Pistachios: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

The pistachio (Pistacia vera L.) has been used as a food source for 300,000 years and is one of the most popularly consumed nuts in the world. Pistachios have a slightly sweet taste and tender texture and are commonly enjoyed as a snack and used in recipes such as desserts and salads. 

Eating these protein-rich nuts has been associated with a number of health benefits, from reducing blood pressure levels to protecting against cognitive decline.

Here’s everything you need to know about pistachios, including their potential health benefits, risks, and how to include them in your diet. 

Adding nuts, like pistachios, to your diet is an excellent way to support and protect digestive health. Pistachios provide insoluble and soluble fiber, both of which benefit gut health. Insoluble fiber helps to keep bowel movements regular, and soluble fiber keeps stool soft and comfortable to pass and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the large intestine.

Pistachios contain 10% insoluble fiber and 0.3% of soluble fiber by weight. The soluble fiber in pistachios supports the growth of gut bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli species, which produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).

These bacteria break down soluble fiber, which releases SCFAs such as butyrate, propionate, and acetate. SCFAs support the health of the gut by fueling the cells lining the large intestine, supporting intestinal mucus production, and reducing inflammation in the digestive tract.

In addition to supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria, fiber-rich foods protect gut health by reducing the risk of digestive conditions such as constipation, colon cancer, and diverticulitis.

Pistachios are packed with nutrients known to support the health of the cardiovascular system. For example, pistachios are a good source of nutrients needed for blood pressure regulation, such as potassium, as well as those that support healthy blood lipid levels, such as fiber and monounsaturated fats.

High cholesterol and high blood pressure are considered risk factors for heart disease. Fortunately, eating more foods rich in blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering nutrients can improve heart disease risk factors and protect heart health. 

In a 2020 study, 100 people considered overweight were split into two groups. The first group consumed 1.5 ounces of pistachios per day and participated in a group-based behavioral weight loss program for four months, while the other participated in the group-based weight loss program only.

Though the groups lost similar amounts of weight, the participants in the pistachio group experienced significant reductions in their systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels compared to the participants who were assigned to the weight loss intervention alone.

Additionally, a 2020 review of 34 studies found that, compared to diets enriched with walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and cashews, pistachio-enriched diets were most effective for reducing total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

Another way in which eating pistachios could benefit heart health is through supporting a healthy body weight. Eating nuts, like pistachios, can help boost feelings of fullness after eating. This can help you eat fewer calories, lose excess body fat, and maintain a healthy body weight, which is essential for keeping your heart healthy and preventing cardiovascular disease.

Pistachios get their vivid color from their high content of carotenoid plant pigments, like lutein and zeaxanthin. In addition to providing pistachios their color, these plant compounds have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Pistachios contain the highest amount of lutein and zeaxanthin of any other nut. Raw pistachios contain roughly 13 times more lutein and zeaxanthin than hazelnuts, the nut with the second highest concentration of these antioxidant pigments.

Carotenoid compounds, including lutein and zeaxanthin, have powerful cellular-protective protective properties, and their intake has been linked to several health benefits. For example, a 2021 study found that women considered to be at a high risk of developing breast cancer who had the highest blood levels of carotenoids had a 28.6% breast cancer risk reduction compared to women with the lowest circulating carotenoid levels.

Studies show that eating pistachios may be an effective way to boost blood levels of carotenoids. In the 2020 study of 100 people mentioned above, the group assigned to the pistachio treatment plus the behavioral weight loss program intervention had significantly increased blood levels of the carotenoids alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lutein compared to the group that didn’t consume pistachios.

In addition to carotenoids, pistachios contain other antioxidant compounds, such as phenolic acids, flavonoids, and vitamin E, making them an excellent choice for promoting overall health.

Following a diet high in nutrient-dense foods, like pistachios, can help support brain health and cognitive function. 

Pistachios are high in flavonoid antioxidants, such as anthocyanins and flavones. These compounds may help protect against cognitive decline by reducing cellular damage and decreasing inflammation in the brain. 

A 2021 study that included data on over 76,000 U.S. adults found that higher flavonoid intake was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. When compared to the lowest intake, people with the highest total flavonoid intake had a 19% lower risk of cognitive decline. What’s more, the flavonoids most associated with protective effects against cognition included those concentrated in pistachios, including flavonoids and anthocyanins.

