The pistachio nut is potentially the oldest nut to have been eaten by humans which is still sold today.
Alongside almonds, the pistachio is the most biblical nut, being mentioned in the new testament repeatedly. This shows that they were eaten over 2000 years ago, and in fact, one archaeological discovery of preserved pistachios dates back to the 6th millennium BC.
This site was found near where the pistachio (Pistacia vera L) is believed to have originated, Afghanistan and South-east Iraq. Even older discoveries have unearthed pistachio trees in Turkey from 7000BC. The Romans brought the crop from Asia to Europe in 1st century AD, with Emperor Tiberius introducing them to Italy.
Throughout all humanity, pistachios have never been a favoured food for clearing acne though. Well, that’s about to change today. Or is it? The truth is that pistachios are another version of almonds.
They have some major downsides, some of which apply to all acne patients and some of which afflict the sensitive, but have some extremely powerful benefits as well. Like most nuts, the high complexity of pistachios comes with both dangers and opportunities.
How the dangers compare
For many of the darkest nut nightmares, almonds and pistachios are similar. They both contain moderate levels of plant defensive toxins called lectins, while almonds have moderately more oxalates.
But there’s one area where pistachios are much worse. The main risk to consider in any nut is its fat profile. Not the total amount of fat, but the specific types. Too much omega 6s leads to an overactive immune system and chronic inflammation, while too many polyunsaturated fats lead to free radical mayhem in the body. That’s why despite their huge vitamin E content, almonds must be restricted. Their omega 6 content is too high for you to enter hardcore panda-in-a bamboo-forest mode.
The almond’s fat content per 100 grams is as follows: 4 grams of saturated fat, 33.7 grams of monounsaturated fat and 12.7 grams of polyunsaturated fat. The pistachio contains 5.6 grams, 24.2 grams and 13.9 grams.
Almonds contain slightly less polyunsaturated fat than pistachios, but another key difference is almonds’ far higher vitamin E content (keep reading). Vitamin E is a natural defence against polyunsaturated fat’s dangers for acne, since it prevents its oxidation. That’s why vegetable oil companies take no care whatsoever with their product, blasting their sunflower oil with hexane and deodorisers, but do add some synthetic vitamin E at the last minute: they don’t wish to sell a rancid product.
Almonds cannot escape forever; the polyunsaturated fat breaks down into 12.7 grams of omega 6s compared to 13.6 grams of omega 6s and 0.3 grams of omega 3s with pistachios. But the overall fat profile of pistachios is inferior to almonds, which have one of the better nut fat profiles.
Remember that you do NOT have to avoid pistachios; you can still enjoy their benefits for acne. Let’s move on…
Almonds beat pistachios for basic nutrition
As for the top acne nutrients, pistachios and almonds compare like this per 100 grams:
Vitamin E, defender of empty skin pores – 10% vs 130%.
Vitamin A, enemy of oily skin – 5% vs 0%.
Vitamin C, king of strong and young skin – 4% vs 0%.
Magnesium, secret of sleep and stress – 30% vs 72%.
Zinc, the anti-inflammatory mineral – 15% vs 24%.
Selenium, master of antioxidants – 13% vs 4%.
Almonds are a much more nutritious food for acne. With their signature vitamin E, almonds have a landslide victory; there’s little point in eating pistachios for vitamin E. Vitamin C and vitamin A are unworthy of discussion.
The minerals, however, are where pistachios succeeds, even if it fails to win. The magnesium is inferior, but in this day and age where fields are mineral-depleted and so are the foods, it’s an excellent source. Selenium and zinc are also strong, given that you only need to acquire 100% rather than huge doses like with vitamin C. Pistachios become better if they’re the only nut you enjoy, or if you particularly hate almonds.
You also cannot ignore phytic acid. The natural, crystalline form of phosphorus storage in plants, which inhibits mineral absorption in humans.
