Premium pistachios grow in Sicily and they are so popular that local police use helicopters to protect the crop. Long known for its links to the mafia, Italy’s most southern province also has to contend with pistachio theft.
Called ‘green gold’ or simply ’emerald’, the finest and most expensive variety of pistachio is grown in the countryside around the town of Bronte, Sicily and is named after the city.
Pistachios – Nutrition facts
Pistachios have very high energy value, high protein and fat which is good for overall health, high carbs and medium sugar. They also contain high fibre content and a very low glycemic index which is great for your blood sugar levels. Pistachios have a very high content of vitamin B6, high vitamin B1 and a good amount of potassium.
Pistachios – great healthy news
If pistachios are still not frequent guests on your table, it is time to fix this and introduce them into your diet. Here is why!
1Can help lower blood sugar levels
Despite being higher in carbohydrates than most nuts, pistachios have a low glycaemic index, which means they do not cause severe blood sugar spikes. Studies have shown that eating pistachios can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. One review of six studies concluded that pistachios can lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes, prediabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Pistachios are among the top fifty foods with high antioxidant potential. In addition, pistachios are the only nut containing significant amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin for healthy eyes.
As well as being high in fibre and healthy fats, pistachio nuts are rich in antioxidants, carotenoids and phenolic compounds, which have a beneficial effect on blood sugar control.
So, by adding pistachios to your diet, you can aid blood sugar regulation.
2Contribute to healthy blood vessels
Like most nuts, pistachios are a source of the amino acid L-arginine, which is converted into nitric oxide in the body. Therefore, these small nuts can play an important role in promoting healthy blood vessels. In one study, 42 people who consumed 1.5 ounces (40 g) of pistachios a day for 3 months showed improvements in endothelial function and vascular stiffness.
Nitric oxide is a compound that plays an important role in vasodilation. It causes blood vessels to dilate, signaling smooth endothelial cells to relax. Vasodilation is the widening or narrowing of blood vessels. Endothelial dysfunction is characterised by decreased vasodilation, resulting in decreased blood flow and increased blood pressure and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
3May lower cholesterol and blood pressure
Due to their high antioxidant content, pistachios can lower blood cholesterol levels and improve blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
Many studies on pistachios and blood lipids are conducted by replacing some calories in the diet with pistachios. Up to 67% of these studies have shown a reduction in total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.
In a 2010 study, 32 men followed a Mediterranean diet for 4 weeks. This diet was then enhanced with pistachios instead of monounsaturated fats, accounting for about 20% of their daily calorie intake. After 4 weeks of the diet, participants had a 23% reduction in LDL cholesterol, a 21% reduction in total cholesterol, and a 14% reduction in triglycerides.
Pistachios, furthermore, seem to lower blood pressure more than other nuts. A review of 21 studies found that eating pistachios reduced systolic blood pressure by 1.82 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and diastolic blood pressure by 0.8 mmHg.
4Promote the healthy growth of gut bacteria
Pistachios are high in fibre, passing through the digestive system mostly undigested, and some fibre is digested by the good bacteria in your gut, acting as prebiotics.
The gut bacteria then ferment the fibre and turn it into short-chain fatty acids, which can have a number of health benefits, including reducing the risk of digestive disorders and cancer.
Butyrate is perhaps the most beneficial of these short-chain fatty acids. In a 2014 study, eating pistachios was shown to increase the amount of butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut to a greater extent than eating almonds.
5Has high antioxidant content
Antioxidants are vital friends of your health. They prevent cell damage and play a key role in reducing the risk of certain diseases, such as cancer. Pistachios are a good source of antioxidants and contain more of them than various other nuts and seeds.
Pistachios are particularly rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which are very important antioxidants for eye health. These compounds protect the eyes from blue light damage and age-related macular degeneration, a condition in which central vision gets worse or is lost.
In addition, the two richest groups of antioxidants in pistachios – polyphenols and tocopherols – may help protect against cancer and heart disease.
