The flavorful little nuts are a good source of vitamin B6, thiamine, and potassium, and are high in vision-enhancing lutein, an antioxidant more typically found in dark leafy vegetables.
The nuts are also a great source of monounsaturated fat. In Mediterranean countries, a high intake of this fat (from sources like olive oil and nuts) seems to lower the risk of heart disease and possibly breast and colon cancers. Unfortunately, we Americans get about a third of our monounsaturated fat from meat, which also contains undesirable saturated fat, so the “Mediterranean effect” is lost on us. So look to pistachios for a more heart-healthy source of monounsaturated fat; they contain nearly as much as almonds.
Cholesterol-busting pistachios also have very high levels of LDL-lowering plant sterols, according to researchers at Virginia Tech University. In a Penn State University study, adults who consumed 20 percent of their calories from pistachios (about a ½-cup serving if you’re on a 1,800-calorie diet) lowered their LDL cholesterol by 12 percent (LDL is the "bad" type of cholesterol that raises your risk of cardiovascular disese). Another study, published earlier this month in the Journal of Nutrition (and funded by the Western Pistachio Association), found that people who ate a serving or two of pistachios every day for four weeks had lower levels of a form of LDL cholesterol than people who ate no pistachios. Finally, pistachios are chockfull of disease-fighting antioxidants. You’ve likely heard a lot about green tea’s antioxidant benefits? Well, pistachios actually rank higher than green tea on an antioxidant scorecard created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Get started on these health benefits by first sprinkling toasted, chopped pistachios onto your cereal or yogurt. And try these easy, tasty dishes from the Rodale Recipe Finder.
#1: Salmon-Pistachio Lettuce Wraps. For a great lunch or light dinner treat featuring pistachios, try these salmon lettuce wraps or a Roasted Carrot and Chicken Salad with Pistachios.
#2: White Bean Dip with Pistachios and Cilantro. Serve this deliciously different dip instead of boring old hummus or French onion dip at your next picnic or party.
#3: Quinoa Pilaf with Pistachios. Pistachios add color, crunch, and flavor to sides like this quinoa pilaf, as well as to quick-and-easy couscous.
#4: Pistachio-Crusted Pork Scaloppine. Hold the traditional bread crumbs and go for pistachios instead, which form the crunchy, delicious coating for these baked pork cutlets. Another killer entrée idea? Add pistachio-yogurt sauce to grilled chicken breasts.
#5: Cherry-Pistachio Biscotti. These already-divine biscotti get even better thanks to the added crunch and richness of pistachios.