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Is That Right? Pistachios are lowest-calorie, lowest-fat nut?

You can't blame the folks who sell pistachios for trying hard to boost the nuts' image. The recalls of pistachios potentially contaminated with salmonella earlier this year surely put a big dent in both sales and the nuts' reputation.

But the new ad campaign for Wonderful Pistachios may be relying on a bit of subtle wordplay when it says pistachios are "lowest calorie" and "lowest fat" nuts. The absence of the word "the" should clue you in: Pistachios are really among the lowest-calorie, lowest-fat nuts.

According to a chart prepared by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation in April, almonds, cashews and pistachios each have 160 calories per ounce. That one-ounce serving amounts to 24 whole almonds, 49 pistachios or 14 walnut halves. (Another comparison chart presented on a pistachio-promotion site but drawn from U.S. Department of Agriculture figures says pistachios and cashews have 160 calories but walnuts have 190.)

As for fat content, pistachios and cashews each have 13 grams of total fat per ounce, making them the two lowest-fat nuts in the bunch (which includes almonds, brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts).

Of that total fat, in pistachios 1.5 grams is of the unhealthful saturated variety; that number applies to hazelnuts, pine nuts and walnuts, too. Almonds have just a gram of saturated fat, pecans 2 grams, macadamias 3.5, and brazils 4.

But being low in unhealthful fat is only part of the picture; nuts are among the foods valued for their good-for-you monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats -- the kind we're encouraged to eat in place of saturated and trans fats. Pistachios have a respectable 7 grams of monounsaturated fats, more than walnuts' 2.5 grams but much less than macadamias' 17 grams. And while pistachios deliver 4 grams of polyunsaturated fats, an ounce of pine nuts contains 10 grams and walnuts 13 grams.

Of course, there's no room in a TV commercial for that all that nuanced nutrition detail, especially when it has to share space with the likes of Dara Torres and Wee-Man.

Quibbles aside, no way am I looking to discredit pistachios. Like other tree nuts, they're a fantastic, fiber-rich, filling alternative to sugary sweets; especially if you choose unsalted nuts, they're much better for you than potato chips, pretzels or other savory packaged snacks. And pistachios are in fact distinct from other tree nuts in that they contain much more of the antioxidants Vitamin A, beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.

So eat lots of pistachios, and enjoy every bite. Just don't pick them because you think they're lower in calories and fat than any other nut on the tree.

Readers: Have you spotted any iffy nutrition claims that make you wonder "Is that right?" Let me know, and I'll have a look.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  October 30, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Is That Right? , Nutrition and Fitness  
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On a nut-for-nut basis, looks like their claims are pretty spot on.

But I don't know ANYONE who can eat just one pistacio... :(

Posted by: Apostrophe | October 30, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, I blew my dubious healthy foods budget on pomegranate juice and acai fruit.

Posted by: KS100H | October 30, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Well, I'd think there have to be more obvious targets out there.

One benefit to pistachios: they're about the only nut that you shell yourself as you go. I find this to be really helpful, especially because they are so small -- makes it harder to stuff yourself with huge handfuls at once, and gives your stomach more time to realize you're full.

I lived on these things during my semester in Greece -- basically, my daily diet consisted of big bags of pistachios, peaches, green beans/potatoes cooked in meat juices, tzatziki + pita, and, umm, cookies. With the occasional beer + gyros/souvlaki thrown in. Lost 15 lbs that semester without even trying -- so they can't be too bad for you! :-)

Posted by: laura33 | October 30, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

It seems the headline writer for the front page headline for this story doesn't know how to spell "pistachio" (used "pistacio" instead). Maybe someone will correct this before the new spelling settles into young minds out there.

Posted by: nor44 | October 30, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Has there been any research lately on sunflower seed addiction?

Posted by: Rdobrick | October 30, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Just for my own information.

Many a time when I have to eat in a hurry, I'll grab a Pepperidge Farm Oatmeal Raisin cookie (or 2). Is this healthier for you than a bagel, english muffin or toast with butter?

Posted by: CALSGR8 | October 30, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

@CALSGR8: you're asking whether a cookie is healthier than a fat-slathered white-bread variant? The only possible answer to this dietetic nightmare of empty calories is: none of the above.

If you have to eat in a hurry, some unadorned whole-wheat bread, a glass of skim milk, and a banana are WAY healthier for you -- for the same calories as two Pepperidge Farm cookies, you get much more nutrition and *way* less unhealthy fat.

Posted by: DupontJay | October 30, 2009 6:20 PM | Report abuse

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