Pistachios are a lot more than a food you find in a shallow bowl at a dive-bar. In fact, I think these nutty little guys deserve a lot more respect than people generally give them. In honor of National Pistachio Day (February 26), I am devoting my post this week to the history and health benefits of this great nut. How did you celebrate National Pistachio Day?
Green Diva Meg shared some pistachios with Ringo Starr
Listen to this week’s excellent Green Divas Foodie-Phile podcast to hear all about National Pistachio Day
All about pistachios . . .
While the pistachio’s origin goes back to Western Asia, more people associated it with the Mediterranean area since it has been incorporated in that culture’s recipes for thousands of years. Pistachios are even in my own authentic Greek Baklava Recipe!
It is one of the two nuts mentioned in the Bible (with almonds being the other noted). The pistachio has been cultivated commercially in the English speaking world in Australia, New Mexico and in California where it was introduced in 1854 as a garden tree.
What’s so fascinating about this tree is that it takes about 10 to 12 years to produce its first crop. The seed of the pistachio is edible and the pistachio nuts can be cultivated all year long since the tree is not seasonal. Want to learn more about nuts? Check out Green Diva Meg’s article 5 Reasons to Go Nuts–Or Eat Them Anyway.
Not only does the pistachio have an interesting history, but it also has many health benefits.
8 reasons why its okay to go nutty for pistachios
Pistachios have been proven to reduce “bad” cholesterol (known a LDL) and increase the “good” (HL) cholesterol after only a very brief period of chowing down. They are high in antioxidants, like vitamin A and vitamin E. They also fight inflammation, protect blood vessels and ultimately decrease the risk of heart disease. Even a very small intake of these nuts have been linked to increase lutein levels.
2. Diabetes Prevention
Consuming pistachios may aid in the prevention of type 2 diabetes. This is because 60% of the recommended daily value of the mineral phosphorus is contained in just one cup of pistachios. Not only does phosphorus break down proteins into amino acids, it also aids glucose tolerance.
Pistachios are a very rich source of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is essential to make hemoglobin, the protein responsible for bringing oxygen through the blood stream to cells, and is also shown to increase the amount of oxygen carried.
4. Keeps the Nervous System Healthy
The vitamin B6 so prevalent in pistachios has many effects on the nervous system. Messaging molecules called amines require amino acids to develop, which in turn rely on vitamin B6 for their creation. That being said, B6 plays a critical role in the creation of myelin, the insulating sheath around nerve ﬁbers that allows optimal messaging between nerves. Furthermore, vitamin B6 contributes to the synthesis of serotonin, melatonin, epinephrine and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, an amino acid that calms the transmission of nerve impulses throughout the nervous system. Basically, if you want a nervous system that’s in tip-top shape, eat pistachios.
Pistachios contain two carotenoids not found in most nuts called lutein and zeaxanthin. These guys function as protective antioxidants by defending tissues from damage from free radicals. They have been associated with a decrease in the risk for developing age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of visual impairments and acquired blindness in the nation.
6. Immune System
Vitamin B6 is essential for a healthy immune system and pistachios have a lot of it. A surfeit of vitamin B6 can slow brain activity as well as decrease the effectiveness of the immune system for warding-off infections. Vitamin B6 found in pistachios also helps the body make healthy red blood cells, and helps maintain the health of lymphoid glands, such as the thymus, spleen and lymph nodes, ensuring the production of white blood cells that protect the body from infections.
Pistachios are an amazing source of vitamin E, a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant, imperative for maintaining the integrity of cell membranes and often recommended for healthy and beautiful skin. Vitamin E does an excellent job protecting the skin from UV damage, providing daily defense against premature aging and skin cancer. Get lovely skin from the inside out by eating pistachios.
8. Eat Pistachios for Extra Protein
Pistachios contain a higher amount of protein in comparison with other nuts such as almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, and walnuts. The amount of protein found in pistachios is 6 g per 1 ounce, which is the highest in comparison to other nuts. The fat content in pistachios is also the lowest compared to other nuts. Statistics collected by Thomas and Gebhardt show that the fat content in pistachios is 13 g per 1 ounce. Why not add them to a salad or your next baked-good? Check out my recipe below for pistachio and dried cherry biscotti’s. They are a great breakfast alternative for a bit of added protein.
- 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup organic cane sugar
- 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (not the quick oats)
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
- 1/4 cup ground chia seed
- 2 large eggs
- 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp. orange zest
- 2 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3/4 tsp. almond extract
- 1 cup dried cherries
- 1 cup unsalted, shelled pistachios
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Line a large rimmed baking sheet with lightly greased tin foil.
- Combine first 8 ingredients in the bowl.
- Stir until evenly blended. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and next 5 ingredients.
- Add egg mixture to flour mixture and stir until combined evenly. Fold in cherries and pistachios.
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and divide in half.
- Using floured hands, shape each dough half into a 16"-long log.
- Brush off excess flour and transfer logs to prepared sheet, spaced 5" apart. Flatten each log into a 2"-wide strip.
- Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until browned and set, about 30 minutes.
- Transfer to a rack and let cool for 15 minutes.
- Reduce oven to 250° and arrange 1 rack in top third of oven and 1 rack in bottom third.
- Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer biscotti to a work surface. Using a serrated knife, cut each strip diagonally into 2/3"-thick slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on baking sheets.
- Bake biscotti, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until crisp, about 40 minutes.
- Transfer baking sheets to racks and let cool.
- The finished cookies should be stored in a sealed container and can be made up to three days ahead.