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By Karen Alexander, Oncology Wellness Specialist


The Health Properties of Pistachios

Pistachios are native to the Middle East, and recent archeological evidence suggests that people were eating pistachios as early as 7,000 B.C. In the 1880s, pistachios were first imported to America. The USA (California, Arizona and New Mexico), Iran and Turkey are the largest producers of pistachios, growing varieties that differ slightly in nutritional composition. US pistachios have fewer calories and contain higher amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin than varieties from other countries.

Pistachios are among the top 50 foods with high antioxidant potential. Pistachios are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, protein, dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, g-tocopherol, and health protective phytochemicals such as phytosterols, lutein (xanthophyll carotenoid), g-tocopherol, and polyphenols. In addition, pistachios are the only nut that contains significant amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin. In fact, the pistachio's unique green and purple kernel color is a result of its lutein and anthocyanin content.  

Cardiovascular Health
Pistachios may lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, blood pressure, oxidative stress and inflammation, and may improve endothelial function. According to studies, daily consumption of 60 grams of pistachios may contribute to blood vessel dilatation and systolic blood pressure. This effect on blood vessels seems to be related to high levels of arginine, an amino acid found in pistachios. Arginine is involved in the reduction of peripheral resistance of the blood vessels. 

Gastrointestinal Health
Consuming 85 grams of pistachios every day over a period of 19 days has been shown to increase butyrate-producing bacteria, which have been linked with colorectal cancer prevention and healthy gut in general. Pistachios’ high fiber content may help the digestive tract.

Glucose Control
High fiber content, low carb content, healthy fats, and low glycemic index make pistachios a healthy option to help control blood glucose levels and lower postprandial blood glucose concentrations.

Weight Control
When consumed as portion-controlled snacks, pistachios may support a healthier weight compared with refined carbohydrate snacks for individuals on a calorie-restricted diet. Some studies show that choosing in-shell pistachios (opposed to unshelled) may result in reduced calorie intake due to the visual cue of empty pistachio shells.

Lipid Profile
Pistachios may reduce the oxidation of LDL or bad cholesterol and increase HDL or good cholesterol, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Choosing Pistachios 
When buying pistachios, choose the unsalted version. Excessive salt intake may be harmful to your health. If you purchase pistachios in their shell, look for blemish-free, ivory-colored shells that are split open at one end. Avoid pistachios that are cracked (beyond the natural opening). Unopened shells will be almost impossible to peel open. The kernel, or nutmeat, should be yellow to dark green in color. The greener the nutmeat, the better the flavor.

Roasting Pistachios
Roasting pistachios may increase their overall safety and palatability. However, this process may alter health properties such as antioxidant capacity, and it may reduce the content of some phytonutrients including phenols, vitamin C, proanthocyanidin and some carotenoids.

Storing Pistachios
The lower the temperature, the longer the storage life of pistachios. Pistachios can be held in hermetically packaged bags at temperatures from 50-68 F without significant deterioration in pigment and oil oxidation for as long as one year. Prolonged heat turns the oil in any nut rancid. A cool, dry cabinet or a refrigerator are good storage locations. Storing pistachios at 10 Celsius (50F) may preserve pistachio quality both for pigment and oil (acidity) stability and prevent mold and bug contamination.

For short term storage, place the pistachios in resealable bags and store in the pantry. For a longer storage period, place pistachios in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. Unshelled nuts may be stored for three months in the refrigerator or up to one year in the freezer. To prevent condensation when thawing, place nuts in a plastic bag. Shelled pistachios can be stored in the refrigerator up to three months, but are not good candidates for freezing.


The Recipe of the Week: Pistachio Crusted Salmon
1 (2 to 3-pound) side salmon, skin on
2 lemons, juiced
4 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
1 cup shelled pistachio nuts
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
4 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Arrange the side of salmon on an ovenproof baking sheet, skin side down. Mix the lemon juice and mustard together in a small bowl and spread sparingly over the top of the salmon.
Coarsely grind the pistachios in a food processer. Add the panko bread crumbs, the oil and salt and pepper, to taste. (The bread crumbs should be slightly wet, as it helps them stick to the salmon.)
Sprinkle the pistachio mixture over the mustard to cover the salmon evenly.
Bake until the salmon reaches the correct doneness, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and place on a serving platter.
Remember the fish needs to rest outside of the oven for at least 5 minutes. It will continue to cook, so remove the salmon from the oven with this in mind. Enjoy.
*Recipe Via Food Network

Have a wonderful weekend,

Karen Alexander, BSND, MSCN

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