There’s no denying the irresistible pistachio. Its smooth beige shell reveals a peak of the green goodness within.
Native to the Middle East, including what is now Turkey, Iran and Syria, pistachios were considered royalty and an aphrodisiac, and Chinese legend says they bring good luck to those who hear the shells pop open while sitting under a pistachio tree. Plump with powerful plant compounds, vitamins, and minerals, pistachios deliver a wealth of benefits.
Pistachios (Pistacia vera), which are part of the cashew family, along with mango, sumac, and poison oak, are not actually nuts, but seeds that grow in grape-like clusters inside a reddish casing, or fruit. When ripe, in late summer and early fall, pistachios split open naturally. The brining and drying process opens the shells further. A single serving is about 49 nuts, more than any other snack nut, and has just 160 calories. A one-ounce serving has 16% DV (DV=Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day) of thiamin and 18% DV of vitamin B6, as well as a 12% DV dose of dietary fiber and protein.
The combination of several powerful plant compounds, including vitamin E, carotenoids, phenolics, and flavonoids in pistachios contributes to high antioxidant activity, which may promote health and protect against risk of chronic diseases, such as some cancers. According to a recent study, the antioxidant activity of pistachios is even higher than that of other foods, such as blueberries, cherries, and beets (Nutrients, July 2022). Research also suggests pistachio consumption’s association with a healthier dietary pattern and weight loss in overweight or obese adults and significant reduction in blood pressure (Nutrients, July 2020).
The finer points
Though harvested in late summer/early autumn, pistachios are available year-round. They’re sold in or out of their shells, raw or roasted, salted, unsalted, and seasoned. If in their shells, look for open shells, unopened means unripe nuts. The greener the nut (avoid yellow nuts), the better the quality and flavor. Store pistachios in the refrigerator or freezer, where they’ll keep for a year. Pistachios make a terrific snack, eaten right out of the shell, blended into nut butter, or added to trail mix. They add crunch and color to pilafs, veggie sautes, whole grain cereals and a healthy yogurt-granola-fruit parfait.
(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)
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