Pistachios, Much More Than Just A Snack!

December 10, 2012

I love shelling pistachios. I really do. Particularly those pesky ones that are barely open. I feel like they’re looking at me saying: “You will not eat me! I’m too difficult to open”. Oh yeah? Are you challenging me? Well, let me tell you something little pistachio, once I even used a pair of pincers to open one of your “kind”, so do worry, I will eventually eat you, no matter what.
Wait, a pair of pincers to open one pistachio? I know what you’re thinking; you don’t even need to say it: it’s time for a pistachio intervention.
A pistachio intervention? Here, I’ll go first: I’m Mike, I’m a triathlete and I have a pistachio problem. If there are pistachios around, I gotta have ‘em, all. Nothing can stop me. Even if I have to resort to brutal force, so be it.
Phew...now that I got that off my chest I already feel better.
Not that my pistachio addiction is something I have to worry about. To the contrary, it’s actually very good news for me. This tiny green nut has a great nutritional profile and it’s packed with health benefits. It’s not only about a great taste; there’s so much more to it.
Everybody (athletes and less-athletes) can greatly benefit by adding pistachios to their diets. Not convinced yet? Let me tell you more about it...

A nut dating back to the dawn of time

Pistachios have been known by humans since the dawn of time. Well, not that long, but for more than 8,000 years for sure. Archeologists have found evidence that pistachios consumption was common as early as 6,750 B.C.[1] in the region of Persia (today’s Iran and Iraq).
Furthermore, excavations in eastern Turkey have uncovered the existence of a non-migratory society populating this land around 7,000 B.C., whose economy was centered on harvesting nuts, in particular pistachios.
This shows that pistachios have been a staple in the human diet since the beginnings of history. Pistachios were sought after not only for food consumption, but for their medicinal properties too. That’s why they play a major role in many old legends and traditions[2].
Today pistachios are cultivated in many countries such as Italy, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, and Pakistan, among others.
In 2012 the US, with over 287,000 tons produced, have become the top producer worldwide of this green nut; with over 95% of the production happening in California[3].
Pistachio trees enjoy warm and sunny climates, and rich soils: no wonder they blossom in Cali!

Good things come in small packages

Pistachio is a nutrient-dense tiny nut with a heart-healthy fatty-acid profile as well as protein, dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, γ-tocopherol, and a number of phytochemicals. The pistachios unique green and purple kernel color is a result of its lutein and anthocyanin content[4].

The skinny nut

Pistachios have been referred to as the “skinny nut”. Not only because it’s one of the lowest calorie nut.
It has also been shown to be a “mindful snack” in terms of taking longer to eat and requiring the snacker to slow down and be more conscious of what has been consumed.
According to a recent study, in-shell snackers eat 41% fewer calories than those who snack on shelled nuts. Furthermore, it was found that in-shell pistachios offer a visual cue to help reduce intake. When leftover shells are cleared immediately, snackers eat up to 22% more compared to leaving leftovers shells.

Heart healthy

Studies have shown that a daily dose of pistachios may offer protective benefits against cardiovascular disease. Just by adding 1 or 2 handfuls of kernels per day to the daily diet can help protect the heart without a dramatic dietary lifestyle change.
A moderate amount of monounsaturated fat, such as the kind found in pistachios, has been reported to be a more effective way to prevent heart disease than reducing overall fat intake[5].
Most of the fat in pistachios (about 90%) is good, monounsaturated fat, which can lower blood cholesterol along with heart disease.
Of all snack nuts, pistachios offer the highest level of phytosterols, and are a powerful source of fiber, both of which reduce the absorption of cholesterol from the diet.

Good for cholesterol

A research conducted at Penn State University found that one to two handfuls of pistachio reduced risk for cardiovascular disease by significantly reducing LDL cholesterol levels and lipoprotein ratios (that are to be considered reliable predictors of cardiovascular disease risk).

Rich in antioxidant

Pistachios are high in lutein, beta-carotene and gamma-tocopherol. Beta-carotene is the precursor to vitamin A and gamma-tocopherol is a common form of vitamin E. Lutein is found in dark green leafy vegetables and is important in vision and healthy skin. All three compounds are oil soluble vitamins which help maintain healthy antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity in the body.

May reduce cancer risk

As mentioned above, pistachios are a good source of gamma-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E. It is known that vitamin E provides a degree of protection against certain forms of cancer, such as lung cancer.
A diet that incorporates a daily dose of 2 ounces of pistachios may thus help reducing the risk of lung and other cancers without significant changes in body mass index, a recent study reported.

Good for gut

It has been suggested that eating pistachios may positively impact bacterial profile of the digestive tract. Pistachios appear to have prebiotic characteristics. They contain non-digestible food components such as dietary fiber, which remain in the gut and serve as food for naturally occurring bacteria. They also contain phytochemicals that have the potential to modify microbiota composition. Foods with prebiotic properties may enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.

Nutrition facts

A 1 ounce serving (about 49 nuts) scores 157 calories, with 13 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbs, and 6 grams of protein.
Due to the high protein content per serving, pistachios are considered part of the protein group. according to the USDA MyPlate guidance system.


Why they’re good for athletes

Pistachios provide a quite unique blend of proteins, fat, and carbs which makes them a perfect snack in any sportsman diet.
They can be enjoyed before training to power the workout, or afterwards to speed up recovery.

Always prefer raw unbleached pistachio with the skin on

If you can, choose raw unbleached pistachios with the skin on. A recent study reported that raw nuts preserved phenolic levels and antioxidant capacity better than roasted nuts, suggesting contributing effects of other substances and/or matrix effects that are destroyed by the roasting process. The destruction of bioactive phenolics in pistachio skins may negatively impact the potential health benefits arising from pistachio consumption.

US grown pistachios are the real deal

As mentioned above, the US are the largest producer of pistachios worldwide.
Pistachios growers in the US have set a voluntary trade association named “American Pistachios Growers”, representing 100% of the domestic commercial pistachio production (which includes  growers, processors, and industry partners in California, Arizona, and New Mexico).
They have undertaken to grow pistachios with a sustainable approach: committed to maintaining the land and its environment so that the orchards and the ecosystem surrounding them will thrive for generations.
In this respect, it should be noted that growing pistachios is a long-term endeavorment, requiring at least 5 to 8 years for the trees to mature and begin bearing the fruits. It’s nothing like planting the seeds after harvesting the produce after few months.

Much more than just a healthy snack

Pistachios are still only viewed as snacks you enjoy while having a drink with your friends. Alongside with salted peanuts, chips, pop-corn, and the like.
I find this to be really unfortunate, as this green nut is a versatile ingredient that can be used in many different recipes.
It’s a great add-on to your salads, can be blended in making gorgeous pestos, or even green hummus. In the Middle-East they use it to make wonderful desserts.  
Be creative, there are endless way to eat pistachios, beside picking them from a bowl sitting on your coffee table while watching the football game.


For more information on pistachios and American Pistachios Growers visit AmericanPistachios.org


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