You’ve seen the “Get Crackin” commercials from Paramount Farms, more commonly known as The Wonderful Company. They are the largest producer of pistachios in the United States.
Their TV spots often feature celebs and athletes with rockin’ bods, but are you really going to look like that, given how much fat content they have? Are pistachios bad for you?
Quite the opposite, actually.
Studies suggest they are actually good for weight loss, by promoting satiability and the recent finding that their fat content isn’t being entirely absorbed in the digestive tract. In other words, maybe some free calories.
The health benefits of pistachios also include vitamins and minerals, high fiber, and are protein packed with the BCAAs that bodybuilders want. High cholesterol, diabetes, and hypertension are just a few of the medical conditions they’re being researched for.
Where do pistachios come from?
When you think of exports from Iran, most people think of oil. However pistachios are the country’s 2nd largest export, with over 400,000 tons being produced per year. After Iran, the top producers are the U.S. (233,000 metric tonnes), then Turkey and China, both of which grow around 80,000 tonnes. (1)
Due to trade embargoes with Iran, here in America you’re most likely eating a crop that comes from California. There are New Mexico pistachios – the brand Heart of the Desert from Eagle Ranch – but they’re not even among the top 25 farms in America. Even fewer come from Arizona.If you want the taste of the Iranian – which are a favorite for many – then try Turkish pistachios (called antep). They are smaller and harder to open but offer a distinctly sweet flavor.
Why are pistachios so expensive?
The facts about pistachios and how they grow explain why their price per pound can be so high.
The crop size is small relative to grains, fruits, and vegetables. A mature pistachio tree only yields around 20 pounds of nuts and the max is 120 trees per acre.
Growing conditions are best with daytime temperatures around 100° F (38° C) and a winter cold enough to trigger their dormant period, which is 45° F (7° C). Very few climates offer this, which is why pistachios cost so much.
Almond trees are notorious for being water hogs. In comparison though, they look as efficient as cacti!
In the San Joaquin Valley of California, seasonal water use is the equivalent of 41 inches annually for pistachio trees. That’s a lot of rain (and mostly irrigation) for a desert-like growing zone! (2)
1. Tied for being the lowest calorie nut
Wonderful brand (formerly Everybody’s Nuts) has used the phrases “lowest calorie” and “lowest fat” nuts in their marketing before. You didn’t see “the” in front of those phrases. Whether that’s intentional or not is unknown but it may be because pistachios are really among the lowest calorie and lowest fat.
If you’re going by the USDA Nutritional Database, they’re the winner.
How many calories there are in dry roasted pistachios is 162 calories per one ounce serving. That’s about 49 kernels. (3)
That’s 1 calorie better than roasted cashews at 163 calories for the same amount. (4)
Raw vs. roasted and flavored or not can all affect the calorie count. Essentially they are tied with cashews for being the lowest.
2. Very low carb
The vast majority of calories in any nut come from fat and protein. Very little comes from carbohydrates.
How many carbs there are in pistachios is just 8g per one ounce serving. That’s only 2% of your daily value.
3. Rich in fiber
Do pistachios make you poop?
That’s is a question that gets asked a lot. No, they shouldn’t give you diarrhea or act as a laxative if you eat a balanced diet.
However if your diet primarily consists of meat, dairy, and refined grains, then you are currently getting almost no dietary fiber.
As a result, when you start eating them it’s possible your body may have to adjust and as a result, yes it might mean you poop more easily.
How much fiber there is in pistachios is 3 grams per one once serving, which is 11% of your daily value. That’s more than what you get from a ½ cup of broccoli.
If you’re eating too many nuts, then it’s possible there may be a slight laxative effect. This is no different than other fiber-rich fruits and vegetables which reduce constipation.
In short, this nut promotes healthy digestion. Some people with Crohn’s disease even claim that eating them reduces their diarrhea symptoms of that disease. So it may even offer an anti-diarrhea effect for some, however this claim hasn’t been clinically reviewed.
4. Healthy profile of fat
The type of fat in pistachio nuts are:
- 13.6% saturated
- 53.4% monounsaturated
- 33.0% polyunsaturated
- 0% trans fat
- 0% cholesterol
As you will see in a moment, many of the cardiovascular benefits have to do with this fat profile.
5. Loaded with vitamins B6, thiamin, and K
There’s also folate, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, A, C, and E in smaller amounts. The most noteworthy however are vitamin B1 (thiamin) and vitamin B6 which clock in at 16% and 18% of your daily values, respectively, from just a one-ounce serving.
Pistachios’ vitamin K content may not seem impressive at 5% of the daily value but this is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in bone, heart, and brain health.
