Fool Yourself Full with the Skinny Nut This Holiday Season

With Three Stealth-Health Holiday Eating Survival Tips from Behavioral Eating Expert

Nov 01, 2012, 09:00 ET from

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 1, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- This holiday season, fill your bowl with in-shell California pistachios for a deliciously healthy snack, which may help keep calories in check and may just prevent poor food choices during the holiday season. Behavioral eating expert James Painter, PhD, RD, whose research coined the "Pistachio Principle" talks about his published studies, and provides three practical snacking tips for surviving the holiday season.

Preliminary research published in the journal Appetite, suggests that consuming in-shell pistachios may offer unique mindful eating benefits to help curb consumption and decrease calorie intake – without feelings of deprivation.  Dubbed "The Pistachio Principle," this approach may offer a stealth solution to keep holiday revelers from overeating by helping "fool yourself full".  One study found that participants who consumed in-shell pistachios ate 41-percent fewer calories compared to those who consumed shelled pistachios.(1)  Another study also revealed that discarded pistachio nut shells may provide important "visual cues" that translate into reduced calorie consumption.(2)  Although causation has not been proven, both studies provide valuable preliminary information that in-shell pistachios may be a practical, everyday snack for weight management.

"In-shell pistachios are the original 'slow food.'  The findings of these studies suggest that pistachios, as one of the only in-shell snack nuts, may help slow consumption and reduce calorie intake, so you eat less but don't feel deprived," said study author, Dr. Painter, Chair of the School of Family and Consumer Sciences at Eastern Illinois University.  "Enjoy a handful before heading out to holiday parties so you don't overindulge and keep a stash available to keep you energized while holiday shopping and to avoid mall food court traps."

In-Shell Pistachio Consumption Curbs Calories by 41-Percent Compared to Shelled Pistachios

The first study published in Appetite involved 140 university students who were assigned to consume either in-shell pistachios or shelled pistachios.(1)  At the beginning of class, both groups were provided a 16-ounce cup and self-selected a portion of pistachios.  At the end of class, remaining pistachios were weighed and recorded; total weight and calories consumed was also calculated.  Those who chose shelled pistachios consumed an average of 211 calories while those who chose in-shell pistachios consumed an average of 125 calories, a 41-percent decrease in calorie intake.

A second study, on 118 subjects, examined the potential role of pistachio shells as visual cues of intake.(2)  Study subjects were provided a 16-ounce bowl filled with four ounces of in-shell pistachios to keep on their desk on two separate days (with a day of no pistachios in between).  Subjects were told they could consume pistachios at their leisure during the day and were also provided a second 16-ounce bowl to discard the shells.  For the first group, the bowls with pistachio shells were not emptied until the end of the day. For the second group, the bowls with pistachio shells were emptied every two hours, and pistachios were added back two ounces at a time if the bowl was half full or less.

"When leftover shells were removed throughout the day, calorie consumption of pistachios increased by 48 calories - a 22-percent increase - compared to when nut shells were left over as a visual reminder," said Dr. Painter.  "Choosing in-shell pistachios instead of shelled nuts may be a simple way to decrease calorie consumption without restriction.  This is in keeping with existing research that suggests when a person has visual cues of 'leftovers,' such as pistachio shells, they may help control portion size and consumption."   

Three Stealth-Health Eating Tips to Survive the Holiday Season

Healthy eating can be a challenge any time of year, but the winter holidays can be especially daunting.  Dr. Painter's top tips for improving the quality and quantity of what you eat this holiday season include:

  1. Using smaller plates, bowls, and cups. For example, swap your dinner plate for the salad plate during the main course. Go the extra mile and use your dinner plate for salads so you fill up on vegetables. At holiday parties, stick to the small appetizer plates.
  2. Keeping the deadly-duo foods out of sight. That is, foods that are both high in calories and low in nutrition. On the flip side, keep healthy foods in arm's reach, and you'll be more likely to eat them.
  3. When it comes to food, form matters. For example, in-shell pistachios may be a smarter choice than shelled. They take time to un-shell, and the empty shells may be the visual cue you need to remind yourself when to stop.

About is the leading online source of information on the health and nutrition benefits of pistachios.  The site is offered in eight languages and includes research updates and educational materials for both consumers and health professionals.  "Like" on Facebook and follow @pistachiohealth on Twitter.  For more information about the health benefits of pistachios, visit:

1. Honselman CS, Painter JE, Kennedy-Hagan KJ, et al. In-shell pistachio nuts reduce caloric intake compared to shelled nuts. Appetite 2011;57:414–417.

2. Kennedy-Hagan KJ, Painter JE, Honselman CS, et al. The effect of pistachio shells as a visual cue in reducing caloric consumption. Appetite 2011;57:418–420.