Chestnuts have been a valued food source in many cultures, notably those of China, Korea, Japan and the Mediterranean, and have been cultivated for more than 6,000 years in China and 3,000 years in Europe, according to Richard Litz, author of the book "Biotechnology of Fruit and Nut Crops." Greeks deemed the chestnut superior to almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts. Chestnuts are a delicious treat, either roasted or cooked in soups or other recipes, and have considerable nutritional value.
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The fiber content of chestnuts, 3 g per 100 g, is higher than that of walnuts, with 2.1 g per 100 g, pecans, 2.3 g per 100 g, and pistachios 1.9 g per 100 g but about half that of hazelnuts. Their fiber content makes them a low glycemic index food -- one that raises blood sugar slowly -- says Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., writing for the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry.
Chestnuts provide 195 calories per 100 g serving, mostly coming from their high carbohydrate content, according to a study published in the April 2009 issue of the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry." Chestnuts are high in vitamin C, minerals, such as potassium, copper and magnesium, amino acids and antioxidants. Chestnuts are also low in kidney stone-forming oxalate compounds, with less than 85 mg per 100 g, in comparison to other nuts.
Chestnuts contain high levels of essential fatty acids, including linoleic acid, which are beneficial to cardiovascular health and proper neurological development in infants, according to the book "Tree Nuts: Composition, Phytochemicals, and Health Effects." A study conducted at the CIMO-Escola Superior Agraria, Instituto Politecnico de Braganca, Portugal, also identified four forms of triglycerides in chestnut and researchers note that this was the first such study to do a complete analysis of the triglycerides in chestnuts. Their fat content of 12 percent makes chestnuts a low-fat nut without the health benefits of the high polyunsaturated fats found in walnuts and other nuts eaten for their heart-healthy oils, says naturopath Michael Murray, in his book "The Condensed Encyclopedia of Healing Foods." Chestnut oil mostly consists of palmitic acid and oleic acid -- the fatty acid found in high quantities in olive oil.
Some people may be allergic to chestnuts. A study conducted at the Department of Internal Medicine, Dong-A University, Busan, Korea identified 21 compounds in chestnuts that react with antibodies and one new allergenic protein in chestnut, which showed a similar structure to that of an oak tree allergen. More than half of the blood samples tested in the study showed some degree of sensitivity. In a skin-prick allergy test 3.2 percent of allergy patients showed greater than a 2+ response to chestnut. The study was published in the August 2005 issue of the "Journal of Korean Medicine."