Leafy greens are the best source. The highest meat, dairy, and egg sources typically only provide 1-5%. The advantage of pistachios is that you’re getting 5% per ounce and you may be eating a couple ounces at a time. Unlike leafy greens, it’s a snack that even kids and the pickiest eaters will enjoy.
6. Packed with essential minerals
For each one-ounce serving you will get the following percentages of your daily value:
- calcium = 3%
- zinc = 4%
- selenium = 4%
- iron = 7%
- magnesium = 8%
- potassium = 8%
- phosphorus = 14%
- manganese = 18%
- copper = 19%
If you compare the minerals in pistachio vs. almonds, you will see their profile is comparable. Almonds have more calcium but both beat cashews for that mineral.
Again, some of these numbers may seem small. Remember these are per ounce amounts. We all know that once you get crackin’ you can’t stop!
7. More antioxidants than almonds, peanuts, and cashews
The best way to measure antioxidants is using the ORAC methodology. Based on that, they clock in at a value of 7,675. To put that into perspective, it means that pistachios have over double the antioxidants versus peanuts (3,166) and almost quadruple that of cashews (1,948). Almonds can’t compete either (4,454).
The only common nuts which beat it are hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans. The problem is that 2 out of those 3 are among the highest calorie and highest fat nuts. Only walnut is the more nutritionally balanced choice, yet it has 40% less protein than pistachios and 17% more calories.
8. Best BCAA profile among all nuts
Nearly 15% of the calories come from the protein in pistachios. That’s 6 grams per ounce.
Not all protein is created equal. What really makes them stand out from the others is their amino acid profile. Here’s how they compare to the 5 best nuts for branched chain amino acids, more commonly known as BCAAs, per 100g measurement.
|Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) content|
|Leucine||1535 mg||1600 mg||1170 mg||1461 mg||1285 mg|
|Isoleucine||833 mg||932 mg||625 mg||745 mg||731 mg|
|Valine||993 mg||1262 mg||753 mg||848 mg||1040 mg|
Bodybuilders will appreciate all of these but in particular, the rich amount of valine is uncommon. Even if you took a 20 gram scoop of 100% pure whey protein you wouldn’t be getting that much valine.
Of course, the amino acids in whey and rice in the form of a purified protein powder will easily beat a whole food form, like nuts, on a per calorie basis. For unprocessed sources, pistachios offer an excellent protein boost for sprinkling on salads, pasta, and just about anything else you can think of.
9. Potent source of arginine
In addition to the BCAA content, they also contain a high amount of arginine, which is a conditionally essential amino.
Supplements containing L-arginine are used by athletes and bodybuilders to boost nitric oxide activity, since it’s the precursor to it. (5)
How much arginine there is in pistachios is over 2% by weight; 2.134g per 100g according to the USDA National Nutrient Database. (3)
10. Lowest acrylamide nut
Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are prevalent in foods that have been prepared using high intensity forms of heat, such as grilling and roasting. They have been found to cause cancer in animals and some types are even classified as human carcinogens by the World Health Organization.
In nuts, the type of AGEs to worry about most are acrylamide. The good news is that roasted pistachios happen to be the lowest acrylamide nut out there. If you choose to consume raw and unroasted pistachios, it’s even healthier. That’s why here at Superfoodly, we prefer the raw whenever available. (8)
11. May reduce risk for cataracts and macular degeneration
There are thousands of different types of antioxidants and what’s unique about pistachios is how rich their lutein and zeaxanthin content is; 1,205 mcg/100g.
These two carotenoids are rare in nuts. The 2nd richest source – hazelnuts – has over 90% less (only 92 mcg).
Why these are so important for the health of your eyes and vision is because they are the predominant carotenoids that accumulate in the retina. It is believed they help reduce damage from oxidation and harmful light wavelengths, such as ultraviolet.
If you or someone you love has age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or cataracts, then you’ve almost certainly heard of The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS). It along with the 2nd version (AREDS 2) were large trials sponsored by the U.S. government’s National Eye Institute. (9)
The AREDS 2 study was multicenter, randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled. For participants with the lowest dietary intake of these two carotenoids, they found that with supplementation of them, there was a 26% reduced chance of getting advanced AMD. (10)
For cataracts, the group with the lowest dietary intake was found to have a 32% reduced risk of needing cataract surgery when lutein and zeaxanthin were added. (11)
You can buy AREDS 2 formula vitamin and mineral supplements over-the-counter that provide 5 mg of lutein and 1 mg of zeaxanthin per softgel. Many ophthalmologists will advise these for patients with AMD and cataracts, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect natural food sources of these nutrients!
