There are a lot of reasons to love pistachios. They come in hues of bright green and purple and have a rich flavor and satisfyingly crunchy texture. Pistachios also make a great snack. And snacking has gotten a bad rap over the years — with good reason. Here’s everything you need to know about pistachio nutrition and what really makes it a standout snack.
When you look at the options available, like the countless varieties of chips that pack the snack aisle, it’s no wonder why the word “snack” has become synonymous with “unhealthy.” Here’s the truth, though: snacking can be good for you. Experts agree that it’s smart to reach for a whole, plant-based food (like a piece of fruit or a serving of nuts or seeds) when you feel those hunger pangs set in hours before your next mealtime.
Originating from the Middle East and Central Asia, pistachios are the seed of the Pistacia vera tree. Pistachios have been part of the human diet for more than 9,000 years. Their signature green and purple colors come from antioxidants, we’re impressed with their different vitamins, minerals, and a serving contains about as much protein as an egg.
A serving of pistachios contains 6 grams of plant protein, Maggie Moon, MS, RD, senior nutrition director at Wonderful Pistachios, tells LIVEKINDLY. They’re also a complete protein, which is “a pretty big deal in the plant world, just all on its own,” says Moon.
A Complete Plant Protein With All 9 Essential Amino Acids
A food is considered a “complete protein” when it contains the nine essential amino acids — also known as the “building blocks of protein” — that your body can’t make on its own. Many plant protein–rich foods, such as lentils and beans, contain amino acids. You can get them all through eating a varied diet (read more about that here), but pistachios have the convenience factor, says Moon.
Moon adds that the digestibility score for pistachios is also very high at 94 percent. This pertains to “how well a protein provides adequate amounts of the essential amino acids.” So, a food, like peanuts, with a lower digestibility score might contain 7 grams of protein, but it may actually contain about 4g of PDCAAS-corrected protein.
“One thing people might not know is that pistachios are a good source of protein, with 6 grams per serving, which is 12% of DV for dry roasted pistachios,” Moon explains.
The Dietary Reference Intake for protein for adults is .36 grams of protein per pound. How much protein you need also varies by sex, height, activity level, and other factors. By that calculation, a 5’5”, 27-year-old woman who weighs 140 pounds and engages in light exercise would need at least 64 grams of protein a day. Someone more sedentary would need 51 grams. Harvard Health recommends getting your protein from plants whenever possible.
“When it comes to plant protein, pistachios really stand out,” Moon adds. “And they have that fiber and those healthy fats. They offer a more complete balanced snack, all in one handful.”
What Makes Pistachios a Healthy Snack
This trio of protein, fat, and fiber is what makes pistachios a fantastic snack, she continues. Fat content has gotten a bad reputation over the years, but pistachios contain mostly or primarily unsaturated fats .
Pistachios are heart healthy and a smart snack.Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pistachios, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. See nutrition information for fat content.
“Healthy fats are essential,” says Moon. “They are a really important part of our body’s cells. It keeps our bodies happy and healthy. So on a very granular level, there’s a reason it’s a macronutrient–we need it.”
Pistachios are a good source of dietary fiber at 3 grams per ounce (½ cup in the shell; ¼ cup no shells). Dietary fiber is an important and key component in a healthy diet. But most Americans aren’t getting enough fiber, says Moon. In fact, 95 percent of Americans don’t meet the recommended daily target for fiber.
Pistachios’ protein, fat, and fiber content may help you feel fuller longer, so you’ll be less inclined to keep snacking beyond a single serving. In contrast, a typical serving of potato chips is about 15 chips. But let’s be realistic: who stops at just 15? Not me. Meanwhile, a serving of Wonderful Pistachios Roasted & Salted is more than triple that at about 49 nuts per serving (½ cup in the shell; ¼ cup no shells).
OK, let’s circle back to nutrition. Pistachios aren’t just a good source of plant protein, healthy fats, and fiber. As mentioned above, they have vitamins and minerals,
Here’s a little bit about what a half-cup serving of pistachios delivers:
Vitamin B6, 20 percent Daily Value (DV): Also known as pyridoxine, which performs a wide variety of functions for your body. It’s involved in protein metabolism as well as metabolizing carbohydrates and lipids.
Copper, 40 percent DV: Copper is an essential nutrient whose many responsibilities include energy production, iron metabolism, and connective tissue synthesis. Nearly two-thirds of your body’s copper is located in your muscle and skeleton.
Manganese, 15 percent DV: Manganese is a trace mineral, which means that your body needs only a small amount. But, it is considered an essential nutrient, Manganese is essential for bone formation and has antioxidant properties.
Vitamin B1, 15 percent DV: Also known as thiamine, vitamin B1 is an essential nutrient for proper tissue function. It also may help the body turn food into energy. It was named B1 because it was the first B vitamin discovered.
Phosphorous, 10 percent DV: Phosphorous is the second most abundant mineral in your body after calcium. It’s needed for a variety of functions, being a component of cell membrane structure and helping your body make energy.
The Colors Come From Antioxidants
The red and purple hues in pistachios come from antioxidants. Moon explains that the signature bright green color of pistachios comes from the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.
Wonderful Pistachios knows all about the flavors that make snacking enjoyable. You can keep it classic with Roasted & Salted or go for a Lightly Salted. If you like a bit of spice or if you’re looking for the same kind of flavor you would get from potato chips, grab a bag of Chili Roasted, Sweet Chili, or Salt & Pepper.
Or, if you want to savor the unique flavor of pistachios, try Natural Raw or No Salt. Wonderful Pistachios also come in No Shells or In-Shell varieties.
There’s no significant nutritional difference between the No Shell and in-shell varieties, Moon explains. But, snacking on in-shell pistachios can help if you’re trying to eat more mindfully.
“If you see the shells piling up visually, it makes it a lot easier, almost subconsciously for your mind to be like, ‘oh, well, that’s how many pistachios I had,’” says Moon. “So it’s a gentle, low-stress reminder.”
The No Shells are not only convenient to snack on, but they also happen to be great for both sweet and savory recipes (pistachios add a delightful crunch to this avocado grapefruit salad).
Wonderful Pistachios are available at most major grocery stores across the U.S. as well as online through Amazon.
To learn more about Wonderful® Pistachios, visit their website.
This is a sponsored post.