PISTACHIO – THE ‘HAPPY NUT’
The pistachio is a broad, bushy, deciduous tree which grows slowly to a height and spread of 25 to 30 feet, with one or several trunks. Reddish, wrinkled fruits are borne in heavy clusters somewhat like grapes. Although known as a nut, the fruit of the pistachio is botanically a drupe, the edible portion of which is the seed.
Pistachios are rich in potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B6 & thiamine. These nuts have relatively lower calorie value compared to other nuts. They are cholesterol-free, high in fiber& low in saturated fats. Pistachios have a high content of monounsaturated fat content; this actually lowers cholesterol levels. They also contain phyto-chemicals that act as antioxidants.
The pistachio tree is native to western Asia and Asia Minor, from Syria to the Caucasus and Afghanistan. Archaeological evidence in Turkey indicate the nuts were being used for food as early as 7,000 B.C. The pistachio was introduced to Italy from Syria early in the first century A.D. Subsequently its cultivation spread to other Mediterranean countries. The tree was first introduced into the United States in 1854 by Charles Mason, who distributed seed for experimental plantings in California, Texas and some southern states. In 1875 a few small pistachio trees, imported from France were planted in Sonoma, Calif.
In the early 1900’s the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture assembled a collection of Pistacia species and pistachio nut varieties at the Plant Introduction Station in Chico, Calif. Commercial production of pistachio nuts began in the late 1970’s and rapidly expanded to a major operation in the San Joaquin Valley. Other major pistachio producing areas are Iran and Turkey and to a lesser extent, Syria, India, Greece, Pakistan and elsewhere.
Pistachios are rich in monounsaturated fats that can play a role in lowering coronary heart disease risk by decreasing both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.
Pistachios are rich in the nutrients like arginine that are thought to reduce hardening of the arteries. Arginine is beneficial because it helps make nitric oxide in the blood, and nitric oxide can prevent build-up along the arterial walls.
Pistachios also contain phytosterols that may have anti-cancer properties.
Minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium, found in pistachios are important in maintaining normal blood pressure.
Participants in the Penn State pistachio study showed no changes in blood pressure, body mass index or weight gain, further supporting previous studies that have also demonstrated no weight gain from the addition of pistachios to the daily diet.
A 1-oz serving of pistachios, with 49 kernels and 160 calories, offers an excellent source of vitamin B6, copper and magnesium; and are a good source of fiber, thiamin and phosphorus making them a wise snack choice.