Pistachio Health Benefits
The pistachio, Pistacia vera in the Anacardiaceae family, is a small tree originally from Iran, which now can also be found in to regions of Syria, Turkey, Greece, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Egypt, India and possibly Afghanistan (especially in the provinces of Samangan and Badghis). The tree produces an important culinary nut.
Pistacia vera often is confused with other species in the genus Pistacia that are also known as pistachio. These species can be distinguished from P. vera by their geographic distributions (in the wild) and their nuts. Their nuts are much smaller, have a strong flavor of turpentine, and have a shell that is not hard.
Pistachios are one snack that will do much more than curb your appetite. These lovely little nuts shine when it comes to nutrition. From improved cardiovascular health to maintaining vision, pistachios contain a variety of nutrients and associated benefits not always found in other nuts. Munch on a handful the next time you need a snack and reap these healthy rewards.
Pistachios are high in heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. Studies have linked the consumption of pistachios with a reduction in total cholesterol levels. In addition, some studies have shown a decrease in LDL-cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, and others have also show an increase in HDL-cholesterol, often referred to as “good” cholesterol. One study by Penn State University evaluated the influence of pistachio intake on blood pressure in response to stress. Patients who ate pistachios had a lower blood pressure response. Controlling or reducing both blood cholesterol and blood pressure are key factors in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Pistachios contains two unique carotenoids not often found in other nuts. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin act as protective antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that protect tissues from free radical damage in the body. Lutein and zeaxanthin have been associated with eye health and reduction of the risk for developing age-related macular degenerationm which is the leading cause of visual impairments and acquired blindness in the United States.
More Beneficial Nutrients
In addition to their contribution to heart and eye health, pistachios are also an excellent source of copper, manganese and Vitamin B6, as well as a good source of a variety of other B vitamins. Copper is important as a component of enzymes and helps in the formation of connective tissue. Manganese plays a role in tissue development, growth, reproduction and the metabolism of fat and carbohydrates. Vitamin B6 is important in the development of antibodies within the immune system and it also assists with healthy nerve function and the production of red blood cells. Pistachios also contain fiber which is beneficial for gastrointestinal health.
While the consumption of nuts is encouraged due to the health benefits, it is still important to watch portion sizes. Though nutritious, they are also high in calorie which can ruin weight loss efforts. Studies have determined that no weight change was detected when pistachios were consumed in moderation. They are a lower calorie nut. A serving of pistachios is about 49 nuts, providing 170 calories. In addition, pistachios are most often found still in the shell. It takes a bit of work to get into them which slows eating time allowing the brain to more effectively signal the gut when a person is full. In addition, this slower eating can lead to more mindful eating and enjoyment of the food.
Choose pistachios that are still in the shell and avoid heavily salted varieties. Excess sodium does raise blood pressure in some people. Select pistachios with a light green color with a beige shell. Colored varieties, such as those in shades of red, come out during the holidays. They are nice for decoration, but have been dyed. The original green color is a fresher, more natural choice. You can store pistachios in an airtight container for up to three months in the fridge or freeze them for six months so don’t be afraid to buy them in bulk if you find a good deal.