These edible seeds of the Pistacia vera tree contain healthy fats and are a good source of protein, fiber, and antioxidants.
What's more, they contain several essential nutrients and can aid weight loss and heart and gut health.
Interestingly, people have been eating pistachios since 7000 BC. Nowadays, they're very popular in many dishes, including ice cream and desserts (1Trusted Source).
Here are 9 evidence-based health benefits of pistachios.
1. Loaded With Nutrients
Pistachios are very nutritious, with a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of about 49 pistachios containing the following (2):
- Calories: 159
- Carbs: 8 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
- Fat: 13 grams (90% are unsaturated fats)
- Potassium: 6% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Phosphorus: 11% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 28% of the RDI
- Thiamine: 21% of the RDI
- Copper: 41% of the RDI
- Manganese: 15% of the RDI
Notably, pistachios are one of the most vitamin B6-rich foods around.
Vitamin B6 is important for several bodily functions, including blood sugar regulation and the formation of hemoglobin, a molecule that carries oxygen in red blood cells.
Pistachios are high in protein, fiber, and antioxidants. They also boast several other important nutrients, including vitamin B6 and potassium.
2. High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are vital to your health.
They prevent cell damage and play a key role in reducing the risk of disease, such as cancer.
In one 4-week study, participants who ate either one or two servings of pistachios per day had greater levels of lutein and γ-Tocopherol, compared with participants who did not eat pistachios (5).
Interestingly, the antioxidants in pistachios are very accessible in the stomach. Therefore, they are more likely to be absorbed during digestion (11Trusted Source).
Pistachios are among the most antioxidant-rich nuts around. They're high in lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which promote eye health.
3. Low in Calories Yet High in Protein
While eating nuts has many health benefits, they're typically high in calories.
Fortunately, pistachios are among the lowest-calorie nuts.
They also have a higher ratio of essential amino acids — the building blocks of protein — than any other nut (10Trusted Source).
These amino acids are considered essential because your body cannot make them, so you must obtain them from your diet.
Meanwhile, other amino acids are considered semi-essential, meaning that they can be essential under certain circumstances, depending on the health of the individual.
One of these semi-essential amino acids is L-arginine, which accounts for 2% of the amino acids in pistachios. It's converted into nitric oxide in your body, which is a compound that causes your blood vessels to dilate, aiding blood flow (6Trusted Source).
Pistachios contain fewer calories and more protein than most other nuts. Also, their essential amino acid content is higher than any other nut.
4. May Aid Weight Loss
Despite being an energy-dense food, nuts are one of the most weight-loss-friendly foods.
While few studies have looked at the effects of pistachios on weight, those that exist are promising.
In one 12-week weight loss program, those who ate 1.9 ounces (53 grams) of pistachios per day as an afternoon snack had twice the reduction in body mass index, compared with those who ate 2 ounces (56 grams) of pretzels per day (16Trusted Source).
Moreover, another 24-week study in individuals with excess weight showed that those who consumed 20% of calories from pistachios lost 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) more from their waistlines than those who did not eat pistachios (17Trusted Source).
One factor possibly contributing to pistachios' weight loss properties is that their fat content might not be fully absorbed (18Trusted Source).
In fact, studies have demonstrated the malabsorption of fats from nuts. This is because part of their fat content is stuck within their cell walls, preventing it from being digested in the gut (6Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).
What's more, shelled pistachios are good for mindful eating, as shelling the nuts takes time and slows the rate of eating. The leftover shells also give you a visual clue of how many nuts you have eaten (20Trusted Source).
One study showed that individuals who ate in-shell pistachios consumed 41% fewer calories than individuals who ate shelled pistachios (21Trusted Source).
Eating pistachio nuts may aid weight loss. In-shell pistachios are especially beneficial, as they promote mindful eating.
5. Promote Healthy Gut Bacteria
Pistachios are high in fiber, with one serving containing 3 grams (2).
Fiber moves through your digestive system mostly undigested, and some types of fiber are digested by the good bacteria in your gut, acting as prebiotics.
Gut bacteria then ferment the fiber and convert it into short-chain fatty acids, which may have several health benefits, including a reduced risk of developing digestive disorders, cancer, and heart disease (22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source).
Butyrate is perhaps the most beneficial of these short-chain fatty acids.
Eating pistachios has been shown to increase the number of butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut to a greater extent than eating almonds (24Trusted Source).
Pistachios are high in fiber, which is good for your gut bacteria. Eating pistachios may increase the number of bacteria that produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids like butyrate.