Pistachios are moderately high in phytic acid, but moderately lower than almonds. Therefore the minerals that do exist will be significantly better absorbed. You could say that almonds have an effective magnesium content of 50% compared to 25% for pistachios. This important fact helps pistachios, but almonds still cross the line again with ease, like the hare that read all the fairy tales and finally outsmarted the dratted tortoise…
…but for amino acids, almonds merely stumble across the finish line. Almonds contain 1525mg, 624mg, and 1006mg for glycine, lysine and proline respectively, versus 991mg, 1196mg, and 844mg for pistachios. All three contribute to collagen formation and thus create strong skin, while glycine constructs the master antioxidant glutathione as well.
The key is that vegans, or people who can’t afford high quality meat, need to obtain these amino acids from plant foods somehow. Nuts and seeds reign supreme, and pistachios are clearly inferior for one, clearly superior for one, and slightly inferior for another. Pistachios are thus a great lysine source to remember, and a strong glycine source…
Do pistachios prevent oily skin?
…and another area where pistachios are interesting is their effect on insulin. Pistachio nuts have a bunch of conflicting studies on insulin to their name, out of which a conflicting but promising picture emerges.
For example, this study fed 48 patients either 25 grams of pistachio nuts or a control for 12 weeks. At the experiment’s conclusion, there was a highly significant decrease in fasting blood sugar, yet no effect on insulin sensitivity. High insulin causes oily skin, whereas high blood sugar increases clogged pores via skin cell turnover and generates AGE free radicals.
This study was nearly identical, while this study examined only glucose levels and observed a big decrease, while as a bonus, detected a big reduction in inflammation from pistachios as well. Finally, we have a study where insulin did decrease, among 54 humans eating pistachios for 4 months. Insulin, insulin resistance and glucose all fell, making this study perfect for acne.
The pistachio/insulin connection is shrouded in darkness, but some sort of power exists. Time will tell what. What is totally consistent is the fasting blood sugar reduction.
Pistachios – great for gut bacteria
So far in this article, we’ve been conducting our own comparison between almonds and pistachios, but this study actually investigated the two. The topic was a drastically overlooked one for acne – gut bacteria.
The composition of your small intestine’s microflora, the balance between friendly strains of bacteria and malicious ones, and the precise composition of the friendly bacteria. Gut bacteria can affect inflammation, nutrient absorption, and even your happiness.
The study fed 18 volunteers almonds and 16 volunteers pistachio nuts, in varying quantities. After 18 days, both nuts increased the beneficial gut bacteria of the volunteers. But pistachios caused a “much stronger” increase. Pistachios had no effect on bifidobacterium, a common subset of healthy bacteria (the one found in yoghurt), but caused a surge in butyrate-producing bacteria.
Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid pumped out by bacteria which has strong anti-inflammatory effects in humans. It also occurs naturally in some foods like butter. It’s linked to weight loss via suppressing appetite and has mood-boosting properties, part of the secret mentioned above. Contributing yet more power to pistachios, butyrate is proven to increase insulin sensitivity of cells. Maybe that’s why only some studies noticed improved insulin sensitivity; butyrate was responsible and the bacteria hadn’t multiplied enough yet.
If you do supercharge your butyrate output, like pistachios can apparently do, you can lock your gut health into place. This study found that butyrate improved tight junction function of the gut lining, meaning that nutrient absorption became more efficient. Butyrate has a strong power to inhibit candida, a yeast which is one of the main “bad” microorganisms in gut flora and can crowd out the good strains once it starts getting cocky and overconfident. More butyrate can lead to an exponential positive effect on gut health.
What will all this achieve? Not full elimination of acne, but increases in nutrient absorption, reductions in inflammation, and many of the hidden factors behind acne. For somebody with decent gut bacteria, pistachios are a great way to strengthen it.
In an interesting twist, fiber is one the single most ubiquitous prebiotics, or fuels for healthy gut bacteria. Yet almonds contain 11.8 grams of fiber, while pistachios contain 10.3 grams.
