Between cashew ice cream, macadamia nut milk, and almond flour, it feels like there’s nothing these small-but-mighty nuts can’t do. But there’s one nut that doesn’t always get its share of the spotlight: pistachios.
There’s a reason you don’t often see pistachios in baking flours and alt-milks. In the United States, they’re only grown in California, Arizona, and New Mexico, so they’re not as prevalent (read: not as cheap) as some of their counterparts. Still, their shorter supply doesn’t mean they don’t come with big health benefits — and, of course, a distinctively delicious taste.
Here are some reasons to consider splurging on pistachios next time you’re at the store, plus five recipes that go way beyond spumoni ice cream.
Good things come in small packages! In a single 1-ounce serving (about 49 nuts, to be exact), you’ll find the following nutrients:
- Calories: 159
- Carbs: 8 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
- Fat: 13 grams
- Potassium: 6% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Magnesium: 8% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 11% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 28% of the RDI
- Thiamine: 21% of the RDI
- Copper: 41% of the RDI
- Manganese: 15% of the RDI
Vegans, rejoice! According to the American Pistachio Growers, a 2019 analysis of the protein content in pistachios revealed that, not only are the nuts a good source of protein at 6 grams per serving, but that roasted American pistachios are a complete protein.
A complete protein contains all nine essential amino acids — the kind the human body can’t make on its own and needs to get from food. Since most complete proteins are animal based, this comes as an exciting discovery for those who don’t eat meat.
And there’s more big news: On the test that measures foods’ complete protein content, pistachios scored higher than other plant-based options like quinoa, chickpeas, soybeans, and cooked rice.
Need help nodding off? Try pistachios as a bedtime snack. According to a 2017 study, the little green guys contain more melatonin (the compound known for helping you get your Zzz’s) than any other nut.
To give them a chance to work, reach for pistachios 30 to 60 minutes before turning in.
Nuts get a bad rap for being high fat and high calorie, but calories aren’t a bad guy. They’re what you need for energy, plus nuts also have tons of fiber and protein which means your body digests them more slowly than refined foods.
If you’re looking for a snack that you can eat more of, pistachios are an especially good choice. Compared to other nuts, like pecans, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, or hazelnuts, they contain fewer calories per ounce.
Antioxidants are compounds in foods that can bring about benefits by “cleaning” cells of harmful free radicals. And it just so happens that pistachios are full of them.
Pistachios’ top scoring antioxidants are lutein, which promotes eye health, beta carotene, which may boost long-term cognition, and gamma-tocopherol, which reduces systemic inflammation.
Plenty of good reasons to get cracking!
Pistachios are a surprising source of fiber, with 3 grams per ounce.
And since fiber supplements are often chalky and downright gross, we prefer to get our daily dose from food — and tasty food, at that. (We’ll take a pass on the prunes, thanks.)
Eating enough fiber doesn’t just get things moving in the digestive department. It also boosts the health of your microbiome, aka the friendly bacteria in your gut.
Though research on good gut bugs is still in its infancy, a thriving microbiome may be associated with benefits like reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, healthier weight, and even better mental health.
Keeping a happy heart has never been tastier. Promising research shows that including pistachios in your diet can reduce blood cholesterol — a major risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease.
One study revealed that adding pistachios to a Mediterranean diet reduced total cholesterol and LDL (aka “bad” cholesterol) even more than a Med diet by itself. (Though we’re still big fans of eating Mediterranean-style!)
Rollercoasters are fun at theme parks, not so fun for blood sugar levels. Keeping blood sugar from spiking and dropping is especially critical for those with diabetes and prediabetes.
Fortunately, pistachios might help. The nuts have a low glycemic index, meaning they won’t raise blood sugar dramatically. They might even minimize the impact of high carb foods on blood sugar. A small 2011 study found that eating pistachios alongside carb heavy foods like rice and pasta helped maintain steady blood sugar levels.
Other research showed that when people with type 2 diabetes ate half a serving of pistachios twice a day for 12 weeks, it significantly brought down their fasting blood sugar.
It’s no secret that nuts are high in calories, and that those calories primarily come from fat. But don’t let pistachios’ fat spook you — several studies have actually linked eating nuts to lower weight.
Research from 2014, for example, found that a daily handful of any kind of nuts (especially as a replacement for other, less healthy foods) was a useful strategy for preventing weight gain and type 2 diabetes.
Another study on pistachios alone found that they might improve the risk factors for metabolic syndrome — a group of symptoms that can include high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and obesity.
When you think of body parts you want to keep healthy, your colon might not top the list — but eating right can make a big difference to your digestive tract’s last stop. In one study of over 800 colon cancer patients, those who ate 2 or more servings of nuts per week reduced their risk of cancer recurrence and death, compared to folks who ate none.
These benefits for your internal plumbing probably have to do with nuts’ high fiber content. High fiber diets have been associated with lower risk of getting colon cancer in the first place. So come on — grab your ‘stachio stash and go nuts!
Pistachios’ lightly floral flavor and satisfying crunch make them a no-brainer in desserts, but there’s a whole world of culinary uses for these nuts. Sure, they may be a little pricier than other nuts, but if you’ve got some extra grocery cash, their nutrients and health benefits may be worth the splurge.
Think outside the box (or the shell) and start adding pistachios into your meals and snacks.
Sarah Garone is a nutritionist, freelance writer, and food blogger. Find her sharing down-to-earth nutrition info at A Love Letter to Food or follow her on Twitter.