The antioxidants in pistachios are highly bioavailable. They are therefore more likely to be absorbed during digestion.
6May help with weight loss
Although pistachios are an energy-intensive food, they are one of the healthiest foods for weight loss. This is because pistachios are rich in fibre and protein, which increase satiety and help you to eat less.
According to a review of 11 studies, regular consumption of pistachios may be associated with a reduction in body mass index, which is used to estimate the amount of body fat.
Moreover, pistachios in their shells are useful for conscious eating because peeling the nuts from their shells takes time and slows down the pace of eating. The remaining shells also give you a visual indication of how many nuts you have eaten.
One 2011 study found that people who ate in-shell pistachios consumed 41% fewer calories than those who ate shelled pistachios.
7Yummy and fun to eat
Pistachios can be eaten in many different ways. They can be used as a snack, a salad dressing, or a baked good, giving a beautiful green or purple colour to various desserts and dishes.
You can also use them, like other nuts, to make pesto or nut butter. Another way is to try sprinkling them on your favourite oven-roasted fish or simply adding them to your morning granola.
Pistachios. The flip side
As you’ve heard about pistachio benefits, you may think that eating as many as possible will help you get all the positive changes as quickly as possible. However, it is important to realise that pistachios are not something you can consume in large quantities, and they have their own side effects.
Roasting pistachios are an excellent way to control harmful salmonella bacteria. However, acrylamide is produced in the process. Studies show that acrylamide is notorious for enhancing the growth of cancer-causing cells in the human body.
Pistachios are very high in calories. Therefore, eating too many pistachios at once can cause bloating and digestive problems. The feeling of heaviness can lead to lethargy and even interfere with other dietary habits.
Allergy to pistachios is caused by an immune reaction to the consumption or inhalation of substances containing proteins found in pistachios.
Some symptoms of an allergic reaction may be the following:
Stomach pain and cramps
Itching in the mouth, throat, eyes, skin or any other area
Shortness of breath
It is important to note that allergies to pistachios often cross-react with cashews and may cross-react with pink pepper, which means that individuals with a pistachio allergy may be intolerant to cashews and pink pepper. This is because they belong to the same botanical family – the Anacardiaceae.
For every allergy sufferer, it is important to discuss treatment with a qualified healthcare professional to understand how to manage individual allergies, and to develop a plan of action in case of an allergic reaction.
Fun & curious facts about pistachios
In China, the pistachio is commonly known as a ‘happy nut’ because it looks like it is smiling. Have you ever noticed this? Because pistachios are a symbol of health, happiness and good luck, they are often given as gifts for the Lunar New Year.
A popular saying in Mexico is ‘Quiere el pistache pelado y en la boca,’ which literally means ‘He wants his pistachios shelled and in the mouth’. It is understood as wanting everything the easy way.
Pistachios are also the original prehistoric snack! Humans have been eating pistachios at least for 9,000 years. In addition, pistachios are one of the only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.
Pistachios in the Blue Zones
The diet of long-livers prioritises whole grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and nuts including pistachios. Pistachios are particularly popular on the Nicoya peninsula, Costa Rica, where they are used in many dishes. One of the dietary principles you can incorporate into your life to eat like a long-livers person is to have a handful of nuts daily.
Let’s sum pistachios up
Pistachios are an excellent source of healthy fats, fibre, protein, antioxidants and various nutrients, including vitamins B1 and B6.
Incorporating pistachios in your diet will provide you with lots of antioxidants, healthy blood vessels, protection against high blood sugar, improved gut microbiome and just a tasty healthy snack. But like any food, pistachios have side effects, so they should be eaten in moderation.
Not enough? Here is more!
Here is a video of Dr. Eric Berg who specializes in Healthy Ketosis and Intermittent Fasting. He is the director of Dr. Berg’s Nutritionals and a best-selling amazon.com author. In this video, Dr. Berg will tell you about the benefits of these healthy nuts and why you need to eat them.
Receive Exclusive Tips & Weekly Digest – subscribe to our newsletter