Pine nuts have been enjoyed since ancient times. Roman soldiers ate them and they’ve been mentioned by Greek authors as early as 300 BC. Nutritionally speaking, pine nuts contain many of the same healthy nutrients as other nuts, including healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants… but pine nuts are not actually nuts at all.
Pine nuts are the seeds of pine trees. You’ll find them between the scales of pine cones, but while all pine trees yield pine nuts, only about 20 species have pine nuts large enough to be worth eating.
Once harvested from the cone, pine nuts must be shelled, and they should be consumed shortly after. Unshelled pine nuts are prone to rancidity due to their high oil content (so be sure to store them in your fridge).
Pine nuts are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, and in the US they’ve grown into a $100 million market (although about 80 percent of US pine nuts are imported). They’re commonly eaten raw or roasted, and their sweet nutty flavor and crunchy texture lends itself well to snacking, vegetable dishes and, of course, sauces like pesto.
5 Health Benefits of Pine Nuts
There are many additional reasons to eat pine nuts aside from the flavor, as they’re surprisingly good for your health.
1. Suppress Your Appetite
If you’re trying to lose weight, eating pine nuts may help. Research showed that fatty acids derived from pine nuts lead to the release of high amounts of cholecystokinin (CCK), an appetite-suppressing hormone.
Women who consumed three grams of the fatty acid pinolenic acid prior to breakfast slowed the absorption of food in their gut and decreased their food intake by 37 percent. According to researchers:
“Korean pine nut PUFAs [polyunsaturated fatty acids] suppress appetite and affect food intake.”
2. Boost Energy
Pine nuts contain nutrients that help boost energy, including monounsaturated fat, protein and iron. Pine nuts are also a good source of magnesium, low levels of which can lead to fatigue.
One-half cup of pine nuts provides nearly half of the daily recommended amount of magnesium, which is a benefit in itself since so many Americans are deficient.
3. Reduce Heart Disease Risk
Pine nuts contain a synergistic blend of compounds known to support heart health. This includes monounsaturated fat, magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin K and manganese.
Research suggests that the pinolenic acid in pine nuts supports healthy cholesterol levels and may have LDL-lowering properties by enhancing the liver’s LDL uptake.
4. Anti-Aging Antioxidants
Pine nuts contain a wealth of antioxidants, including vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, and lutein. Antioxidants are crucial to your health as they are believed to help control how fast you age by combating free radicals, which are at the heart of age related deterioration.
Antioxidants are nature’s way of defending your cells against attack by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Your body naturally circulates a variety of nutrients for their antioxidant properties and manufactures antioxidant enzymes in order to control destructive free-radical chain reactions.
5. Vision Health
Pine nuts contain lutein, a carotenoid that may help you ward off eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Your macula is a small area just two millimeters wide, located in the back of your eye, in the middle portion of your retina.
For reasons scientists have yet to pinpoint, parts of your retina and macula may become diseased. As AMD progresses, tiny, fragile blood vessels that leak blood and fluid begin to develop in your retina, causing further damage.
However, there is pigment in your macula that seems to act as a blue-light filter to protect your macular region against oxidation by light. In addition, this macular pigment can scavenge free radicals.
Lutein is one of the predominant pigments in this area, and numerous studies have found that consuming foods rich in these nutrients can significantly reduce your risk of AMD (and non-Hodgkin lymphoma).
Pine Nut Mouth Is Real…
If you’re a fan of pine nuts, you may have experienced “pine nut mouth” (or pine nut syndrome). It’s an intense bitter, metallic aftertaste that can persist in your mouth for a day up to two weeks.
So far, tests have failed to turn up any contaminants, bacteria, or chemicals in the nuts that could be responsible for the aftertaste, or the fact that not everyone who eats them gets it. According to one review, which summed up the many questions left to be answered regarding pine mouth syndrome (PMS):
“A clinically compatible case of PMS must include taste disturbance, usually characterized as bitter or metallic, following the ingestion of affected pine nuts by 1 to 3 days. Affected nuts would appear to include all, or some portion, of nuts harvested from species Pinus armandii (Chinese white pine), but could include nuts from other species.
The specific toxin that is apparently present in affected nuts has not yet been isolated, and the mechanism of toxicity and factors determining PMS susceptibility need to be further detailed. There are no proven therapies for PMS.”
One thing that is known about pine nut mouth is how to stop it… stop eating pine nuts and simply wait for the symptoms to disappear. If you experience a bothersome metallic aftertaste when eating pine nuts, you might want to consume other varieties of nuts and seeds instead.
Green Avocado Salad with Pine Nuts
If you’re looking for a simple way to incorporate pine nuts into your meals, try this crisp green salad recipe, which is from Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type.
*Image of “Pine Nuts and spinach leaves in bowl” via Howard Holley/Flickr/CC BY 2.0