6. May Lower Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
Pistachios may reduce your risk of heart disease in various ways.
Many studies on pistachios and blood lipids are conducted by replacing part of the calories in a diet with pistachios. Up to 67% of these studies have shown reductions in total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases in HDL (good) cholesterol (28Trusted Source).
Meanwhile, none of these studies observed that eating pistachios harmed the blood lipid profile (28Trusted Source).
One 4-week study in people with high LDL cholesterol had participants consume 10% of their daily calories from pistachios.
The study showed that the diet lowered LDL cholesterol by 9%. What's more, a diet consisting of 20% of calories from pistachios lowered LDL cholesterol by 12% (25Trusted Source).
In another study, 32 young men followed a Mediterranean diet for 4 weeks. Then, pistachios were added to that diet in place of its monounsaturated fat content, totaling about 20% of their daily calorie intake.
After 4 weeks on the diet, they experienced a 23% reduction in LDL cholesterol, 21% reduction in total cholesterol, and 14% reduction in triglycerides (26Trusted Source).
Moreover, pistachios seem to lower blood pressure more than other nuts.
A review of 21 studies found that eating pistachios reduced the upper limit of blood pressure by 1.82 mm/Hg and the lower limit by 0.8 mm/Hg (29Trusted Source).
Studies show that eating pistachios may help lower blood cholesterol. It may also lower blood pressure more than other nuts.
7. May Promote Blood Vessel Health
The endothelium is the inner lining of blood vessels.
It's important that it works properly, as endothelial dysfunction is a risk factor for heart disease (30Trusted Source).
Vasodilation is the widening or dilating of blood vessels. Endothelial dysfunction is characterized by reduced vasodilation, which decreases blood flow.
Pistachios are a great source of the amino acid L-arginine, which is converted into nitric oxide in the body. Therefore, these tiny nuts may play an important role in promoting blood vessel health.
One study in 42 patients who consumed 1.5 ounces (40 grams) of pistachios a day for 3 months showed improvements in markers of endothelial function and vascular stiffness (31Trusted Source).
Another 4-week study had 32 healthy young men consume a diet consisting of 20% of calories from pistachios. It found that endothelium-dependent vasodilation improved by 30%, compared with when they followed a Mediterranean diet (26Trusted Source).
Proper blood flow is important for many bodily functions, including erectile function.
That said, a 100-gram serving of pistachios is quite large, containing about 557 calories.
Pistachio nuts may play an important role in promoting blood vessel health. That's because they are rich in L-arginine, which, when converted into nitric oxide, helps dilate your blood vessels.
8. May Help Lower Blood Sugar
Despite having a higher carb content than most nuts, pistachios have a low glycemic index, meaning they don't cause large blood sugar spikes.
Perhaps not surprisingly, studies have shown that eating pistachios can help promote healthy blood sugar levels.
One study showed that when 2 ounces (56 grams) of pistachios were added to a carb-rich diet, healthy individuals' blood sugar response after a meal was reduced by 20–30% (6Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source).
In another 12-week study, individuals with type 2 diabetes showed a 9% reduction in fasting blood sugar after eating 0.9 ounces (25 grams) of pistachios as a snack twice per day (33Trusted Source).
In addition to being rich in fiber and healthy fats, pistachio nuts are rich in antioxidants, carotenoids, and phenolic compounds, all of which are beneficial for blood sugar control (6Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source).
Therefore, simply adding pistachios to your diet may help manage your blood sugar levels in the long term.
Pistachios have a low glycemic index, which might promote lower blood sugar levels.
9. Delicious and Fun to Eat
Pistachios can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
These include as a snack, salad garnish, or pizza topping, or even in baking, adding a beautiful green or purple color to various desserts and dishes.
Some delicious and green-colored desserts include pistachio gelato or cheesecake.
Plus, like other nuts, they can be used to make pesto or nut butter.
You can even try sprinkling them over your favorite oven-baked fish, adding them to your morning granola, or making your own dessert crust.
Lastly, pistachios can be enjoyed on their own as a convenient, tasty, and healthy snack.
Besides being a great snack, pistachios can be used in baking and cooking, adding a green or purple color to various dishes.
The Bottom Line
Pistachios are a great source of healthy fats, fiber, protein, antioxidants, and various nutrients, including vitamin B6 and thiamine.
Their health effects may include weight loss benefits, lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and improved gut, eye, and blood vessel health.
What's more, they're delicious, versatile, and fun to eat. For most people, including pistachios in their diet is a great way to improve overall health.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>