Let’s move on from this food myth in 2024
Fear of fat, move over. Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center find people who snack on pistachios and other mixed nuts have better weight control and more efficient use of dietary fat for energy.
FRESNO, CA - Too often, many of us let our fear of fat get in the way of making nutrient-dense, simple, whole food choices for good health.
In fact, some studies suggest up to 87% of Americans may still believe eating foods like nuts, including pistachios, will cause weight or body fat gain because of their dietary fat or calorie content.1
Now, there’s new research to support why 2024 is the perfect time to close the book on harmful food myths this New Year season.
A recent study,2* published by researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, fed 84 Millennial adults (aged 22–36 years old) who had at least one metabolic syndrome risk factor (e.g., high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist or abnormal cholesterol levels) either a snack of one ounce of mixed, unsalted tree nuts (including pistachios) or one ounce of a carbohydrate snack (like unsalted pretzels or graham crackers) twice per day for 16 weeks.
Without the study participants making any other changes to their diet or exercise habits, researchers saw a 67% reduction in the metabolic syndrome risk score for females and a 42% reduction in males who ate nuts in the study.
“This study is another great example of how the simple habit of snacking on pistachios can have a significant impact on your health,” adds Mike Roussell, PhD, nutrition expert for American Pistachio Growers, who was not involved in the study.
“Metabolic syndrome is starting to plague both younger and older populations alike and it is very important for researchers to continually find simple and actionable habits that people can install into their life to make a difference. Snacking on pistachios is one of them,” he adds.
Importantly, scientists also found that the participants eating one ounce of mixed nuts (including pistachios) two times per day, had no change in their energy intake or body weight over the 16-week study period. These findings are consistent with past research that showed eating as much as 15-20% of calories from pistachios does not lead to weight gain.3,4
Researchers specifically designed the study to investigate the independent effect of eating nuts on body weight by ensuring the number of calories the participants ate matched the number of calories they expended each day.
“Scientists also noticed that participants who ate the nuts were able to use fat for energy more efficiently, than those who ate the carbohydrate snack, which could explain why the nut-eating group did not increase body weight, energy intake or body fat during the study period,” explains Roussell.
Past research also suggests that the body absorbs five percent fewer calories from eating pistachios than previously thought.5
“Historically, nuts like pistachios were avoided when people wanted to lose weight due to their higher fat content,” notes Roussell. “But this study is another example of how flawed that thinking was,” he adds.
Roussell explains that several research studies from different parts of the world have shown that adding a daily snack of pistachios do not lead to any weight gain. “In fact, it can lead to weight loss in many individuals,” he suggests.
Pistachios make the perfect snack or meal companion if you plan on using the New Year to set new health, wellness or nutrition routines. Roussell likes to make trail mix with pistachios, cacao nibs, and dried berries for nutritious combination of sweet and savory flavors. “But a handful of pistachios make a great solo snack in the afternoon as well,” he notes.
American Pistachios are also a plant-based source of complete protein. One serving of pistachios (1 oz. or 49 kernels) is an excellent source of copper and a good source of protein, fiber, vitamin B6, phosphorus and thiamin.
*This study was funded by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation.
1 Neale EP, Tran G, Brown RC. Barriers and facilitators to nut consumption: A narrative review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(23):9127.
2 Sumislawski K, et al. Consumption of tree nuts as snacks reduces metabolic syndrome risk in young adults: A randomized trial. Nutrients. 2023;15(24):5051.
3 Bulló M, et al. Nutrition attributes and health effects of pistachio nuts. Br J Nutr. 2015;113 Suppl 2:S79-93.
4 Burns‐Whitmore B, et al. Effects of pistachio consumption on body composition and blood lipids in healthy young women (640.6). The FASEB Journal.2014;28:640-6.
5 Baer DJ, Gebauer SK, Novotny JA. Measured energy value of pistachios in the human diet. Br J Nutr. 2012;107(1):120-5.
Amber Wilson, MS, RD
Director, Nutrition Research and Communication