Should You be Eating the Happy Nut?

December 19, 2014

Ever wondered about adding other nuts to your diet? Pistachios are a great pick, nutritious, and fun to shell. Here’s what you need to know.

Pistachios are tasty and fun to eat. They have been enjoyed for thousands of years; in fact, pistachios are one of the oldest flowering nut trees and are one of the only two nuts mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 43:11). Humans have eaten pistachios for at least 9,000 years. They were originally imported to the US from the Middle East in the 1880s. And until the 1970's, no domestic pistachio industry existed. Now, California produces upwards 300 million pounds of pistachios, about 98 percent of the domestic crop!

The word pistachio has its origins in the Mediterranean: from the Latin pistacium and the Greek pistakion. In Iran, pistachios are known as the “smiling nut.” In China, it's called the “happy nut.” Pistachios are also known as the "green almond.”

Pistachios may reduce risk of certain cancers. A study conducted by the University of Texas and Texas Women’s University found that adding pistachios to your diet (varied and balanced of course), may reduce the risk of certain cancers. The presence of gamma-tocopherol in pistachios, a form of vitamin E, is thought to be responsible for the benefits.

The researchers randomized the participants to either continue on their normal diets or to eat their normal diet plus two ounces (approximately 100 kernels) of pistachios per day. After one month, the pistachio eaters had significantly higher levels of gamma-tocopherol in their blood as compared with the non-pistachio eaters.

Pistachios are rich in vitamin E, which is made up of a variety of fat-soluble vitamins, including gamma-tocopherol (as mentioned above), that have a variety of functions in the body. Obtaining vitamin E through foods like pistachios rather than through supplements ensures that your body is not only getting the various vitamin E compounds but other cofactors, like vitamins, minerals, and bioactive compounds as well. Vitamin E rich foods act as antioxidants, helping to prevent damage from free radicals, protect skin from ultraviolet light, and allow for proper cell communication.

Pistachios are full of nutrients. They are rich in B vitamins; specifically B6 which is great for the nervous system and helps to promote the proper breakdown of sugars and starches. Pistachios also contain iron, which enhances oxygen flow throughout the body as well as aiding in proper immune function. All nuts, including pistachios contain monounsaturated fats, which benefit the heart, and have recently been shown to suppress appetite. Pistachios are also rich in fiber, which we all know helps to rid the body of wastes, metabolic by-products, and prevents constipation. 

Why are pistachios “half opened?” Pistachios grow in heavy grape-like clusters surrounded by a fleshy hull. When they ripen in late summer or early autumn, the pistachio kernel fills inside the shell so vigorously that it splits the shell!

For more information on the University of Texas and Texas Woman’s University study visit the American Journal of Hematology/Oncology.

For more facts and nutrition information visit Pistachio Health.