Pine Nuts Boast Major Health Benefits — Here's How to Eat More (Besides Making Pesto)

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Pine nuts are a great source of both vitamins and minerals.
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Pine nuts are small-but-mighty edible seeds (yes, they're seeds!) produced by certain pine trees. Also known as pignolis, pine nuts provide a mix of nutrients that can help protect your eye, heart, brain and skin health, and have been a dietary staple for thousands of years.

Pine nuts are famously associated with pesto sauce, in which they are typically blended with ingredients such as garlic, basil and cheese. Their slightly sweet flavor also makes them a delicious topping for salads.

Native Americans in the Southwest highly prized pine nuts. The seeds were an important food due to their high levels of both healthy fats and carbohydrates — something that's rare in many other edible seeds and fruits, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Pine Nut Nutrition Facts

One ounce of pine nuts (28 grams, or about a handful), is equal to a single serving. One ounce of raw pine nuts contains:

  • Calories: 188
  • Total fat: 19.1 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodium: 0.6 mg
  • Total carbs: 3.6 g
  • Dietary fiber: 1 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Added sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 3.8 g

Pine Nut Macros

  • Total fat: One ounce of pine nuts has 19.1 grams of total fat, which includes 9.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 5.2 grams of monounsaturated fat, 1.4 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat. Pine nuts that are roasted with oil contain more fat.
  • Carbohydrates: One ounce of pine nuts has 3.6 grams of carbs, which includes 1 gram of fiber and 1 gram of naturally occurring sugars.
  • Protein: One ounce of pine nuts has 3.8 grams of protein.

Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients

  • Copper: 41% DV
  • Vitamin E: 17%
  • Magnesium: 17% DV
  • Zinc: 16%
  • Vitamin K: 13%
  • Phosphorous: 13%
  • Iron: 9% DV
  • Thiamin (vitamin B1): 8% DV
  • Potassium: 4% DV
  • One ounce of pine nuts is not a significant source of calcium (0%).

How Do Pine Nuts Compare to Common Tree Nuts?

Based on a 1-oz. serving, raw

Pine Nuts

Almonds

Walnuts

Pistachios

Calories

188

164

186

159

Total Fat

19.1 g

14.2 g

18.5 g

12.9 g

Carbohydrates

3.6 g

6.1 g

3.9 g

7.7 g

Dietary Fiber

1 g

3.6 g

1.9 g

3 g

Protein

3.8 g

6 g

4.3 g

5.7 g

Source: USDA

Health Benefits of Pine Nuts

Pine nuts can be a nutritious addition to your diet. They provide a range of important nutrients that may benefit your heart, eyes, brain and more.

1. Pine Nuts Are Tied to Better Heart Health

Pine nuts are a source of heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, both of which help to improve cholesterol levels, according to the Mayo Clinic. This, in turn, is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Another heart-healthy perk: Pine nuts provide magnesium, which plays an important role in biological processes such as blood pressure regulation, normal heart rhythm and blood glucose control, according to the National Institutes of Health. A 100-milligram increase of dietary magnesium intake was associated with a 22-percent reduction in heart failure risk and a 7-percent reduction in stroke risk in a December 2016 meta-analysis of 40 studies (totaling more than a million participants) published in the journal BMC Medicine.

They also provide some fiber, a higher intake of which is linked to a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome, a combination of factors such as high levels of triglycerides, low levels of "good" HDL cholesterol and high blood pressure. These factors can increase your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Overall, eating nuts and seeds might just help you live longer. Low intake of this food group was linked to 8.5 percent of diet-related adult deaths due to stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes in a March 2017 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, which analyzed data from the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and national disease-specific mortality data.

2. Pine Nuts May Help Protect Your Eyes

Pine nuts are filled with protective antioxidants, including the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, per the USDA. "In general, these antioxidants can help preserve your eye health and prevent eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration," says Alexandra Salcedo, RD, CDE, a clinical dietitian at UC San Diego Health.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids (a class of plant compounds) found in high quantities in the retina of the eye, according to the American Optometric Association. They can filter out harmful blue wavelengths of light (like those emitted by your laptop and phone) and help maintain healthy eye cells.

Dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin was significantly associated with a reduced risk of late age-related macular degeneration in a February 2012 review published in the Journal of British Nutrition. The same association was not detected for early age-related macular degeneration.

There's currently no daily recommended intake for lutein and zeaxanthin, but you can incorporate these carotenoids into your diet by eating pine nuts along with other eye-healthy foods such as kale, collard greens and spinach.

3. They May Help Support Healthy Skin

A number of the nutrients found in pine nuts play a role in healthy skin.

Pine nuts provide vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects your skin from biological processes linked to aging of the skin, according to a 2012 review published in the journal Dermato-Endocrinology.

Pine nuts also contain zinc, which supports skin integrity and wound healing, according to the National Institutes of Health. Daily intake of zinc is important because the body does not store this essential mineral.

