index, meaning they won’t cause blood glucose to “spike” after you eat them.  Even better: antioxidants in pistachios may actively help lower blood sugar.  A 2020 review of trials published in Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome suggests that pistachio nuts might cause a decrease in insulin resistance and a significant drop in fasting blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and metabolic syndrome.  In addition, the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids in pistachios have anti-inflammatory effects.  Scientists believe that chronic systemic inflammation may be at the root of many potentially life-threatening diseases - including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Nutrient-dense pistachios provide great, brain-focused nutrition

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), an ounce of unroasted, unsalted pistachio nuts (about 50 kernels) contains 159 calories – a very reasonable amount, considering that this serving provides a hefty 5.7 grams of plant-based protein and 3 grams of healthy dietary fiber.  This modest handful of nuts also contributes 289 mg of potassium - almost as much as is found in a small banana - along with 35 mg of magnesium and 139 mg of bone-building phosphorus.  And, with .5 mg of vitamin B6, an ounce of pistachios provides over a third of the recommended daily dietary intake for this essential vitamin, which is needed for cognitive development.

You can sprinkle crushed pistachios to yogurt or oatmeal, add the shelled nuts to trail mix, or just snack on them out of hand.  (By the way, crushed pistachios make an intriguing, crispy coating for chicken and fish).

To put it in a “nutshell,” pistachios may help ward off chronic diseases and obesity, while serving as a satisfying, convenient and portable snack.  While festive pistachios are traditionally associated with the winter holidays, why not make these tasty little morsels a regular part of your healthy diet year-round?

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