You’ve heard of the power of the mighty almond — but did you know that pine nuts are a close second as a nutritional super nut? Pine nut nutrition is the real deal.
This little tree nut is a tasty, nutrient-packed treat that has some incredible benefits to its name, such as preventing certain types of cancer and even stabilizing mood disorders. I know you’re already interested — but where do pine nuts come from? While they’re found on almost every continent, only 18 species of pine trees of Europe, North America and Asia produce pine nuts large enough for human consumption.
And this is no newfound discovery. Pine nuts have been cultivated for over 10,000 years and were mentioned in ancient Greek history and eaten by Roman soldiers as “campaign food” when they invaded Britain two millennia ago.
Perhaps pine nuts’ most well-documented benefit is its ability to prevent and treat obesity.
What Is a Pine Nut?
Pine nuts are the edible nuts that come from pine trees (family Pinaceae, genus Pinus). The process of extracting the final version of what you buy at the store is a bit complicated, beginning with the maturation of the pine cone from which it’s taken. Depending on the species, that process can take nearly two years to complete.
Once the cone has matured, it is harvested by placing it in a burlap bag and being exposed to a heat source (generally the sun) in order to dry out the cone. Drying is usually over after about 20 days, and then the cones are broken apart and the nuts separated out to be prepared for consumption.
As a tree nut, pine nuts aren’t a legume, such as the peanut, but rather a hardened fruit, like the almond. This means that after removing the nuts from pine cones, their outer shell also must be removed before they’re ready to eat.
Pine nut nutrition is no joke — these small nuts are packed with a ton of vitamins and minerals essential to the human body. And don’t be too concerned about the fat content – similarly to almonds, the healthy fat found in pine nuts actually helps improve satiety (the feeling of being full), and pine nuts are associated with weight loss and healthy weight management.
One serving of pine nuts (about 28.4 grams) contains:
- 191 calories
- 19 grams of fat
- 169 milligrams potassium (4 percent DV)
- 3.7 grams of carbohydrate
- 1 gram of fiber (1 percent DV)
- 3.9 grams protein (7 percent DV)
- 1.6 milligrams iron (8 percent DV)
- 71 milligrams magnesium (18 percent DV)
- 163 milligrams phosphorus (16 percent DV)
- 1.8 milligrams zinc (12 percent DV)
- .1 milligrams thiamin (7 percent DV)
- .06 milligrams riboflavin/Vitamin B12 (3.5 percent DV)
- 1.2 milligrams niacin (6.2 percent DV)
- 2.7 milligrams Vitamin E (8.8 percent DV)
- 15.3 micrograms Vitamin K (19 percent DV)
1. Lowers bad cholesterol
Research consistently shows a reduction in bad cholesterol levels when pine nuts are introduced into the diet. (1) Why is that so important? For one, a poor cholesterol level puts you at risk for heart attack or stroke as it builds plaque in the arteries, constricting blood flow. Unlike what you may have heard, this is most easily treated by changes in diet, rather than by using dangerous medication.
Tree nuts, including pine nuts, have been proven to reduce cholesterol levels and specifically help prevent atherosclerosis, one common syndrome involving plaque buildup in arterial blood vessels. A 2014 study showed significant improvement in cholesterol lipid levels in women with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions including high cholesterol that indicate a risk for heart disease (among other diseases), after only six weeks. (2)
2. Helps maintain healthy weight
The combination of nutrients found in pine nut nutrition also has proven results in fighting obesity and aiding a healthy weight and metabolism. Researchers find that subjects who regularly consume pine nuts have a lower average weight, smaller weight circumference and even a lower level of insulin resistance. (3)
Not only can these nuts help you lose weight, but tree nut consumption is also strongly associated with a significantly healthier diet overall. People who eat them statistically consume more fiber, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and potassium, while taking in less sodium. (4)
3. Lowers blood pressure
Another heart-related benefit of pine nuts are their high levels of magnesium. High magnesium intake is associated with low blood pressure levels and risk of stroke. (5) As high blood pressure causes a long list of serious health problems including heart failure, aneurysm, reduced kidney function and vision loss, it’s important to maintain a diet loaded with nutrients that will help you maintain healthy blood pressure.
