Are pistachios healthy? Absolutely! While some people believe eating pistachio nuts can sabotage your health, scientific evidence shows the exact opposite to be true.
Technically these tasty, bright green treats are edible seeds from the Pistacia vera, or pistachio tree, making them a tree nut like cashews and walnuts. They have a well-balanced fat ratio with plenty of omega-3s and monounsaturated fat. Here's the breakdown of the 13 grams of fat in a 1-ounce serving of pistachios:
- Monounsaturated fats: 7 grams
- Polyunsaturated fats: 4 grams
- Saturated fats: 1.5 grams
And they’re loaded with protein, dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, including carotenoids and phytosterols.
One ounce of pistachios will also get you 14% of your phosphorus recommended daily amount (RDA), 16% of your thiamin RDA, and 17% of your manganese RDA. Pistachios are one of the absolute best dietary sources of vitamin B6, which is essential for a few different bodily functions. They also contain an extremely high concentration of potassium—more than half that found in a large banana in just a single ounce!
Studies show pistachios can enhance health in multiple ways, and as data continues to roll in, the list of benefits just keeps growing. Here are seven we think you should know about.
1. Lose Weight Mindfully
If you’re striving to make dietary choices that support healthy weight loss, pistachios may be the perfect snack for you. A study published in The Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that participants assigned a 240-calorie pistachio snack lost significantly more weight than those assigned a 220-calorie salted pretzel snack. Even better, they had twice the reduction in body mass index (BMI)!
Separate research conducted by scientists at the Center of Nutrition & Metabolic Research in New Delhi, India found that individuals who got 20% of their daily caloric intake from pistachios lost 1.5 centimeters more belly fat than those in the control group.
And if you eat in-shell pistachios, the time it takes to shell them will ensure you eat slowly, and the leftover shells help you visually track how many you’ve already consumed. One study found that participants who ate in-shell pistachios consumed 41% fewer calories than those who ate shelled pistachios, but felt just as full and satisfied.
2. Boost Gut Microbiome
Your gut contains billions of bacteria, some good and some bad. When the balance of your microbiome skews too far toward the bad kind, you’re more at risk of developing health problems ranging from depression to heart disease to Parkinson’s. The biggest factor influencing the composition of the bacteria in your gut is what you eat, since different bacteria prefer to feed on different kinds of food.
The good bacteria in your gut thrive on prebiotic fiber, like that found in pistachios, which they convert to short-chain fatty acids. These acids help keep the adverse health outcomes touched on above at bay. And according to the findings shared in the British Journal of Nutrition, eating pistachios can substantially increase the ranks of the bacteria that produce butyrate, one of the most health-promoting of all the short-chain fatty acids.
3. Enhance Heart Health
Not only do pistachios offer you troves of heart-healthy antioxidants, but they also appear to decrease blood cholesterol levels and regulate blood pressure, both of which lower your odds of developing heart disease.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that pistachio consumption can lower blood cholesterol levels and beneficially impact heart disease risk factors. A 2016 review of findings on pistachios and cholesterol showed that in 67% of studies the nuts brought about reductions in total and LDL cholesterol levels and increases in HDL cholesterol levels. And a 2010 study showed just how dramatic the results of choosing pistachios as a good source of healthy dietary fats can be. In just 4 weeks, participants (who were getting about 20% of their daily caloric intake from pistachios) achieved a 23% decrease in LDL cholesterol, a 21% decrease in total cholesterol, and a 14% decrease in triglycerides.
Pistachios also have a marked impact on your blood pressure. A systematic review of the effects of different kinds of nuts on blood pressure numbers found that pistachios had the strongest impact on both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Pistachios reduced participants' upper limit, systolic blood pressure by an average of 1.82/mm/Hg and the lower limit, diastolic blood pressure by 0.8 mm/Hg.
