Pistachios are one of the oldest flowering nut trees – recent archaeological evidence found in Turkey suggests that they were being enjoyed by humans as far back as 7,000 BCE. Native to the Middle East, Pistachio trees flourish in hot and arid climates, in fact they thrive in the heat.
Pulling a wealth of nutrition from deep in the soil, Pistachio Nuts have long been considered a delicacy, desired by kings, queens and wealthy noblemen. High in fibre, healthy fats and a great source of protein, Pistachios make a great high energy snack that provide many benefits.
Pistachios are high in heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA’s). Research shows that a diet high in MUFA’s can reduce the risk of heart disease and lower high blood pressure. They are especially beneficial when carbohydrate intake is reduced.
Like many other nuts, Pistachios are high in vitamin E and antioxidants that protect the heart. The Pistachio's unique green and purple kernel colour is a result of its lutein and anthocyanin content - powerful antioxidants that help to strengthen blood vessels. Among nuts, Pistachios contain the highest levels of potassium, γ-tocopherol, vitamin K, phytosterols, and xanthophyll carotenoids. Five published randomized cardiovascular trials have shown that Pistachios also promote heart-healthy blood lipid profiles.
A 2008 study published in “The American Journal for Clinical Nutrition” was conducted to specifically look at the consumption of Pistachios for heart health. The study was done on a small sample of 28 participants who included 2 portions of Pistachios in an otherwise healthy diet. It concluded: “Inclusion of Pistachios in a healthy diet beneficially affects CVD (cardiovascular disease) risk factors in a dose-dependent manner”.
Lastly, Pistachios are also a potent source of the amino acid l-arginine, which prevents hardening of arteries and the formation of blood clots.
Pistachios are rich in fibre, which encourages healthy digestion by moving food rapidly through the digestive system.
They are rich in prebiotic fibre – at type of fibre that feeds the good (probiotic) bacteria in the gut. They also contain phytochemicals that have the potential to modify microbiota composition.
In a 2012 study, presented to the American Society for Nutrition, volunteers ate a standard diet with either 0 ounces, 1.5 ounces or 3 ounces of pistachios or almonds.
Researchers collected stool samples and found that people who ate up to 3 ounces of Pistachios daily showed an increase in potentially helpful gut bacteria, much more so than those who ate almonds.
Pistachios are rich in the carotenoid antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin – compounds that have been extensively studied in relation to their benefits to the eyes. It has been found that they filter harmful, high energy blue wavelengths of light which helps to protect and maintain healthy eye cells. Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye. Therefore, eating foods rich in these two important compounds are believed to reduce the risk of light-induced oxidative damage that could lead to macular degeneration.
Type 2 Diabetes
In 2014, Spanish researchers published a study showing that people with pre-diabetes were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes if they ate Pistachios regularly.
A person with pre-diabetes has higher than normal blood sugar levels, but not quite high enough to be characterised as type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that the patients with pre-diabetes who ate 2 ounces of pistachios daily experienced a significant drop in blood sugar and insulin levels. Furthermore, they saw an improvement in glucose and insulin processing, whilst some of the patients also saw a reduction in inflammation.
Dr. Emilio Ros, director of the Lipid Clinic of the Endocrinology and Nutrition Service at Hospital Clinic In Barcelona said, "Although Pistachios were examined in this work, I believe that any beneficial effects on glucose metabolism are shared by all nuts, as they have a general composition with lots of bioactive compounds liable to beneficially affect biological pathways leading to insulin resistance and diabetes."
It is postulated that one of the reasons why the participants in the Spanish study reduced their diabetes risk is because eating plenty of nuts in general can provide the body with much needed protein, fibre and healthy fats. These important nutrients can curb the appetite and prevent the temptation to reach for calorie laden, sugary snacks.
Organic Pistachio Nuts can be enjoyed as a highly nutritious, high energy snack. They can also be used to top salads, cereal and in baking and making.
In Persia (modern day Iran), Pistachio trade and ownership of Pistachio groves meant great wealth and high status. Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba decreed Pistachios an exclusively royal food, going so far as to forbid commoners from growing the nut for personal use.
Nebuchadnezzar, the ancient king of Babylon, had Pistachio trees planted in his fabled hanging gardens. According to Moslem legend, the Pistachio nut was one of the foods brought to earth by Adam.
The Pistachio has also been used as a dyeing agent and a folk remedy for ailments ranging from toothaches to sclerosis of the liver. The high nutritional value of the nut, and long storage life made it an indispensable travel item among early explorers and traders. Pistachios were frequently carried by travellers across the ancient Silk Road that connected China with the West.
PIstachios contain: protein, amino acids, fibre, monounsaturated fatty acids (oleic and linolenic), vitamins; A, E, B1, B6 and potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper and manganese. Antioxidants include; zeaxanthin, lutein, β-carotene, γ-tocopherol, flavonoids and proanthocyanidins.
Do not consume if you have a nut allergy.