The Diet Detective: Go Nuts With Pistachios and Pecans

Pistachios

Why: Even as a kid I loved pistachios. Unfortunately, I loved them too much. They offer protein and fiber along with lots of nutrients and are the lowest in calories and fat of any nut. Also, if you buy them in the shell, you’ll eat them more slowly, allowing time for the "fullness" factor to kick in.

Nutrients: In addition to providing dense levels of seven essential nutrients (thiamin, vitamin B6, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium), pistachios offer a good source of fiber and are the only nuts with high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants needed for eye health. A 1-ounce serving of pistachios has 20 percent of the daily recommended value for vitamin B6 (equal to two servings of avocado), more antioxidants than 1 cup of green tea, more lutein than three tangerines or a glass of orange juice and 3 grams of dietary fiber, about the same amount as a serving of oatmeal.

Health Perks: A few ounces of pistachios a day can lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol levels. A recent study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that for people with moderately high cholesterol, a daily diet consisting of 15 percent of calories from pistachios (about 2 to 3 ounces or one to two handfuls of kernels) over a four-week period lowered some blood lipid levels. High levels of most blood lipids increase the risk of both heart disease and stroke, while lowering blood lipids has been shown to reduce the risk. Also, among nuts, pistachios offer some of the highest levels of phytosterols, a plant sterol shown to reduce cholesterol absorption from other foods.

According to a study at the University of Toronto, pistachios, when eaten with some common high-carbohydrate foods, may actually slow the absorption of carbs into the body, resulting in a lower-than-expected blood sugar level.


Nutrition Stats: (1 ounce, about 50 pistachios without shells): 158 calories, 12.6 grams fat, 7.93g carbs, 2.9g fiber, 5.84g protein.

Purchasing: Look for pistachios with green kernels and smooth, creamy shells, and make sure the shells are partially open.

Storage: They can get stale fast (absorbing water like a sponge) and lose that fantastic crunch. Keep them fresh by placing them in a dry place in an airtight container or plastic zipper bag — or freeze them.

Recipe: California Style Pistachio Salad

Serves four

Dressing:

  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Juice of 1 freshly squeezed orange (6 tablespoons)

Salad:

  • 3 cups mixed greens
  • 8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, grilled and sliced
  • 1 tart apple, quartered and sliced
  • ½ cup blue cheese, crumbled
  • ½ cup shelled pistachios

For the dressing, mix together the ingredients with a wire whisk. Set aside to mellow flavors while you make the salad. Wash and dry the greens and divide among four salad plates. Divide chicken, apple slices, blue cheese and pistachios over salad. Drizzle dressing over each.

Nutrition per serving (without dressing): 416 calories, 24.3g fat, 24.2g carbs, 7.4g fiber, 29.8g protein.

[1 serving = 3/4 cup greens, 2 ounces chicken breast, cooked, 1/4 apple, 2 tablespoons blue cheese, 2 tablespoons pistachios]

California Salad Dressing (2 tablespoons): 15 calories, 0.1g fat, 3.3g carbs, 0.3g protein.

Recipe Source: Pennsylvania State University

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