By David Grotto, RD
What do peaches, mangos, and pistachios have in common? They’re all yummy and are also members of the same species. Pistachios grow on trees in grape-like clusters that can either be picked by hand (like they still do in Turkey) or shaken to the ground by a tree-hugging machine that goes wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. Here’s a video of a tree shaker in action.
Before 1976, all pistachios available in the U.S. were from the Middle East and were dyed red to hide their imperfections. Now you’d be hard pressed to find any of the ruby red ones around ( though you can still get them if you want those stained fingertips) because the bulk of the pistachios eaten here in the United States show off their natural, blonde shells.
Pistachios are one of America’s favorite nuts and are often thought of as a decadent treat. But the good news is pistachios are low in saturated fat, contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and are a good source of fiber. They are an excellent source of protein, supplying six grams per ounce (about 49 kernels). In that same ounce, you get as much potassium as half of a banana along with a host of nutrients such as magnesium, copper, phosphorus, thiamin, vitamin B-6, and vitamin E.
Heart Health: Phytosterols are substances that mimic cholesterol, allowing real cholesterol to be swept away in the digestive tract instead of being absorbed in the body. Research shows that phytosterols may also play a role in fighting cancer. Pistachios have the most phytosterols out of all the nuts. Nitric oxide helps dilate blood vessels to allow more blood flow throughout the body. Many substances can produce nitric acid but the amino acid l-arginine is one of the top producers. Once again, pistachios are full of this nutrient!
Weight Management: Nuts aren’t fattening when you eat them in moderation. Pistachios contain only 160 calories per one-ounce serving. James Painter, PhD, RD from Eastern Illinois University discovered that pistachios, when eaten as the in-shell variety, have a natural built-in mechanism for slowing down eating. In his study, those who ate the in-shell variety ate 41% less than the control group that ate the shelled version. Both groups reported that they were equally satisfied. Slowing down eating can allow satiety hormones to do their job and make you feel full. If only all foods came in a shell! In another study by Dr. Painter, shells that stacked up in front of subjects as they ate them served as a visual reminder of what they ate and that they had enough. When shells were removed, subjects ate more – up to 22% more calories!
Other benefits: And they’re good for the eyes, as they are the richest source of the plant nutrient lutein out of any nut. Lots of pistachios’ important nutrients can be found in the skin of the nut. This is especially true of the plant nutrient resveratrol, which supports the nuts’ heart disease and cancer fighting ability. Next to wine, pistachios boast the next highest source of resveratrol.
Tips: To fully enjoy pistachios’ crunch, make sure you store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Pistachios will maintain their freshness in the freezer for at least a year.