Pistachios – Nutritional Value and Health Benefits

Pistachios : Complete Guide

Pistachio is a plant that has a bushy, broad, dioecious, and medium-sized tree. It is known to have origins in the West Asia region.[1]

Pistachio trees are mostly found in countries such as Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Italy, and United States. The seeds that the tree produces are widely consumed as food [2].

Pistachio tree picture
Picture 1: Pistachio tree
Image Source: rawnutsandseeds.com

Moreover, the pistachio fruit, which belongs to the genus, Pistacia, and family, Anacardiaceae, is a drupe. Drupe refers to the fruits that have single large centrally-located seed. Also, the fruit has a seed kernel which is actually edible. The exterior of the mature fruit appears off as a hard, white-colored shell that has splits, exposes the yellow-light green oblong kernel. This kernel is ½ in diameter and 1 inch in length. During each season, the pistachio fruits are bore in heavy clusters, which make them look like a grape bunch.

Pistachio fruit-nut image
Picture 2: Pistachio fruit/nut
Image Source: yourownevolution.com

In the ancient times, wonderful pistachios have been popular as a symbol of robust health and wellness. They are known for their benefits to optimize health. [1]

Pistachio Facts

  • It takes about 5 to 7 years for pistachio trees to bear fruits but once they do, they seem to have no age limit. The trees bear fruit biennially which means it grows heavy crop one year then a little crop for the next one. Once the fruits become ripe, the nuts can be harvested.
  • The harvesting of pistachios is usually done from late August until early October.
  • Pistachios are the perfect feel-good snack: In other countries, pistachios are known as “The Smiling Nut” (Iran) and “The Happy Nut” (China).  According to a popular belief in Iran and China, when you sit under a pistachio tree and you hear the sounds of snapping pistachio shells, it will bring you good luck.
  • Pistachios are not really nuts: Though most people call pistachios nuts because of their appearance, they are actually seeds of fruits whose flesh were eliminated during processing. They also belong in the cashew family. Other plants in this family are mangos, sumac, and poison ivy.
  • Pistachio is a royal fruit: Based on a legend, Queen Sheba loved pistachios so much that she forbade the commoners from planting them and declared that these were exclusively for royals. In the Ancient Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar planted pistachios in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, his gift to his wife, Amytis. [3, 4, 5]

Pistachio Nutrition

Compared to other nuts, pistachios are rich in vitamin K and potassium. Also, it only contains lesser amount of calories. In a one-ounce serving of dry-roasted pistachios, there are about 160 calories, 15 grams of fat (2 grams of saturated fat), 6 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber.

It is an excellent source of 15% of the daily value for phosphorus and thiamine, 25% of the daily value for vitamin B6, as well as 10% of the daily value for magnesium [6]. Another thing about pistachios is that they have lots of antioxidants. These give them their enticing colors, purple-red and green [7].

Pistachio Calories

Fewer calories are contained in pistachios. In 1-oz serving of dry-roasted pistachios, 160 calories can be obtained [6]. As for 1-oz of pistachios without shells, 158 calories, 7.93 grams of carbohydrates, and 12.6 grams of fats [8]. According to a study, researchers have discovered that pistachios actually have lesser amount of calories than what was previously found out. This is based on their findings by using the method called Atwater, a method of calculating amount of energy a food contains [9].

Pistachios Health Benefits

Good for the heart

Pistachios have been found to have significant role in improving cardiovascular health by decreasing the level of low density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol). They are also known in increasing the level of high density lipoprotein (good cholesterol) in the blood. Additionally, pistachios have abundant amount of mono-unsaturated fatty acids (also known as oleic acid) which are known to be great source of antioxidants.

Moreover, in a study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008, pistachios provide the body L-arginine. This is vital in making the artery linings more flexible and preventing blood clots which can contribute to the development of heart attack. Vitamin E can also be found in pistachios. This vitamin can aid in decreasing the clogging of the arteries.  [1, 6]

Weight Management

According to James Painter, a behavioral eating expert, came up with the Pistachio Principle in 2008. The Pistachio Principle refers to the method of fooling the body to eating less. An example of applying this principle is through shelling and eating the pistachios. This causes one to slow his/her consumption of the food. Therefore, it makes one feel fuller faster even if he/she only ate less amount of food. [2]

Better digestion

A snack of pistachios can aid in better digestion. This helps in prevention of constipation and other digestive disorders. [7]

Removal of free radicals in the body

Pistachios are known as an excellent source of antioxidants such as vitamin E, carotenes, and polyphenolic antioxidant compounds. These are important in removing the oxygen-free radicals in the body. As a result, body diseases such as infections and cancers can be prevented.

Mucus membrane and Skin Integrity

Vitamin E is abundant in pistachios. This is a lipid soluble antioxidant which works by helping the cell membrane of mucus membrane and skin to maintain integrity.

Safety concerns with Pistachios

Some people experience allergy to pistachio. This occurs due to the presence of anacardic acid (urushiol) in nuts. Reaction symptoms such as hives (itchiness), vomiting, abdominal pain, difficulty of breathing, and diarrhea may be observed. Also, there may be occurrences in which cross reactions may take place as well due to consumption of other nuts and fruits which belong in the Anacardiaceae family like cashew nuts, mangoes, etc. [1]

How to enjoy Pistachios

There are various ways in which pistachio can be enjoyed. It is most commonly eaten on its own. Pistachios can be prepared sweetened, roasted, or salted. For people who love desserts, they can try pistachio cake, pistachio ice cream, or pistachio pudding. [1, 10]


  1. http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/pistachio.html
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pistachio
  3. http://www.pistachiohealth.in/about-pistachios/fun-facts.html
  4. http://www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_journal_individual.asp?blog_id=5285421
  5. http://americanpistachios.org/power-of-pistachios/growing-harvesting
  6. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefits-eating-pistachios-1507.html
  7. http://www.pistachiohealthinstitute.org/consumer/nutrition/
  8. http://www.active.com/nutrition/articles/the-diet-detective-go-nuts-with-pistachios-and-pecans
  9. http://www.livescience.com/36622-almonds-pistachios-calories-nutrition.html
  10. http://www.food.com/recipe-finder/all/pistachio

Published by Dr. Raj MD under Nutrition and Diet.
Article was last reviewed on August 6th, 2018.

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