If you’re at risk for high blood pressure, start introducing pine nuts and other heart-healthy foods into your daily diet, and avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague.
4. Supports bone health
While it’s definitely important to build healthy bones with good calcium sources in your diet, many people don’t properly understand bone health. For one, the traditional method people use to ingest calcium is to drink pasteurized milk — and this is one of the worst ways to keep your bones healthy.
The reason for this is that milk, which begins raw as an alkaline food, becomes acidic after undergoing pasteurization. This causes a condition in the body called acidosis, and it causes you to leech alkaline from anywhere you can — mainly, your bones.
So now you’re asking, “Yeah, but what does that have to do with nuts?”
It’s simple: Vitamin K builds bones better than calcium.
You can find calcium in many sources other than pasteurized milk, but if you’re missing out on the vitamin K your body needs, you could still be at risk for bone weakness and diseases such as osteoporosis. Men and women with the highest levels of vitamin K2 were 65 percent less likely to suffer bone and hip fractures as compared with those with low vitamin K2 levels, according to the Framingham Heart Study.
Interestingly, pine nuts are double-protective when it comes to bone health — not only does their vitamin K content help build healthy bones, but one of the most common causes of vitamin K deficiency is cholesterol-lowering pharmaceuticals (which you shouldn’t need if you eat cholesterol-lowering foods, such as pine nuts). And this isn’t something you’ll find from most tree nuts — in fact, pine nuts and cashews are the only two tree nuts with any significant level of vitamin K. (6)
5. Lowers risk of certain types of cancer
Another incredible part of pine nut nutrition is its magnesium content. (It’s a great food if you’re dealing with magnesium deficiency.) One small serving (just an ounce!) of pine nuts accounts for 18 percent of the recommended daily intake amount of magnesium.
Diets high in magnesium are associated with lower risks of multiple types of cancer. One study followed over 67,000 men and women to observe the incidence of pancreatic cancer as it was associated with magnesium intake. They found that every decrease of 100 milligrams of magnesium per day accounted for a 24 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. These changes couldn’t be determined by any other factors, such as age differences, gender or body mass index. (7)
Another study tracked the incidence of colorectal cancers per magnesium intake in postmenopausal women (the age group for whom these cancers are most common). They found a positive correlation between increased magnesium and lower instances of colorectal cancers. This particular study recommends consuming 400 milligrams of magnesium per day for the most effective cancer-preventative results. (8)
6. Improves eye health
What do pine nuts and kale have in common? For one, they both contain lots of lutein, a carotenoid antioxidant that is known as “the eye vitamin.” Lutein is one of the nutrients that most people following the Standard American Diet (SAD) consistently do not consume in large enough quantities. Since your body can’t produce lutein on its own, you can only get it from the food you eat.
While there are over 600 carotenoids your body can utilize, only about 20 of those are able to be transported to your eyes. Of those 20, just two (lutein and zeaxanthin) are deposited in high quantities into the macula of your eyes. (9) Clearly, these antioxidants are key to maintaining healthy eyes. Lutein, with its brother zeaxanthin, helps prevent macular degeneration and glaucoma by fighting free radical damage caused by “blue light,” sun exposure and other factors such as poor diet.
Some studies even indicate that those who have already suffered some macular damage can halt further damage by introducing more lutein-rich foods into their diet. Pine nuts are one easy treat that can help you on your way.
7. Stabilizes mood
I’ve already told you why high levels of magnesium intake are important for the older side of the population, as they help to prevent multiple age-related cancers. But did you know that magnesium can be just as important for teenagers and young to middle aged adults as well? It’s just for a much different reason.
