Spoiler alert: Your immune system, heart and waistline will thank you
Pistachios may be small, but they pack a big nutritional punch. As registered dietitian nutritionists and personal trainers, we’re always sharing our favorite snacks, and the science nerd side of us gets a little giddy every time more research supports our picks. Recently published studies have added to the reams of existing evidence that further prove how healthy these tiny green nuts are for the body. Here are five little known facts about the health and nutritional benefits of pistachios that may surprise you.
Pistachios are a Complete Protein
The latest research reveals that pistachios contain all 9 essential amino acids¹, making them a “complete” protein similar to eggs, dairy and meats. This is a BIG score for all pistachio eaters, and especially for vegans and vegetarians who sometimes find it a challenge to get enough quality plant-based protein. Even more impressive, one- ounce of pistachios contains 6 grams of protein — that’s as much protein as an egg!
Compared to other complete proteins that need to be cooked or refrigerated (like fish, beef or cheese), pistachios are more convenient for a grab-n-go post-exercise snack since they contain the amino acids required to build and maintain muscle mass and lean body tissue. Many of our clients keep little bags of pre-portioned pistachios in their cars and gym bags so they can have a quick snack on the go. Plus, being a complete protein, pistachios are an ideal dessert topping too.
Pistachios Support a Healthy Immune System
While vitamin C-rich oranges tend to steal the spotlight as the go-to food for building a healthy immune system, pistachios provide other important nutrients to help boost immunity, including protein, B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium, selenium and other bioactive compounds. Here’s how:
- B-vitamins (B1, B6 and Folate) are necessary to fight off infection.
- Zinc, magnesium and selenium may lower the risk and severity of viral infections. We find that many of our new clients fall short in these nutrients.
- Protein can strengthen the immune system by helping to maintain healthy immune cells, which are responsible for eliminating damaged cells, bacteria and viruses.
- Gamma-tocopherol (an antioxidant) my help speed recovery time and lower airway inflammation.
Pistachios are Good for Your Heart
Thanks to their heart-friendly unsaturated fats and antioxidants—including vitamin E and lutein and zeaxanthin-—pistachios are a heart-healthy choice. These satisfying nuts also provide plant phytosterols, naturally-occurring compounds which lower blood cholesterol levels to help protect the heart. According to the FDA’s qualified health claim for nuts: “Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pistachios, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” This is super important since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world. And if you’re like many of our clients, heart disease runs in your family and you want to get any nutrition edge to prevent it for yourself, that you can.
Pistachios are Loaded with Nutrients
We’re all about foods that pack a nutritional punch, and pistachios set the bar high. According to the USDA Nutrient Database, pistachios provide more than 30 different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Some of the key essential substances in this nut (which are sold either shelled or in-shell) include magnesium, fiber, copper, potassium, iron, manganese and B-vitamins. And here’s an eye-opening fact if you’re like us and want to keep your eyes healthy and spend a little too much time looking at a computer screen or phone: Pistachios are one of the only nuts that provide lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that are important for protecting your eyes from the sun’s rays, blue light from phone and computer screens and age-related eye damage.
Pistachios May Help Win at Losing (weight that is)
It’s true. Pistachios provide the dynamic duo of protein and fiber—two nutrients that help keep you satisfied and tame cravings ultimately making you less likely to overeat. If your goal is to lose unwanted pounds, research suggests that in-shell pistachios may be your best option. This is one reason why we include pistachios as a good snack option for our weight loss clients. In fact, in one study, participants ate 41% fewer calories when they had to crack the nuts open compared to the time when the nuts had already been removed from their shells. The researchers believe seeing the evidence of the empty shells may serve as a reminder of how much you’ve eaten, reducing the likelihood of overindulging.
Tell us in the comments below how you eat your pistachios! We’re girls who tend to eat them straight up, crack the shell and enjoy, but we’ve never been one to turn down pistachio-crusted fish, pistachios sprinkled in yogurt, or in any other way for that matter. 🙂
The Nutrition Twins partnered with American Pistachio Growers to share the benefits of pistachios, but all thoughts are their own