Why You May Want to Get Crackin’ On Pistachios4 years ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
The state of California is a major producer of nuts -- particularly pistachio nuts. According to some reports, it is predicted that the state will produce more than 1.4 billion pounds of pistachios by 2026!
And this is a good thing, because pistachios, which have reportedly been consumed for 9,000 years, appear to house many nutrients and health benefits in their little green kernels.
Pistachios are rich in vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), one of the eight essential B vitamins.
“Pistachios are also a good source of vegetable protein (about 21% of total weight), with an essential amino acid ratio higher than most other commonly consumed nuts (ie, almonds, walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts), and they have a high percentage of branched chain amino acids,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“Compared to other nuts, they [pistachios] are also high in carotenoids, a type of antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of chronic disease and improves heart health, says registered dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick,” in this report.
Pistachios are great on top of salads, adding a nice, crunchy texture. You can even use crushed pistachios to ‘bread’ fish instead of using bread crumbs. Pistachios make a great addition to pesto sauce and can even be a great baking ingredient.
They are easily portable, making them a great snack before or after the gym or while you may be stuck at the airport.
So let’s dive a bit more into the health benefits of these green gems.
Pistachios may be good for your heart.
Any food that is said to be good for the heart has my attention, especially when considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, which is one in every four deaths. On top of this, the number of adults with diagnosed heart disease is estimated to be 28.1 million. And, of course, this does not account for all of the people who may have heart disease and not even know it!
But we can be proactive by eating healthily and making sure we incorporate certain foods into our diet that may actually work to keep our heart healthy. Researchers at Penn State University found that when people included pistachios in their diet it helped lower bad cholesterol but raise good cholesterol. (To read about the difference between good and bad cholesterol, click here).
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that we can eat all the junk food we want and just eat pistachios to “fix” our poor food choices. Participants of the Penn State study ate an overall healthy diet, but the ones who ate a “pistachio enhanced diet,” (where 20 percent of the energy from the diet came from pistachios), showed the best cholesterol scores.
Another study suggested that “a daily dose of pistachios may offer protective benefits against cardiovascular disease.” This study involved people who already had moderately high cholesterol levels. When the participants included 15 percent of calories in their daily diet from pistachios (this is only about two handfuls) over a four week period, it improved some of the participants’ blood lipid levels. Fats in the blood are called lipids.
“High levels of most blood lipids increase the risk of developing both heart disease and stroke while lowering blood lipid levels has been shown to reduce the risk. Lipids join with protein in the blood to form lipoproteins, known as cholesterol,” according to this report discussing the study.
Pistachios may also help lower blood pressure.
Pistachios are a good source of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats can help lower bad cholesterol. In addition to this, they help develop and maintain your cells. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
Reduce triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood
Reduce the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat
Slow the buildup of plaque in your arteries
Slightly lower your blood pressure
Lower your blood pressure
Pistachios may help with the management of diabetes.
Diabetes is another serious health condition very prevalent in the United states. And having diabetes increases your risk of developing heart disease. So again, it is important to eat healthily and find those foods that may specifically target these health issues.
Research with diabetic rats has shown that the consumption of pistachios helped better manage their condition.
One study found that people with prediabetes who consumed two ounces of pistachios every day “experienced significant drops in blood sugar and insulin levels. They also saw an improvement in insulin and glucose processing. Some of the participants also experienced reduced inflammation,” according to this report discussing the study.
Pistachios may help prevent cancer and more.
Pistachios contain powerful antioxidants which may help combat inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is believed to be a root cause of many health issues, including heart disease, arthritis, dementia and cancer.
“Moreover, the skin of nuts contains considerable amounts of resveratrol,52 which has been widely studied for its role in cancer, but new research is now changing this focus to other diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Pistachios may help with weight loss.
There is an obesity epidemic in America, and this is scary because being overweight or obese significantly increases the risk of developing cancer, depression, heart disease and more.
The fiber and protein present in pistachios makes these nuts a filling and satisfying snack in between meals. One study involving obese patients who were put on weight reduction diets showed better results when they replaced their afternoon snack with pistachios as opposed to pretzels.
Pistachios may be good for eye health.
We must be proactive about protecting our precious sight by eating healthily.
Reportedly, the pistachio is the one nut that contains significant amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin. These are two carotenoids and antioxidants that concentrate in eye tissue. According to the American Optometric Association, “[l]utein and zeaxanthin filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light and help protect and maintain healthy cells in the eyes. Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye.” These carotenoids and antioxidants may also reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of irreversible blindness in Americans over the age of 65.
Pistachios may be good for gut health.
I was surprised to discover that pistachios may be good for your gut. We are constantly talking about the gut microbiome and how in many cases disease is believed to begin in the gut. With gut health, the goal is to maintain a sufficient and diverse population of good gut bacteria. One of the ways we can achieve this is by making sure we get plenty of prebiotics and probiotics in our daily diet.
“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,” according to this report.
Let’s take a look at some of the essential nutrients we all need to stay healthy in just one ounce (49 kernels) of raw pistachio nuts:
Calcium, 30 mg. Of course, calcium is important for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. This mineral is also important for maintaining hair and nail health in perimenopausal and menopausal women. Adequate calcium intake may also decrease the risk for colorectal cancer.
Magnesium, 34 mg. This mineral is needed by more than 300 human body enzymes to facilitate biochemical reactions. It helps create energy for the body and activates muscle and nerve tissues by enabling potassium and calcium transfer through cell membranes. If magnesium levels in the body are too low, whole body systems don’t work properly, resulting in fatigue and cramps.
Phosphorus, 139 mg. This mineral works with calcium to help build strong bones and teeth. It is also needed to help balance and use other vitamins and minerals including vitamin D, iodine, magnesium and zinc.
Potassium, 291 mg. Potassium may help lower blood pressure by balancing out the negative effects of salt. According to Harvard Health, “[w]hen it comes to fighting high blood pressure, the average American diet delivers too much sodium and too little potassium. Eating to reverse this imbalance could prevent or control high blood pressure and translate into fewer heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from heart disease.”
Vitamin A, 146 IU. This vitamin is an antioxidant that supports the immune system and is good for skin and eye health. Vitamin A also promotes cell growth.
Any risks or things to watch out for when eating pistachios?
Overall, pistachios appear to be healthy and safe to eat. However, with any food, it is important to consume in moderation. If you need to be mindful of your salt intake, make sure to buy unsalted pistachios. And some brands of packaged store-bought pistachios dye the shells to make them appear greener! This is why looking at ingredients and nutrition facts is imperative. If you see any dyes or chemical on the labels that you cannot pronounce, that is usually a sign there are additives present you do not need. And your eyes are good judgement as well. If the pistachios look abnormally green, there are probably some color additives.
As always, if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have any existing health issues, consult a competent healthcare professional regarding what foods you are including in your daily diet.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.