Almonds and pistachios have a history of being eaten by people the longest of all nuts. They're considered some of the most nutritious nuts to include in your diet.
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While almonds have received most of the spotlight as a nutritional superfood, there are many health benefits of pistachios you should know about. Here, we share insight from a dietitian who wants you to eat more of these tiny, nutritious green nuts.
1. They Have Unique Nutrients
Pistachios have higher amounts of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) compared to other commonly eaten nuts, according to a May 2016 review in Nutrition Today. BCAAs play an important role in building muscle and strength.
Pistachios are also higher than other nuts in fiber, minerals and vitamins A, C, E, K, and B vitamins (except B12). Because of their high vitamin and mineral content, pistachios can be considered one of the most nutritious nuts to eat. Compared to other nuts, pistachios are the highest source of a compound called phytosterols, according to an older November 2005 study in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry.
Phytosterols are linked to lower cholesterol levels, according to a November 2017 review in ABC Cardiology.
2. They Have Gut Health Benefits
Pistachios, like all nuts, are a good source of prebiotic fiber. The fiber from nuts may help move food through the digestive tract and keep you regular. Nuts also provide antioxidants, which are linked to weight loss and better gut health.
Prebiotic fiber encourages the growth of healthy gut bacteria, probiotics, and can help fight off harmful bacteria from growing in the gut. Eating pistachios was linked to increased "good" gut bacteria in people, even more than eating almonds, in a June 2014 study in The British Journal of Nutrition.
3. They're Good for Your Heart
All nuts are associated with heart health benefits because they are a source of omega 3s, antioxidants, potassium and fiber. Eating nuts — especially pistachios — is associated with lower blood pressure levels.
Regularly eating pistachios was linked to improved health of blood vessels in people (specifically, markers like vascular stiffness and blood vessel ability to dilate), according to a May 2015 study in Nutrition. Research participants were either in a healthy lifestyle group or a healthy lifestyle group plus eating 1 cup of pistachios every day for three months, and the pistachio-eating group had healthier blood vessels by the end of the trial.
Besides improving blood vessel health, eating pistachios has been linked to lower blood cholesterol levels, as pistachios are the highest nut source of phytosterols. They are also a good source of heart-healthy minerals magnesium and potassium.
4. They're a Source of Antioxidants
All nuts are a good source of antioxidants, but pistachios get their green color from unique antioxidants other nuts don't have. In fact, pistachios are in the top 50 foods in total antioxidant capacity, according to the December 2021 review in Plants.
Pistachios, like leafy green vegetables, are rich in antioxidants like lutein, zeaxanthin, flavonoids and anthocyanins. Lutein and zeaxanthin are important for eye health and can help protect against age-related vision loss, or macular degeneration (AMD), according to a February 2017 review in Nutrients.
Pistachios may have anti-inflammatory effects because they're high in antioxidants. Inflammation is associated with most chronic diseases, like heart disease or diabetes, and eating foods high in antioxidants, like pistachios, can be one way to help lower your risk.
Those antioxidants in pistachios are also linked to lower rates of age-related mental decline. Walnuts and almonds may come to mind as nuts with brain-protecting benefits, but pistachios benefit your brain as well.
Flavonoids and anthocyanins, both antioxidants found in pistachios, are a focal point in the research for protecting against cognitive decline. Research shows that taking in more of these compounds may improve blood flow to the brain and have a positive effect on mental performance, per a December 2018 review in Nutrients.
Besides playing a role in eye health, antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin are also linked to protecting the brain, per an August 2020 review in Molecules.
Because they are naturally low in carbs and high in fat, protein and fiber, nuts are a nutritious choice for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Interestingly, pistachios are higher in carbs compared to other nuts, but research suggests they do not negatively affect blood sugar levels, per Oregon State University.
The antioxidants in pistachios have also been linked to helping the body regulate blood sugar levels, according to a November 2017 review in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
The reality is, all nuts have great health benefits, but almonds tend to get most of the glory. Pistachios can often get overlooked as a nutritious addition to your diet, but they do deserve a place on your snack menu.
The unique green color of pistachios is a sign that they provide a special blend of antioxidants compared to other nuts. These, along with the many vitamins, minerals, heart-healthy fats and protein in pistachios make them a tasty and nutritious option.
Pistachios can be enjoyed by themselves for a delicious snack, but can also add texture, flavor and color to salads, yogurt, oatmeal, pasta and baked goods.
- MyFoodData: Pistachios
- Nutrition Today: "Pistachios for Health What Do We Know About This Multifaceted Nut?"
- The British Journal of Nutrition: "Effects of Almond and Pistachio Consumption on Gut Microbiota Composition in a Randomised Cross-over Human Feeding Study"
- Plants: "Pistachio Nuts (Pistacia vera L.): Production, Nutrients, Bioactives and Novel Health Effects"
- Nutrition: "Effect of Pistachio Nut Consumption on Endothelial Function and Arterial Stiffness"
- Nutrients: "Lutein and Zeaxanthin—Food Sources, Bioavailability and Dietary Variety in Age-Related Macular Degeneration Protection"
- Antioxidants: "Regular Intake of Pistachio Mitigates the Deleterious Effects of a High Fat-Diet in the Brain of Obese Mice"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Effect of Chronic Consumption of Pistachios (Pistacia vera L.) on Glucose Metabolism in Pre-diabetics and Type 2 Diabetics: A Systematic Review"
- Nutrients: The Effects of Flavonoids on Cardiovascular Health: A Review of Human Intervention Trials and Implications for Cerebrovascular Function
- Molecules: Zeaxanthin and Lutein: Photoprotectors, Anti-Inflammatories, and Brain Food
- ABC Cardiology: Phytosterols in the Treatment of Hypercholesterolemia and Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases
- Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry: Phytosterol composition of nuts and seeds commonly consumed in the United States
- Oregon State University: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load