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Prized for their unique flavour and intriguing hues, pistachios are one of the oldest nuts in the world. A member of the cashew family, the pistachio is a small tree that originates from Central Asia and the Middle East. It is believed that pistachios are being grown in the Middle East for thousands of years. Mentions of pistachios can be found in the Old Testament of the Bible, which indicates their rich history as a prized food source. 

Archaeology reveals that pistachio seeds were a common food as early as 6750 BC. It was unique to Syria until it was introduced into Italy and Hispania. Archaeologists have found evidence from excavations in northeastern Iraq that indicate the consumption of the Atlantic pistachio. The modern pistachio was first cultivated during the Bronze Age in Central Asia, where the earliest example is from modern Uzbekistan. Currently, pistachio is cultivated commercially in parts of the English-speaking world, such as Australia along with New Mexico and California in the United States, where it was introduced in 1854. In 2014, Iran and the United States, being the major producers of pistachios, together accounted for 76% of the total world production

Apart from being a tasty snack, this exotic delight is a storehouse of nutrients, antioxidants and healthy proteins. It is excellent for the health of the heart and brain and the dietary fiber present in pistachios can help in losing weight. 

Pistachios can be eaten alone as a snack, either fresh, roasted or salted, on top of a salad, mixed with dried fruits, in baked goods, or as a crunchy coating for fish or meat. In addition to these, pistachios are also used to make pistachio ice-cream, kulfi, baklava, pistachio butter, halwa, and even chocolate.

Some basic facts about pistachios:

  • Botanical Name: Pistacia vera
  • Family Name: Cashew family (Anacardiaceae).
  • Common Name: Pistachio, pista
  • Parts Used: The seeds of the pistachio fruit is what we actually eat and use.
  • Native Region and Geographical Distribution: Iran, Turkey, China, United States, Afghanistan, and Syria
  • Interesting Fact: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were said to have contained pistachio trees during the period of 700 BC.
  1. Pistachio nutrition facts
  2. Pistachio health benefits
  3. Pistachios side effects
  4. Takeaway

Since time immemorial, pistachios have been cherished as the symbol of wellness and robust health. The kernels offer innumerable health-benefiting nutrients necessary for optimum health. Pistachios are excellent sources of vitamin-E, energy, antioxidant phytochemicals like carotene and many B-complex vitamins. They are also rich in minerals like copper, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.

According to the USDA Nutrient Database, 100g of pistachios contain the following nutrient values :

Nutrient Value per 100 g
Energy 560 kcal
Water 4.37 g
Carbohydrate 27.17 g
Protein 20.16 g
Fat 45.32 g
Dietary Fiber 10.6 g
Sugar 7.66 g
Minerals  
Calcium 105 mg
Iron 3.92 mg
Magnesium 121 mg
Phosphorus 490 mg
Potassium 1025 mg
Zinc 2.20 mg
Copper 1.30 mg
Manganese 1.2 mg
Vitamin  
Vitamin B9 51 µg
Vitamin B3 1.3 mg
Vitamin B2 0.16 mg
Vitamin B1 0.87 mg
Vitamin A 26 µg
Vitamin B-6 1.7 mg
Vitamin E 2.86 mg
Fats/Fatty acids  
Saturated 5.907 g
Monounsaturated     23.257 g
Polyunsaturated     14.380 g

Pistachios are one of the healthiest nuts that you can add to your diet. They are energy dense, rich in fibre and contains a good amount of healthy fats, which are effective in maintaining health and preserving youth. Let us explore some of the health benefits of pistachios.

  • Reduces cholesterol: Pistachios contain one of the lowest amounts of fats among all the nuts and most of this fat is in the form of unsaturated fatty acids. Studies indicate that pistachio consumption helps reduce bad cholesterol and increases the amount of good cholesterol, which, in turn, promotes heart health.
  • Promotes brain function: The green and purple kernel of pistachios contain pigments such as lutein and anthocyanins which is effective in improving cognition (thinking and understanding).
  • Helps lose weight: Pistachios and nuts, in general, are usually considered to be fattening. However, they contain healthy fats along with a sufficient amount of dietary fibre which assists in weight reduction by making you full for longer.
  • Anti-diabetic: It has been evidenced by clinical studies that pistachios are an excellent choice of food for diabetic and pre-diabetic individuals. It improves insulin sensitivity and decreases the levels of fasting blood glucose levels, thereby, helping manage diabetes.
  • Benefits for skin: Pistachio is a rich source of antioxidants, which not only delay ageing signs but also reduces the harmful effects of UV rays on skin. Pistachio oil has a hydrating effect on the skin thus keeping it soft and supple.
  1. Pistachio for cholesterol
  2. Pistachio for healthy brain
  3. Pistachio for weight loss
  4. Pistachios for heart health
  5. Pistachio for diabetes
  6. Pistachios boost immunity
  7. Pistachio has anti-inflammatory properties
  8. Pistachios for skin health and anti ageing
  9. Pistachios benefits for hair
  10. Pistachios for macular degeneration

Pistachio for cholesterol

As per the USDA nutrition table, a cupful of pistachios (approx. 28 g) provides only 13 g of fat - one of the lowest among all nuts. 11 of those 13 grams are from healthy monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, while only 2 grams are from saturated fat. The pistachio is a nutrient-rich nut with a heart-healthy fatty-acid profile as well as protein, dietary fibre, magnesium, vitamin K, potassium, γ-tocopherol, and a number of phytochemicals.

