By Dr. Mercola
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.1 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.
Where Do Pine Nuts Come From?
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. It takes 18 months for most pine nuts to mature, although some species can take as long as three years. Ten days before the green cone starts to open, the nuts are ready for harvesting.
It takes time and a lot of patience to harvest these nuts, which explains their high price. According to a Huffington Post article:2
"The cones are dried in a burlap bag in the sun for 20 days, to speed up the process of drying and opening. The cones are then smashed (as a way to quickly release the seeds) and the seeds are separated by hand from the cone fragments.
Pine nuts have a second shell, which also has to be removed before eating … The shell varies from very thick and challenging to remove to thinner and therefore easier to handle."
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.3
Pine nuts are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, and in the U.S. they've grown into a $100 million market (although about 80 percent of U.S. pine nuts are imported).4 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.5
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:6
"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.7
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.8 According to one review, which summed up the many questions left to be answered regarding pine mouth syndrome (PMS):9
"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."
- 1 head red- or green-leaf lettuce, or Romaine
- 1 whole avocado, chopped into chunks
- 1 cup sunflower seed sprouts
- 1 medium tomato, chopped small
- 1 medium cucumber
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Prepare the lettuce leaves and place in a large bowl.
- Cut up the remaining vegetables and add them to the salad.
- Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet on medium heat for four to five minutes or until lightly browned.
- Whisk together the olive oil and vinegar, add the crushed garlic, pour over the salad, and serve immediately. Makes four servings.
How to Roast Pine Nuts
If you simply want to snack on pine nuts, then you should try toasting them first to bring out their flavor. The best way to do this is by putting them in the oven. A toaster oven or placing them in a skillet are alternative methods, but there are cons with these techniques, such as the nuts may easily burn or may not toast evenly. The Kitchn provides a step-by-step technique on roasting pine nuts in the oven.10
- Pine nuts
- Coconut oil
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. While waiting, place the nuts on a baking sheet, spreading them evenly.
- Coat with a small amount of oil. This is optional, and adds flavor and crispiness to the nuts. However, this may not be recommended at all times, especially if you're using the nuts for baking, as the oil may throw off the recipe.
- Roast the nuts for five minutes. Afterward, remove and stir, moving the outer nuts to the middle and the ones in the middle to the edges. Place the tray back in the oven.
- Check again after three minutes. The nuts should emit a nutty aroma, and be a few shades darker. You may also hear a crackling sound. If not done, bring back in the oven. Give another stir. They usually need eight to 12 minutes to roast.
- Take out from the oven and let cool, transferring to the another plate or baking sheet.
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