When you hear “high-antioxidant superfood snack,” you probably think of popular all-stars like blueberries, acai bowls, and chia pudding. But Mike Roussell, Ph.D., a nutrition consultant in Pittsford, New York, and the author of The MetaShred Diet, says it’s high time for you to add pistachios to that most-valuable-foods list.
“I eat them as a snack every single afternoon,” Roussell says. “In the mornings, if I have yogurt or oatmeal, I’ll add pistachios to that too.” Wondering why he’s so passionate about these little green gems? The nutrition pro points to these five health-boosting benefits.
1. They’re a complete protein.
In late 2019, scientists at the University of Illinois-Urbana discovered that pistachios are one of the few vegan sources of complete proteins (along with quinoa, buckwheat, algae, and soybeans). Roussell says that this means they contain all nine essential amino acids your body cannot make on its own.
Proteins are made up of essential amino acids that allow the body to complete vital processes like rebuilding muscle after workouts and producing the right amount of vital hormones required for the body to work most efficiently. One serving of 49 pistachios (an amount you can easily crush as a snack) contains 6 grams of protein, which is about what you’d find in one large egg or a half cup of lima beans.
2. They can help control blood sugar.
Even if you’re not diabetic, it’s best to avoid the blood sugar imbalances caused by too much or too little sugar coursing through your body. At extreme levels, that blood sugar roller coaster can be accompanied by uncomfortable (and even potentially dangerous) symptoms like weakness, dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, and a rapid pulse, Roussell explains.
So how can you keep your blood sugar levels even-keeled? Eating high-fiber foods and staying away from anything super high in sugar, carbs, or salt can help, as can grabbing a handful of pistachios. “Research shows that including pistachios in a meal helps maintain consistent blood sugar levels,”Roussell says.
3. And lower blood pressure.
While all nuts can help lower your risk for heart disease, pistachios pack special ticker perks. Multiple studies suggest that a month or more of daily pistachio consumption can help lower systolic blood pressure (the first number in your reading, AKA the 120 in 120/80, which refers to the amount of pressure your blood puts on your arteries as your heart beats).
Controlling your BP is important for more than getting a hat tip from the nurse at your next physical. Chronic high blood pressure, something about half of all Americans battle, is one of the main causes of heart disease and stroke,the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes.
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4. Their shells low-key encourage portion control.
Would you rather nosh on seven walnuts for 185 calories, or 49 pistachios for 160 calories? They both count as one serving of nuts. Not only do you score more nuts per serving with the latter, but the pistachio’s shell also forces you to slow down while snacking, and serves as a reminder of how much you’ve eaten, Roussell says.
Participants in one study published in the journal Appetite consumed about 85 fewer calories of in-shell, roasted pistachios compared to when they were offered already-shelled roasted pistachios. Plus, the researchers found that as those shells stacked up, they acted as a subliminal signal to the brain to eat fewer calories later on. In other words, the visual of a mini-mountain of discarded shells can help you remember, Oh yeah, I already had a filling snack today!
4. They’re super filling.
Pistachios are the lowest-calorie nut, and in research, they consistently outperform traditional snack foods such as pretzels, crackers, cereal bars and chips for satiety and healthfulness, Roussell explains. In one French study, participants added 250 extra calories from pistachios to their daily diet, without adding any extra pounds to their body weight, he says.
While the cause-and-effect isn’t clear, nutrition pros including Roussell believe that the fiber, protein, and unsaturated fatty acids in pistachios—not to mention their crunchiness, which requires plenty of chewing—may alter appetite, satiety, and metabolism.
5. Pistachios are a solid source of antioxidants.
Alongside berries, red wine, tea, and dark chocolate, pistachios are rich in antioxidants that protect the body, according to a report in the journal Food & Nutrition Research. More specifically, pistachios contain anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants that may help prevent diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and obesity, Roussell says.
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