Researches have shown that pistachios promote heart-healthy blood lipid profiles. Consumption of pistachios helps reduce the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good cholesterol (HDL) in the body.

Interestingly, HDL contents have been directly associated with a decreased risk of heart disease.

(Read more: High cholesterol symptoms)

Pistachio for healthy brain

Pistachio is a powerhouse of nutrients. As mentioned above, Pistachio promotes a healthy heart. Studies have shown a strong link between a heart-healthy diet and a healthy brain. A healthy heart will pump the right nutrients and oxygen to the brain.

Research suggests that diets may also have cognitive benefits. The unique green and purple kernel colour of the pistachio is a result of its lutein and anthocyanin content.

Lutein is known to boost cognitive performance.

Pistachio for weight loss

Nuts are energy-dense foods. They are high on fats. One of the major concerns regarding the regular consumption of nuts is that they are believed to be fattening. The crunchy flavour of pistachio makes it easy to binge on but one would definitely want to watch their weight.

As per USDA, a cup of pistachios provides 170 calories. However, to date, no studies show any association between nut or pistachio consumption and weight gain. Rather, it is now considered healthy to add nuts to the usual diet. Researches explain that the energy density of pistachios; their fibre content, protein, and unsaturated fatty acids; and their physical crunchiness, may induce satiety and therefore reduce overconsumption.

(Read more: Obesity treatment)

Pistachios for heart health

A research suggested that a healthy diet including pistachios contributes to a decrease in bad cholesterol (LDL) and an increase in good cholesterol (HDL) levels, which is very beneficial for reducing the risk of the various cardiovascular diseases.

According to an International team of nutritional scientists, pistachio has a lot of antioxidants including lutein, beta-carotene, and gamma-tocopherol. Beta-carotene is a forerunner of vitamin A and gamma-tocopherol is a form of vitamin E. Consumption of pistachio nuts as a part of the healthy diet can increase the level of these antioxidants in blood to lower risk of LDL oxidation, which is responsible for plaque formation in the arteries and atherosclerosis

Pistachio for diabetes

Diabetes is a debilitating disorder which is caused due to various physical and physiological factors including lifestyle, dietary choices, and the genetic makeup of an individual. If left undetected, it can lead to various other problems including kidney damage and loss of vision. So, diagnosis and treatment of diabetes are essential at early stages. Various drugs have been in use for the treatment of diabetes but like every drug, they do have their own set of side effects.  Thus, the modern medicine is quickly moving towards more natural and safer methods of treatments.

Pistachios are one of the many food sources considered for their antidiabetic potential. 

A clinical study suggests that regular consumption of pistachios may be very useful in reducing the blood sugar levels in diabetic people.

According to a study published by the American Diabetes Association, pistachios are an excellent dietary supplement for prediabetic people (people with high blood glucose levels). Regular consumption of pistachios has been reported to be associated with an increased insulin sensitivity and decreased fasting glucose levels in the blood. 

Pistachios boost immunity

Pistachio is a good source of various vitamins but Vitamin B6 is very essential to build a healthy immune system. Various in preclinical and clinical studies suggest that vitamin B6 increases the proliferation of antibodies and lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) in the body, which are essential for a strong immune function. Additionally, It ensures proper blood and supply of blood throughout the body. A better circulation would ease the movement of antibody molecules to the injury or infection site. 

However, there haven't been any direct studies on the immunostimulatory (stimulates the immune system) effects of pistachios so far.

Pistachio has anti-inflammatory properties

Pistachios are enriched with vitamin A and vitamin E. Both these vitamins have been associated with potent anti-inflammatory properties. Studies suggest that they reduce inflammation by helping maintain the integrity of the cell membranes of the mucous membranes and the skin. It also protects the body from harmful oxygen-free radicals, which are one of the common causes of inflammation.

A study shows that oleoresin in pistachios possesses a strong anti-inflammatory activity against mice without causing any gastric damage.

Pistachios for skin health and anti ageing

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) generated during ultraviolet (UV) light exposure can induce skin damage and ageing. The best antagonist to ROS is antioxidants. Antioxidants can scavenge the free radicals thereby providing protection against oxidative injury to the skin. Pistachio is loaded with natural antioxidants.

Experiments were conducted using pistachio bioactives on a 3-dimensional (3D) human skin equivalent (HSE) tissue model. Results showed pistachio antioxidants, like lutein and γ-tocopherol, could protect the HSE from UVA-induced damage by preserving the overall thickness and organization.

