My Favorite Nut: Pistachio
By: Cat Ebeling,
I remember back when I was a kid, pistachios were bright red! Back then, pistachios mostly came from the Middle East, and the harvesting methods left them with stains, so they were dyed (ugh!) a bright reddish-pink to cover up the stains. Fortunately, most pistachios today come from California, where they come to us for snacking in their natural (and more appetizing) tan color.
Pistachios have become elevated to almost everyone’s favorite snack. Did you know that pistachios are one of the most nutritious nuts you can eat? Just a small 1-ounce serving contains over 30 vitamins, minerals, and other powerful nutrients to help you burn fat, improve your cholesterol and heart health, balance out your blood sugar, and even improve your sex life!
Pistachios contain some of the highest protein and healthy fats of any nuts, so they are one of the best ways to snack, get tons of nutrients, keep your blood sugar low, and burn fat as well.
Pistachios rank high among nuts as having the highest amounts of antioxidant activity (ORAC ranking) of any food. Antioxidants help to prevent free radical damage, which allows for healthy cell reproduction, slows aging, and prevents chronic disease, among other things.
Pistachios have a unique nutrient and fatty acid profile. They are a good source of unsaturated fatty acids and numerous antioxidants, including γ-tocopherol, β-carotene, lutein, selenium, flavonoids, and phytoestrogens.
Compared with other popular nuts, pistachios are one of the richest sources of potassium, vitamin B-6, beta-carotene, and lutein + zeaxanthin. And they contain a healthy amount of protein, fiber, and selenium (good for thyroid health) as well.
These little green nibbles are crunchy, salty, delicious, satisfying, low-carb, and good for you! In spite of the fact that these yummy nuts have loads of (healthy) fat in them, they are one of the best fat-burning snacks you can find.
Here are FIVE good reasons to snack on pistachios—
- A great source of vitamin B6—B-vitamins are ‘water soluble’ vitamins. That means that B vitamins are easily washed out of your body, and you cannot store B vitamins.
B6 is vital for helping to produce certain neurotransmitters that protect the brain and nervous system. What’s more, B6 helps banish depression and anxiety, increase your ability to break down and process fat cells, up your energy levels, improve premenstrual syndrome, and help attention-deficit issues like ADD and ADHD.
B6 is also one of the most important vitamins to lower homocysteine levels in the body. Homocysteine is an inflammatory substance the body produces that is a leading indicator of heart disease. High homocysteine = an increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots.
- Improves Heart Health and Cholesterol Levels—While many of the other nut varieties have been well-studied for their health benefits, pistachios have been studied for heart health and cholesterol-lowering benefits.
This study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows a definite and significant reduction in the harmful LDL cholesterol with as little as one serving a day, although the reduction in cholesterol actually appears to be ‘dose-dependent’. In other words, 2 servings of pistachios will bring down cholesterol and other cardiac risk factors slightly more than 1 serving (serving = 10% of total daily calories). LDL cholesterol was lowered by an impressive 9-12%.
High LDL is a major risk factor for heart disease and is thought to result partly from increased triglycerides (which usually come from a high carbohydrate-high sugar diet. In addition, pistachios contain high levels of antioxidants, which also protect heart health and blood vessels.
- Diabetes Fighter—Eating pistachios has a beneficial effect on blood sugar, helping to keep blood sugar levels low, insulin levels low, and helping to prevent diabetes.
New research from Spain shows that people with prediabetes actually have a lower risk of developing diabetes if they eat pistachios on a regular basis. The test subjects ate 2 ounces of pistachios daily and had significant drops in both blood sugar and insulin levels. Some subjects also found they had reduced inflammatory levels as well, due to the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory levels in pistachios. As an added benefit, subjects also found that their waist measurement decreased as well.
Besides the fact that pistachios are very low in sugar, they also contain many bioactive compounds that affect the heart, blood sugar levels, and other measures of health.
Pistachios are also high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats, so they help control your ‘munchies’ and satisfy you. Not only do pistachios curb your appetite, but they give you some seriously healthy nutrients as well.
- Better Sex—A study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research looked at the effects of eating pistachios in 17 men who had erectile dysfunction (ED).
The men ate about 3.5 ounces (about a cup) of pistachios a day for three weeks. The men were tested before and after the study using the International Index of Erectile Function score. After 3 weeks, the men’s IIEF scores increased significantly, and the subjects also reported they had increased sexual desire, pleasure, and satisfaction. So want to add a little ‘spice’ to your life? Eat more pistachios!
- Fat Burning—Nuts contain lots of healthy fats, but they also help you burn fat! Pistachios are nuts that contain the highest amount of protein, which helps to make you feel satiated and full.
In addition, they contain generous amounts of healthy monounsaturated fats, similar to the healthy fat in olive oil. This fat not only helps you feel satisfied, but it keeps blood sugar low—a key factor in appetite and the ‘munchies’. When blood sugar stays low, you keep your body in the fat-burning mode, burning fat for energy instead of storing fat—which is what happens when you eat carbohydrates or sugary foods.
What’s more, when you eat shelled pistachios, it takes a bit of work to crack those tasty little babies open, so you tend to eat less.
Pistachios also contain generous amounts of antioxidants, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which protect the eye from diseases related to aging, including macular degeneration.
And, pistachios are great for your gut health too. We all talk about “probiotics” but there are “prebiotics” as well. These are healthy, fiber-contained foods that feed your healthy gut bacteria, and pistachios just happen to be one of those foods that feed your healthy gut bacteria and keep those critters happy!
A study from the University of Florida study showed that people who ate 3 oz of pistachios for 19 days, had improved levels of beneficial gut bacteria, and an increase in beneficial butyrates, which are substances formed from healthy gut bacteria that help heal the gut lining. Got the munchies? Pick up a bag of yummy, crunchy pistachios. Your body and your gut critters will thank you! Enjoy your pistachios and stay lean!