In the Middle East, pistachios are known as the smiling nut because of how their hard, beige-colored shells split open once the bright green nut reaches maturity. Many Americans know pistachios as the little nut in the red shell because, until fairly recently, most producers dyed them red to set them apart from the ever-popular peanut. Whether raw, roasted, plain, dyed or shelled, pistachios are a nutrient-dense source of heart-healthy fats and dietary fiber.
A standard 1-ounce serving of raw pistachios -- approximately 49 nuts, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- contains about 160 calories, 5.75 grams of protein, just under 13 grams of fat, 7.8 grams of carbohydrates and nearly 3 grams of fiber. This amount of fiber is equivalent to 12 percent of the recommended daily value, which means pistachios are considered a good source of fiber by U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards.
Pistachios contain appreciable amounts of both kinds of dietary fiber, and, like most nuts, they’re especially high in the insoluble type. Because insoluble fiber binds with water, it’s able to move material through your intestinal tract more thoroughly and efficiently. It also helps your body produce softer stools that are easy to eliminate, thereby protecting against constipation and related complications, including hemorrhoids. Soluble fiber, which becomes a sticky, gel-like substance when it combines with water, promotes healthy cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Both types of fiber contribute to satiety: Insoluble fiber helps you feel fuller faster, while soluble fiber delays gastric emptying.
Daily Fiber Intake
Adequate intake guidelines recommend that all healthy individuals should get at least 14 grams of dietary fiber for every 1,000 calories they consume. If you don’t know your average daily caloric intake, you can still get an idea of how much fiber you might need based on general dietary guidelines, which suggest that most younger men and women need about 38 grams and 25 grams of fiber a day, respectively. Past the age of 50, most men and women require just 30 grams and 21 grams a day, respectively.
Eating a handful of pistachios every day as part of a diet low in saturated fat may help protect against heart disease, the FDA notes. In addition to their cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, pistachios are an excellent source of unsaturated fatty acids and plant sterols, both of which are thought to help reduce high cholesterol levels. A 1-ounce serving of pistachios also delivers 8 percent each of the daily values for potassium and magnesium, two minerals that help prevent high blood pressure.
Pistachios have a delicate, complex flavor that’s been described as somewhat buttery and slightly sweet. For this reason, they complement a wide range of dishes. Use pistachios instead of pine nuts the next time you make pesto, stir chopped pistachios and berries into plain yogurt or sprinkle them over honey-drizzled pears for a light dessert. Toss a handful of pistachios into any mixed green salad, or fold them into a whole-grain dish just before serving.
Although dry-roasted pistachios are nutritionally comparable to raw pistachios, stick with the unsalted variety. The USDA reports that pistachios roasted with salt are roughly 70 times higher in sodium than plain roasted pistachios.
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Nuts, Pistachio Nuts, Raw
- Colorado State University Extension: Dietary Fiber
- MayoClinic.com: Nuts and Your Health - Eating Nuts for Heart Health
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Nuts, Pistachio Nuts, Dry Roasted, Without Salt Added
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Nuts, Pistachio Nuts, Dry Roasted, with Salt Added
- Wellness Foods A to Z; Sheldon Margen, M.D., et al.
- Encyclopedia of Healing Foods; Michael Murray, N.D., et al.
Based just outside Chicago, Meg Campbell has worked in the fitness industry since 1997. She’s been writing health-related articles since 2010, focusing primarily on diet and nutrition. Campbell divides her time between her hometown and Buenos Aires, Argentina.