Vitamin E present in pistachios helps fight ageing process of skin and giving a younger look.

Pistachio oil has emollient properties which means that it acts as a natural moisturizer and keeps the skin soft, supple and hydrated. It is also used as a medicinal massage oil.

Pistachios benefits for hair

The fatty acids present in pistachios contribute to the growth of strong and healthy long hair. The key factor responsible for hair loss is biotin deficiency. Pistachios are a good source of biotin and their inclusion in our daily diet may arrest hair loss.

A hair mask using pistachios proves excellent for rough hair, split ends, dehydrated and colour damaged hair. This mask deeply nourishes the hair and enhances flexibility. It also hydrates the hair and scalp.

Pistachios for macular degeneration

Macular degeneration is an age-related eye disease. It gradually diminishes vision in adults and causes difficulty in reading and working. Research suggests that free radicals are the primary contributors of macular degeneration. Two carotenoids, Lutein and Zeaxanthin, are highly concentrated in the retina of the eye and are responsible for the major part of our vision. They have been seen playing an important role in reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration and may also slow its progression.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin are found in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, are also present in pistachios. Studies are suggestive that changing your diet and incorporating these foods into your daily diet may arrest macular degeneration and ensure good eye health.

  • Allergy: If one is allergic to pistachio it will be apparent during the early stages of their lives and will persist throughout their lifetime. Rashes, vomiting, cough, gastrointestinal issues and itchy skin are the most common symptoms of pistachio allergy. Other symptoms include sneezing, coughing, itchy and watery eyes. Some people with a pistachio nut allergy develop a hypersensitivity to other tree nuts as well.
  • Weight Gain: The high protein and fibre content in pistachio nuts make them a convenient and popular snack. However, too much of anything can be bad. It is said that a cup full of pistachio nuts provides 689 calories.
  • Aflatoxin Contamination: Aflatoxins are poisonous and cancer-causing chemicals found in improperly stored foods. Pistachio nuts are found to be critically contaminated with aflatoxin from the maturity stage. Since pistachio nuts split naturally, those that are poorly protected can be easily be invaded by insects and molds thus leading to aflatoxin contamination.
  • Gastrointestinal Problems: One who is intolerant to fructans should avoid pistachio nuts. Fructans are naturally existing carbohydrates found in a variety of food. It can cause bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain in fructans intolerant people. They are not easily absorbed and can cause prompt fermentation in the colon, gas production, and distension.
  • Kidney Stone Risk: Pistachios contain a considerable amount of oxalates and methionine. By overconsuming pistachios, you may put yourself at a risk of developing calcium oxalate and cystine kidney stones.

It is true that pistachios are one of the healthiest nuts as it contains plenty of nutrients like vitamins and minerals. The fact that pistachios can be eaten at any time makes them even more popular. However, people who are known to be sensitive or allergic to other members of the cashew family like mangoes or cashews, need to be careful while consuming pistachio nuts. They are versatile and fun to eat; including them in your daily diet in moderation will help improve overall health.

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References

  1. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 12151, Nuts, pistachio nuts, raw. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release [Internet]
  2. Dreher ML. Pistachio nuts: composition and potential health benefits. Nutr Rev. 2012 Apr;70(4):234-40. PMID: 22458696
  3. Pablo Hernández-Alonso, Mònica Bulló, Jordi Salas-Salvadó. Pistachios for Health. Nutr Today. 2016 May; 51(3): 133–138. PMID: 27340302
  4. Orhan I, Küpeli E, Aslan M, Kartal M, Yesilada E. Bioassay-guided evaluation of anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive activities of pistachio, Pistacia vera L. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Apr 21;105(1-2):235-40. Epub 2005 Dec 6. PMID: 16337351
  5. Tomaino A et al. Antioxidant activity and phenolic profile of pistachio (Pistacia vera L., variety Bronte) seeds and skins. Biochimie. 2010 Sep;92(9):1115-22. PMID: 20388531
  6. Chen CO et al. Photoprotection by pistachio bioactives in a 3-dimensional human skin equivalent tissue model. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Sep;68(6):712-718. PMID: 28122479
  7. Chen CO et al. Photoprotection by pistachio bioactives in a 3-dimensional human skin equivalent tissue model. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Sep;68(6):712-718. PMID: 28122479
  8. Alireza Ostadrahimi et al. Aflatoxin in Raw and Salt-Roasted Nuts (Pistachios, Peanuts and Walnuts) Sold in Markets of Tabriz, Iran. Jundishapur J Microbiol. 2014 Jan; 7(1): e8674. PMID: 25147653
  9. Bernadette Capili, Joyce K. Anastasi, DrNP, FAAN, Michelle Chang. Addressing the Role of Food in Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptom Management. J Nurse Pract. 2016 May; 12(5): 324–329. PMID: 27429601
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