Additionally, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are concentrated in pistachios, account for up to 77% of the total carotenoid content of the brain and play a role in brain function. In fact, higher dietary intake of carotenoids is associated with better memory and cognitive performance, as well as a lower risk of depression.

Pistachios are rich in nutrients necessary for healthy blood sugar control, including protein and fiber. Pistachios are also low in carbs, making them a blood sugar-friendly food. 

What’s more, the flavonoid antioxidants found in pistachios have blood sugar-lowering properties. Pistachio flavonoids, such as genistein, isoquercetin, quercetin, and rutin, inhibit an enzyme called α-glucosidase, which breaks down starch into glucose or blood sugar. This means that these flavonoids inhibit carbohydrate absorption, thus supporting healthy blood sugar control.

A 2020 review that included six studies found that pistachio nut treatments significantly reduced fasting blood sugar and insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes.

Pistachios contain a number of essential nutrients, such as protein, healthy fats, fiber, B vitamins, and vitamin E.

Here’s the nutrition breakdown for a 1-ounce serving of raw pistachios:

  • Calories: 159
  • Carbohydrates: 7.71 grams (g)
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Protein: 5.73 g
  • Fat: 12.8 g
  • Vitamin B1: (thiamin): 0.247 milligrams (mg) or 21% of the DV
  • Pyridoxine (B6): 0.482 mg or 28% of the DV
  • Vitamin E: 0.811 mg or 5% of the DV
  • Copper: 0.369 mg or 41% of the DV
  • Iron: 1.11 mg or 6% of the DV
  • Manganese: 0.34 mg or 15% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 139 mg or 11% of the DV
  • Potassium: 289 mg or 6% of the DV
  • Zinc: 0.624 mg or 6% of the DV

Pistachios are a good source of certain B vitamins, including B6, a nutrient that’s needed for immune function, nutrient metabolism, hemoglobin formation, cognitive development, and more.

They’re also rich in copper, a mineral that’s needed for growth and development, red blood cell formation,energy production,  iron metabolism, and neurotransmitter synthesis.

Pistachios provide smaller amounts of other essential vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, vitamin E, iron, and zinc.

In addition to vitamins and minerals, pistachios are packed with plant-based protein, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and digestion-boosting fiber. 

Pistachios make a healthy choice for most people. However, when snacking on pistachios, it’s important to consider their calorie and salt content. Like other nuts, pistachios are relatively high in calories and can be high in sodium.

Roasted and salted pistachio products can contain high amounts of added salt, so those who are salt-sensitive or who need to avoid products high in added salt may want to choose raw pistachios or unsalted roasted pistachios. 

While pistachios contain satiating nutrients, like fiber and protein, they can be easy to overconsume, especially when enjoyed as a snack. If you’re watching your calorie intake, you may want to dole out a single portion of pistachios, which is around one ounce. 

Also, people who are allergic to tree nuts should avoid pistachios and any products made with them. 

Pistachios have a slightly sweet taste and smooth texture, making them an excellent choice for snacking, baking, and adding flavor and texture to various recipes. 

Pistachios can be enjoyed on their own or with other nutritious foods, like fruit or cheese, for a satisfying snack. 

Here are a few more ways to add pistachios to your diet: 

  • Sprinkle roasted pistachios on salads and grain bowls.
  • Make homemade pistachio milk by blending soaked pistachios with water and then draining the liquid. 
  • Use pistachios in yogurt, oatmeal, and chia pudding.
  • Crust chicken, fish, or tofu in crushed pistachios. 
  • Swap pine nuts for pistachios for a more vibrant homemade pesto. 
  • Add pistachios to baked goods, like cakes, muffins, and cookies.
  • Make your own pistachio butter using toasted pistachios and a high-speed blender.
  • Make a protein-rich snack plate with pistachios, cheese, and fruit or vegetables. 

Pistachios are shelf-stable and portable, making them a convenient pantry staple. To keep your pistachios as fresh as possible, try keeping them in the refrigerator or freezer in a glass container. Pistachios can last for a year or more in the refrigerator and up to two years in the freezer.

Brightly hued and delicately-flavored, pistachios are amongst the most popular nuts in the world. 

In addition to providing essential nutrients such as protein, B vitamins, and a number of minerals, they’re also rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory plant compounds that are associated with impressive health benefits.

Eating pistachios has been linked to better blood sugar control, reduced blood pressure and blood lipid levels, and protection against cognitive decline.

However, if you’re allergic to tree nuts, you should avoid pistachios and any products containing pistachios.

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