Pistachios have been cited in medical research as an excellent source of these two carotenoids. (12)
12. Lowers cholesterol and CVD risk in studies
Fat is bad for cholesterol, right?
Only if it’s coming from animal-based foods like meat, dairy, and eggs.
100% plant-based foods have zero cholesterol. Furthermore, numerous studies have found they may help lower cholesterol by other means, such as reducing absorption from other foods and through phytosterol content.
A study of healthy adults with high LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) were found to benefit when their moderate-fat diet included this nut. (13)
In addition to LDL lowering, studies have also found pistachios can increase cholesterol of the good type (HDL) and improve other lipid profiles, such as lowering triglycerides. (14)
Best of all, the benefits of eating pistachios for your heart appear to happen in a dose-dependent manner. Research suggests the more you consume versus the bad fats, the lower your cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk.
That’s a broad category that includes heart attacks, ischemic stroke, and atherosclerosis among other deadly diseases. (15)
The antioxidants may be helping more than just your eyes. Your fats oxidize in your body, including LDL cholesterol. In a study of high cholesterol adults, some of whom received high daily dosages of this nut, the following was observed. (16)
“We found significant decreases in serum oxidized-LDL in participants following the pistachio-enriched treatment diets relative to the control diet. This is important, because oxidized-LDL are recognized as a contributing factor for the initiation and progression of CVD.”
13. Good for diabetics
It’s not surprising that a study found them to have “a minimal effect” on blood sugar, since there are almost no carbs in pistachios.
What was surprising in the study was that when they included them as part of a high-carb meal, a beneficial effect was still observed! (17)
Researchers at the University of Toronto did a similar study and their conclusion stated the nut “may have insulin-sparing properties.”
They said this because it increased levels of glucagon-like-peptide (GLP-1). The primary purpose of this peptide hormone is to stimulate insulin secretion, which may explain the better blood sugar. (18) (19)
In a clinical trial involving type 2 diabetics, a moderate-fat diet containing pistachios was found to reduce systolic blood pressure by 3.5 points and during sleep, the drop was even more at minus 5.7 points. (20)
In addition to the lowering of blood pressure, a slight HbA1c reduction was observed in a randomized crossover trial of type 2 diabetics. (21)
With prediabetes – which are people that have the signs of getting the disease – it was said that chronic consumption of this nut correlated with a better matabolic profile and the data suggested it may “reverse certain metabolic deleterious consequences of prediabetes.” (22)
Another study looking at consumption among prediabetics found LDL and VLDL cholesterol levels “significantly decreased” in the group eating these nuts. (23)
There’s too little research to substantiate these advantages for diabetes but so far, the data looks promising!
14. Helps weight loss in multiple ways
How can a food that’s so calorically dense be good for losing weight? Shouldn’t they make you fat?
Ironically not just pistachios, but many nuts have been associated with actually lowering body weight. On the surface this makes absolutely no sense, then you dig deeper and discover the following…
“The Pistachio Principle”
You can’t just shove a handful of these nuts in your mouth. First you have to shell them. This slows down the rate at which you eat them.
Since the time between being full and feeling full can vary between 10 and 20 minutes, that extra time it takes for you to pry open each shell can reduce the amount you eat during the in-between period. This has been dubbed The Pistachio Principle. (24) (25)
Increasing dietary hardness
Another advantage has been found with foods that are harder and require more chewing. They seem to provide better satisfaction and as a result, less is consumed. (26)
Not all the fat is being absorbed
According to the law of thermodynamics, a calorie is a calorie regardless of where it’s from. That’s true, if the calorie is fully metabolized.
In almonds, it has been found that a small percentage of the fat content (lipids) aren’t being digested. (27)
But it’s not just almonds. Out of nearly 20 clinical trials involving various nuts, not a single one found the weight of the participants to be as expected, based on the calories consumed coming from nuts. (28)
This has also been seen with pistachio nuts. Just take a gander at this chart from a 12 week weight loss study, where obese participants experienced a bigger drop in BMI when consuming 240 calories of them daily versus 220 calories of pretzel. If anything, the opposite would have been expected since the calorie count for the pretzels was lower! (29)
Similar results were seen in a study conducted by a Chinese hospital involving 90 patients with metabolic syndrome. Even when they were eating pistachios every day in high amounts of 42g or 70g (236 or 393 calories) their body weight and waist-to-hip ratio didn’t change when compared to those eating less calorically dense foods. (30)
So how many calories are not being absorbed? One study measured and found it was 5% that isn’t digested but that number has yet to be confirmed. (31)
Constipation, diarrhea, stomach aches and cramping are possible reactions from eating too many pistachios. With normal consumption, none of those side effects would be expected unless you have a special diet not compatible with nuts. Generally speaking, this food is very well tolerated.