Both totals are excellent for gut bacteria, but clearly, they can’t account for the differences. Some other compound was responsible. One candidate is raffinose, a short chain carbohydrate. But any minor compound could play a role.
For example, the polyphenol antioxidants from grapes are able to increase levels of a bacterial strain called Akkermansia muciniphila in the gut, for no other reason than their random love for feeding on them (study). This strain is being hyped for weight loss and like butyrate, has anti-inflammatory properties. Who knows what pistachios contain, and who knows which other strains among millions they increase?
With gut bacteria, pistachios cannot be denied a smug victory over almonds.
In certain circumstances, however, this strong power has a downside too. The raffinose which contributes to some of pistachios’ gut enriching qualities is also a FODMAP, and one of the strongest.
FODMAPs are types of short chain plant carbohydrates which are poorly digested in those with weak gut bacteria or in rarer cases, genetic intolerances Such poor digestion often leads to acne and other skin conditions like rosacea.
The FODMAP raffinose consists of fructose, galactose, and glucose. It’s commonly found in vegetables like cabbage, onions and asparagus, but pistachios are a strong source. Raffinose is a form of carbohydrate storage in such plants, and even a cryogenic defence in frost resistant plant species. Humans lack the enzyme α-galactosidase which is required to digest raffinose, unlike cows, so our gut bacteria takes over…
…but when the gut bacteria is impoverished, gas, bloating, allergic reactions, and acne are unleashed. For example, raffinose is known to damage permeability of the gut lining, interfering with absorption of acne nutrients from food. When you have a strong intolerance to raffinose, it even increases bloodstream levels of a leukotoxin called 9,10-DiHOME. This villain increases blood free radical activity and inflammation while decreasing antioxidants.
More widely, the connection between FODMAPs and acne isn’t completely understood, but among the sensitive they’re just as bad as dairy or sugar, and pistachios are full of them.
There’s already evidence that they’re not the glorious food they’re made out to be. This study was either the most fun or hellish of all time depending on your viewpoint: the cyclists underwent 75km of mountainous cycling until they reached the presumably waving scientists in hammocks at the finish line. The scientists tested the hypothesis that feeding 3 ounces of daily pistachio nuts to 20 endurance athletes would enhance their performance.
They were later dumbfounded, as performance decreased. The pistachio group was 4.8% slower than the control, with reduced power output, despite consuming far more calories too. The raffinose was deemed to be one of the culprits.
A high prebiotic content in foods is not a guaranteed double edged sword, because not all of them trigger sensitivities, but in this case it is. Almonds are moderately high in FODMAPs but pistachios, along with cashew nuts, contain the most.
If you have weak digestion, irritable bowel syndrome, or are educated about gut health and trying to fix yours, avoid pistachios until you improve. Your one chance is if you clearly observe that you can tolerate them. It’s possible that you have a specific composition of gut bacteria that allows you to digest the raffinose in pistachios despite struggling with other FODMAPs.
While the almond simply pours nutrition into your body, the pistachio exists in the realm of gut health, for better or worse. The insulin sensitivity is another strong benefit for acne and the minerals and amino acids are excellent, if inferior to almonds.
So what’s your approach? Similar to almonds – restrict your intake moderately, particularly if you eat high amounts of omega 6 rich foods elsewhere. You should actively eliminate the worthless sources of omega 6s like sunflower oil and preserve only the healthy ones, including pistachios.
Almonds are superior for acne overall, but pistachios are more complex. If have an established FODMAP sensitivity, avoid pistachios and work hard to correct your gut health in the meantime. At some point in time, a switch will flip: your gut bacteria will pass a crest of diversity and concentration that suddenly allows you to eat them again.
Pistachios will transform from a food that ruins your skin to one that subtly helps it, beneath the surface.
Thanks for reading!