4. Decrease Risk of Colon Cancer
A 2017 study found that both raw and roasted pistachios can help prevent colon cancer. The researchers set out to determine whether the roasting process would decrease the bioactivity of health-promoting compounds found in pistachios, such as B vitamins, tocopherols, polyphenols, and fiber.
The researchers found that the raw and roasted nuts were both able to decrease the growth of cancerous cells, prevent DNA damage, and spur cancer cell death, among other potent benefits.
5. Balance Blood Sugar
Not only do pistachios have a low glycemic index, meaning they don’t cause blood sugar swings, but they also improve your overall blood sugar response.
A 2015 study from the British Journal of Nutrition proposed that the effects of pistachios on blood sugar levels, as well as the other health benefits associated with the nuts, come from the valuable stores of fiber, healthy fats, antioxidants, magnesium, carotenoids, and phenolic compounds they contain.
Data published in the Review of Diabetic Studies showed that pistachios can improve glycemic and inflammatory markers in diabetes patients. After eating 0.9 ounces of pistachios as a snack 2 times daily for 12 weeks, individuals saw a 9% reduction in fasting blood sugar levels.
Another study found that pistachios can help correct for the impact of carbohydrate-rich diets on blood sugar. Researchers from the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Center at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto found that when healthy individuals ate 2 ounces of pistachios with meals, their post-meal blood sugar spikes decreased by 20-30%.
6. Prevent Oxidative Stress
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 21 studies that enrolled a combined total of 1,652 participants found that the lutein, beta-carotene, and tocopherols (vitamin E) from pistachios significantly reduce inflammation in the body and prevent oxidative stress.
Our body’s inflammatory response has important protective functions, but when it glitches and goes on too long, or gets triggered by a false alarm, it can have a seriously destructive impact on our health. According to a report from Harvard Medical School, chronic inflammation is an underlying cause of some of the most difficult-to-treat conditions today, like cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Oxidation is also a necessary bodily response, but again, when it becomes a prolonged state, problems arise. Oxidative stress occurs when there are too many free radicals flooding your body, which can cause damage to your very DNA. Oxidative stress also contributes to the progression of various diseases. Changing your diet is one of the most effective ways to quash inflammation and prevent oxidative stress, and it appears pistachios can play an important role in helping you do that.
7. Safeguard Eye Health
Pistachios are a rich source of two antioxidants we need to maintain the health of our eyes: lutein and zeaxanthin.
We need a steady supply of these antioxidants to filter out harmful blue light and keep the cells in our eyes safe, according to a statement released by the American Optometric Association. The statement goes on to explain that lutein and zeaxanthin also keep the lens of the eyes clear and free of oxidation, which can lead to cataracts. A higher dietary intake of these antioxidants has been shown to reduce your risk of cataracts.
Lutein and zeaxanthin also reduce your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the leading causes of blindness. A study done by the National Eye Institute found that an optimal or even adequate dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce your risk of developing AMD.
Pistachios are an especially wonderful way to increase your intake of these two essential nutrients because findings from the Institute of Food Research tell us that the antioxidants found in these nuts are rapidly released into your stomach, which maximizes your body’s capacity to absorb and utilize them.
How to Add Pistachios to Your Diet
There’s no wrong way to do it! Raw pistachios make a delicious and healthful snack, as well as a lovely addition to sweet and savory recipes. You can go the uber-healthy route with this Grated Carrot Salad with Citrus and Pistachios or this Double Kale Salad with Pistachio Dressing.
Alternately, you can opt for something a bit more indulgent, though still brimming over with health benefits, like this Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Pistachio Flatbread or this jaw-droppingly gorgeous Beet Gnocchi with Pistachio-Arugula Pesto.
For sweets, you can’t go wrong with a classic Pistachio Cake—the addition of orange zest takes this one beyond the beyond. Or try this brunch-ready twist on pistachio muffins featuring a full cup of zucchini and a lemon glaze. And don't forget to try pistachio ice cream. You may just like it better than your go-to scoop of butter pecan!