Those with an allergy to tree nuts should consult a doctor before consuming since this food falls into that category.
In a study of 29 children, there was an overlap of pistachio allergies in 34% of children who had a sensitization to cashews.
While you can be allergic to pistachios, fortunately the percentage is low relative to most other tree nuts. Research suggests that almond, cashew, and walnut are more common. When you compare pistachios vs. peanuts (which are actually a legume) the rate of prevalence is like night and day. (34)
On a related note, yes they contain lectins but that is because all foods do. Literally every food. Please see lectins for more details.
Pistachios’ oxalate content is very low, with an average of 16.3 mg per 100g of the roasted nut. This makes it a safe food for people at risk of kidney stones who are trying to abide by a low oxalate diet. (35)
Pregnant women eating pistachios is generally encouraged. As with any food, no one can say conclusively it’s 100% safe but so far there is no evidence to suggest that pistachios are bad during pregnancy or breastfeeding. On the flip side, there are plenty of nutrition facts which would suggest it’s a good food for expecting mothers to eat.
Pistachios and gout can be a bad combination if you’re eating the typically salted version. Generally, those with high uric acid levels are advised to follow a low sodium diet. That rules out all roasted and salted nuts, not just this one. (36)
Can dogs eat pistachios?
My dog ate pistachios, is he going to die? That question was recently asked and the good news is that this nut is not poisonous to dogs, cats, or other common pets. Even though they’re not directly toxic, they do pose a major choking hazard and their body isn’t designed for them. They do not have molars to chew hard nuts, nor is the digestive tract of a carnivore designed to break them down properly.
As a result, choking and gastrointestinal upset are risk factors. You shouldn’t feed them to dogs and cats but if they accidentally ate a couple without choking, there isn’t need to worry about it now.
Do pistachios go bad?
When stored in a cool, dry place in an air-tight package, the estimated shelf-life of raw pistachios is 10 months at 32° F (freezer), 3 months at 50° F (warmer than refrigerator) and just 1 month at just 68° F (room temperature). After roasting and being sealed in packaging with proper humidity, the shelf-life can be several months to a year or longer. (37)
Whether you’re talking about raw or roasted pistachios, even if there isn’t a risk of bacterial or fungal contamination, eating old nuts of any kind is bad for you in another way; advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which was discussed above.
Not only do these form during roasting, but the amounts in unrefined fats increase as they age. Old and expired pistachios are unhealthy for that reason alone. Don’t buy a bag near the expiration date.
Very few foods work for all diets. Here’s one that pleases everyone, from vegans to meat-lovers, and those on the common diets like low carb, paleo, and ketogenic. Everyone from ripped bodybuilders to overweight type 2 diabetics will find this food useful. Raw pistachios are even kosher for Passover without needing certification, though shelled and flavored are a different story. (38)
In short, pistachios are good for you no matter who you are!
Best pistachios to buy
Let’s start with the ones you should not buy.
Red pistachios are not natural. They are dyed using artificial food coloring. Typically FD&C Red #3. Thankfully you almost never those red demons for sale anymore.
What happened to red pistachios?
Prior to increased supply here at home, they were popular in prior decades when being imported from Turkey, Iran, and the Middle East. Why red?
They would be colored to disguise ugly shells that often had brown and black stains.
Even though they’re green pistachios, we also have a bone to pick with Costco’s salt and pepper pistachios. 290 mg of sodium per serving is not healthy. Their predecessor version – Kirkland’s Best co-branded with Everybody’s Nuts – were even worse at 520 mg. Good thing those are discontinued.
What Costco sells today, as well as Walmart and Sam’s Club, is Wonderful pistachios. We are not debating that their salt and pepper and sweet chili are wonderful tasting, but can’t they offer a flavored version without salt? Garlic, lemon, and jalapeno all seem like candidates.
Or better yet, an organic version that’s not roasted!
Raw pistachios will be the best type to buy. They are an acquired taste but the lack of roasting means you’re avoiding acrylamide. Many types of antioxidants and vitamins degrade from heat, so those should be higher in the raw green pistachios.
For toppers on salads and other foods, get pistachios without a shell. Trader Joe’s sells them for a good price but they are roasted.
Whether you choose raw or roasted, at least go with lightly salted!
On Amazon, you can buy a 3 lb. bag of roasted without salt from Fiddyment Farms. They come in the shell.
If you want just the raw kernels, you can also get those in a 2 lb. bag.
If you want USDA certified organic, the brand Braga Organic Farms sells organic raw pistachios in a 2 lb. bag. They’re with the shell.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.