Pine nuts are the seeds found in certain varieties of pine cone. The umbrella pine and stone pine are two varieties which produce these tasty seeds. They are covered by a hard shell which must be removed before consumption. The majority of edible pine nuts grow in southern Europe, although some are grown in the warm climate of the southern United States. They are often quite expensive because pine nuts are typically harvested by hand.
One ounce (28g or 167 kernels) of pine nuts has 188 calories; 160 of those calories come from fat, as there are 19g of fat in a serving of pine nuts. However, only 1g is saturated fat (which is unhealthy) while 5.3g are monounsaturated fat (which is heart-healthy and has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels). There are 4g of protein and 4g of carbohydrates, making pine nuts a well-balanced source of energy. A 1-oz. serving contains 1g of dietary fiber, and 1g of natural sugar. Pine nuts have no cholesterol and only 1g of sodium. Pine nuts also have a very low estimated glycemic load.
Vitamins and Nutrients
Pine nuts are an excellent source of magnesium, containing 123 percent of the daily recommended intake. They also contain 13 percent of the recommended intake of vitamin E, 19 percent of vitamin K, 7 percent of thiamin, and 6 percent of niacin. Pine nuts contain trace amounts of many other vitamins and nutrients, including riboflavin, calcium and potassium. The magnesium and potassium in pine nuts help the body maintain a healthy blood pressure and heart rate.
Pine nuts are high in antioxidants, which protect the body from free radical damage. They also serve as a natural appetite suppressant, because they contain polyunsaturated fat known as pinolenic acid. This stimulates the secretion of hormones that signal to the brain that the body is full so that it craves less food and is left feeling satisfied for a longer period of time. The body can start to reap the antioxidant and appetite-suppressing benefits of pine nuts from incorporating a single serving into a meal.
Pine nuts can be eaten raw as a healthy and filling snack. They can also be roasted in a 350 degree F oven or on a stove top until they are golden brown. Roasting pine nuts does not alter their nutritional benefits, and frequently enhances their taste. They can be roasted with olive oil, which is also high in monounsaturated fat benefiting the heart.
Pine nuts can be tossed over salads or used in numerous dishes, including casseroles and stuffing. They can also be added to cookies or other desserts to add nutritional value to treats that are otherwise low in nutrients. Pine nuts are sometimes ground up to make nutritious pesto sauce. When serving pine nuts, it is wise to consider the fat and calorie content of the other ingredients in the meal to avoid producing an overly fattening dish. Because pine nuts are high in unsaturated fat, they tend to go rancid quickly once shelled, and should be stored in the refrigerator to prolong their shelf life and maintain their nutritional benefits.