While pistachios are often associated with high-fat foods that are best left for occasional snacking, the truth is, these nuts are nutrient-dense and packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants and better cardiovascular benefits than any other nut. Here are some surprisingly tasty ways to incorporate these nutritious nuts into mouthwatering menus.

The recipes below were developed in the Metabolic Diet Study Center at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., and used in research, which concluded that a daily handful of pistachios – about 1.5 to 3 ounces – can help lower cholesterol.

Pistachio Crunch Muffins

2 cups whole-wheat flour
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup old-fashioned oatmeal, dry
½ cup pistachio kernels, chopped
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. orange peel
½ tsp. salt
¾ cup skim milk
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup canola oil
1 egg (or ¼ cup Egg Beaters)

Mix flour, sugar, oats, pistachios, baking powder, orange peel and salt in bowl, stirring with spoon until well blended. Add milk, applesauce, oil and egg all at once. Stir lightly just to mix. Don't over mix or texture will suffer. Spoon into 12 greased or paper-lined muffin cups.  Spoon topping over. Bake at 400 degrees F for 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown, turning pan around after 15 minutes for most even browning. Cool 5 minutes, then remove from pan and cool on wire rack. Makes 12 large muffins. 

1 muffin = 98 grams (g), 334 calories, 8.7 g protein, 35 g carbs, 18 milligrams cholesterol, 19 g total fat (2.3 g sat, 10 g monounsat, 6 g polyunsat)

Pistachio Banana Bread Muffins

2 cups whole-wheat flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ cup white granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup butter
½ cup Egg Beaters
4 medium-sized, ripe bananas
1/3 cup fat-free sour cream
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom (or substitute 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract)
½ cup pistachio nuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking soda and table salt, stirring with a whisk. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the sugars and the butter and beat with hand mixer until well-blended. Add the Egg Beaters to the sugar/butter mixture and beat well. Add the banana, sour cream, and cardamom and beat until well-blended. Then, add the flour mixture and beat at a low speed, just until moist. Stir in pistachios, making sure they are incorporated evenly throughout the batter. 

Spray muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray (such as Pam).  Distribute batter evenly among the 12 muffin tins. Place in oven for 17 minutes and check for doneness. Muffins are done when a toothpick inserted into the center of each muffin comes out clean. Makes 12 generous muffins.

1 muffin = 120 grams, 336 calories, 9 g protein, 48 g carbs, 11 mg cholesterol, 14 g total fat (3.3 g sat, 6.9 g monounsat, 3.3 g polyunsat)