In a 2015 study, researchers released findings of their study on the dietary intake of magnesium in adolescents with depression, anxiety disorders and ADHD. The study found that higher magnesium (like that found in pine nut nutrition) was associated with less “externalising behaviour,” such as angry outbursts and other outward behaviors associated with these mood disorders. (10)
It’s not just adolescents who notice a difference, however. Another study followed almost 9,000 adult men and women to discover the link between magnesium and depression. It’s no surprise, considering that medication prescribed for depression only marginally helps about half of the people who take it. On the other hand, this study discovered a strong correlation between low magnesium intake and appearance of depression in people under the age of 65. (11)
The pine nut has been a hugely important food for thousands of years. Native Americans living in the Great Basin (a large area in the western US) have harvested nuts from the pinyon pine tree for over 10,000 years, according to some historical documentation. Harvest time for the pine nut signaled the end of harvest season for these Native Americans, who usually found this to be their last large group harvest task before retiring for the winter. In these areas, the pine nut is still traditionally known as the “pinyon nut” or “pinon nut.”
In Europe and Asia, pine nuts were popular dating back to the Paleolithic era. Egyptian physicians were recorded as prescribing pine nuts for various illnesses, specifically coughing and chest problems. A philosopher and scholar from Persia even recommended eating them to help treat bladder problems and increase sexual satisfaction.
How to Find and Use
Like I said earlier, edible pine nuts can be found in about 20 species of pine trees across the Northern Hemisphere. The easiest way to introduce them into your diet in the 21st century is to buy them, pre-shelled.
Because of their high fat content, it’s not a good idea to keep pine nuts in a room temperature storage area. They should be refrigerated after bought, and once opened, they should be kept in an airtight container and either refrigerated or frozen. When kept at room temperature, an open bag of pine nuts can be expected to be good for only about a week before going rancid. However, they can last 1 to 2 months in your refrigerator, especially in an airtight container. (12)
One of the most well-known uses of pine nuts is in making pesto. In pesto recipes, pine nuts are often referred to as pignoli or pinoli in Italian. They are also often used to top salads and other cold dishes, but may also be cooked. They have an almost butter-like texture, as they are high in oil, and have a mild, sweet texture with a subtle pine scent. You can lightly toast pine nuts in order to bring out their flavor more boldly.
Because of their mild flavor, they’re delicious in sweet and savory items alike. It’s not uncommon to find pine nuts as an ingredient in biscotti, cookies and certain types of cake.
Since pesto is one of the most versatile types of food out there, of course some of my favorite pine nut recipes will be pesto! You can try a more traditional Basil Tomato Pesto recipe I put together, or go the vegan route with Vegan Basil Pesto.
If you’d like to try pine nuts more in their original form, try this delicious Massaged Kale Salad recipe. The combination of ingredients and massaged kale help to offset the slight bitterness often associated with kale, and this will be your favorite new salad in no time!
For a try at grilling pine nuts, you can also make Turkey Bacon Brussels Sprouts, complete with nutrient-packed coconut oil.
Risks and Allergies
Like all nuts, pine nuts have been known to cause allergic reactions. Many of these are anaphylactic reactions, meaning that if you know you are allergic to other tree nuts, you should avoid pine nuts. (13)
Another less common allergic reaction to pine nuts is known as Pine Mouth Syndrome, or PMS. It’s not dangerous, but it’s marked by a bitter or metallic “taste disturbance” after eating pine nuts. There’s no known treatment other than to discontinue eating pine nuts until symptoms abate. (14)
Although pine nuts are on the pricey side, they are a worthy addition to your regular diet. Pine nut nutrition contains a valuable list of powerful vitamins, minerals and other nutrients vital to good health. Whether you want to maintain a healthy weight, regulate blood pressure or lower your cholesterol, pine nuts are a delicious addition to many dishes you love and can benefit you thanks to pine nut nutrition!