They're even a rich source of copper, an essential mineral required for collagen production. Collagen is the most plentiful protein in your body, but with age, your body's production of it naturally declines. This can contribute to wrinkles and health issues like weakening muscles or joint pain, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Besides aging, the top cause of too little collagen is a poor diet: Collagen production requires copper, zinc, vitamin C and protein, per the Cleveland Clinic. Pine nuts contribute to your daily intake of all of these nutrients. "Overall, vitamin E, zinc and copper are beneficial to the skin because they reduce inflammation, help promote wound healing for burns and other skin lesions and improve skin moisture," Salcedo says.

Tip

With 188 calories per serving, pine nuts contain more calories than almonds and pistachios, but they're less caloric than macadamia nuts, and comparable to walnuts and Brazil nuts. However, that’s no reason to skip them in your diet.

“Focus on the quality of nutrients pine nuts provide, rather than the number of calories,” Salcedo says. “They’re a really good source of healthy fats and promote fullness in moderation. Nuts can be easy to overeat, but if you stick to the serving size, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy them every day.”

4. They Contain Nutrients Essential to Energy Production and Keeping You Satiated

Pine nuts are a good source of magnesium, which is required for energy production, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Meanwhile, the iron in pine nuts plays a key role in helping your body transport oxygen so cells can produce energy, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Iron deficiency is common, particularly among women of reproductive age or pregnant women and children, and is associated with symptoms such as weakness and fatigue.

Beyond providing these essential nutrients, pine nuts also help you avoid the everyday energy crash by keeping you satiated. "Because pine nuts are a really good source of healthy fats and also contain plant-based protein, they can promote fullness as a snack or as part of a meal," Salcedo says.

Before buying a bag of these healthy nuts, make sure you're not choosing one with added salt.
Image Credit: sergeyryzhov/iStock/GettyImages

Pine Nut Health Risks

Allergies

Pine nut allergies are similar to walnut, pecan and other tree nut allergies, and can include mild, moderate and severe responses, including anaphylaxis, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Some cross-reactivity has also been reported between pine nuts and peanuts, meaning if you're allergic to one, you may have a similar reaction to the other.

That said, individuals with a tree nut allergy may be able to enjoy seeds like pine nuts, macadamia nuts or pumpkin seeds without difficulty, according to the ACAAI.

It's important to talk to an allergist to assess your risk. If you do have a food allergy, you may need to carry epinephrine with you in case of a severe reaction.

Calorie Intake

Like any other food, pine nuts should be eaten in moderation. Although they provide a number of healthy nutrients, pine nuts are calorically dense and can cause weight gain if eaten in excess.

Drug Interactions

There are currently no known drug interactions. Be sure to discuss any medication and food interactions with your health professional.

Pine Mouth

Some people experience "pine mouth," a type of dysgeusia (a distortion of taste or smell), 12 to 48 hours after consuming pine nuts. The result is a metallic taste that can last a few days to weeks, intensifying as you eat other foods, according to the University of California, Berkeley.

Although the reason for this is still unclear, it could be due to rancid oils, certain species of pine nuts, a contaminant or a genetic susceptibility that makes some people more sensitive to bitter tastes, per the university.

In 2011, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration received a number of complaints about "pine mouth," but confirmed that this reaction is not an allergy and that symptoms tend to decrease over time without any apparent negative clinical side effects.

Pine Nut Recipes

Pine Nut Preparation and Helpful Tips

Pine nuts are harvested in the fall, but can be found year-round. Follow these tips to prepare them as a healthy snack or as part of a meal.

Eat pine nuts raw, roasted or ground. Pine nuts are typically eaten on their own or sprinkled on salads, roasted with other nuts or ground into hummus and pesto.

How to Roast Pine Nuts

You can easily roast your own raw pine nuts at home, per the Utah State University Extension. Here's how:

  1. Remove any dirt or debris by placing pine nuts in a strainer and rinsing with water for several seconds.
  2. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, spread the damp pine nuts in one layer on a foil-lined cookie sheet and add a sprinkle of salt, if desired.
  3. Bake the pine nuts for 10 to 20 minutes.

Tip

For an easy snack, roast pine nuts and almonds with cinnamon and nutmeg, Salcedo recommends. Once cool, toss with chopped dark chocolate.

Microwave pine nuts for a quick snack. It's possible to "roast" pine nuts in the microwave, according to the Utah State University Extension. Place ¼ cup pine nuts inside a paper bag, close the end and cook for one minute.

If the nuts aren't translucent after one minute, wait one full minute and cook for 20-second intervals until translucent. Wait one minute between cooking segments, as the nuts will continue to cook on their own in the bag even once the microwave has stopped.

Alternatives to Pine Nuts

Pine nuts are a nutritious source of healthy fats and fiber, which can benefit your heart health. They're also filled with antioxidants and essential minerals that may support your eyes and skin. Eating pine nuts helps to provide sustained fullness and energy.

You can swap pine nuts for tree nuts like cashews, walnuts and pistachios to enjoy many of the same health benefits. If you need a replacement for pine nuts in a recipe, Salcedo recommends using blanched almonds or cashews.

As with any other nut or seed, it's important to stick to the serving size of pine nuts, as they're calorically dense and may lead to weight gain when eaten in excess.

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