Crunchy yet with a buttery texture, pleasantly sweet and delicious pine nuts are small edible seeds of the female cone in a pine tree. Pine kernels are indeed a very good source of plant derived nutrients, essential minerals, vitamins and 'heart friendly' mono-unsaturated fatty acids that help benefit in reducing cholesterol levels in the blood.
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).
Five 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.6
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).