Why We Are Pining For Pine Nuts


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

In some parts of Mongolia, people eat pine nuts like popcorn and potato chips. And this is not only because they are delicious due to their sweet, nutty and buttery taste. It is also because nutrient-dense pine nuts help balance out some Mongolians’ meat and dairy heavy diets.

And I have news for you…

Pine nuts are not really nuts!

They are seeds, extracted from pine cones from several species of pine trees (but reportedly only 18 species of pine trees produce pine nuts large enough for humans to eat). For example, Pinus pinea (also called stone pine) have been widely cultivated in Europe and are said to be native to coastal areas of Mediterranean Europe (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Albania and Greece) and the Near East (Turkey, Cyprus, and Lebanon).

There are different types of pine nuts grown all over the world. In Brazil, these seeds are called pinhão and are much larger in size than the pine nuts you would see in grocery stores around the U.S. Pinhão comes from Brazil’s Araucaria forest, which unfortunately may be endangered.

Pine nuts are one of the main ingredients in pesto sauce and make a great addition (providing texture and flavor) to salads. You can also just eat them by the handful.

The pine nut is a very old food and is said to have been around for more than 10,000 years. Reportedly, ancient warriors consumed pine nuts for fuel and energy.

And maybe we should too for several reasons!

  • Pine nuts may help with weight management.

Pine nut seeds contain an unsaturated fatty acid called pinolenic acid (PNLA). This acid may have “favourable effects on appetite control, perhaps by increasing the blood concentrations of key satiety hormones. Less weight gain and fat deposition were observed in mice fed with high fat diets containing PNO [pine nut oil],” according to one source.

In addition to this, PNLA has anti-inflammatory properties and may improve lymphocyte (white blood cell) function.

  • Pine nuts may help manage diabetes.

Along with almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts, pine nuts are considered tree nuts (they grow from trees).

One study suggested that people with type 2 diabetes who eat 54 grams of tree nuts per day may have improved blood sugar levels.

“Mixed, unsalted, raw, or dry-roasted [tree] nuts have benefits for both blood glucose control and blood lipids and may be used as part of a strategy to improve diabetes control without weight gain," according to a doctor referenced in one report about the study.

  • Pine nuts may protect cardiovascular health.

Pine nuts are a great source of polyunsaturated fat (both omega-3 and omega-6).

“Polyunsaturated fats can have a beneficial effect on your heart when eaten in moderation and when used to replace saturated fat and trans fat in your diet,” according to the American Heart Association.

In addition to this, pine nuts are a magnesium powerhouse. One cup of pine nuts contains 339 mg of magnesium. This mineral plays several roles in the body, and its role in proper heart functioning can’t be overstated.

Magnesium influences heart muscle energy production, keeps calcium levels balanced, loosens up tight blood vessels, reduces inflammation and keeps electrical activity in the heart behaving properly.

  • Pine nuts may help your sex life.

Since medieval times, people have used pine nuts to stimulate the libido. Like oysters, pine nuts are high in zinc. And zinc deficiencies have been linked to erectile dysfunction.

Pine nuts are also rich in potassium (806 mg in one cup). Along with helping with heart function, regulating blood pressure, reducing the chances of developing kidney stones and helping prevent bone loss as you age, potassium may help ensure adequate blood flow to the genital area, which is important for a healthy sex drive and the ability to reach orgasm.

Reportedly, pine nuts have been used for centuries to make up love potions. The medical scholar Galen recommended eating 100 pine nuts before going to bed.

Additional nutrients in one cup of dried pine nuts include:

  • Calcium, 22mg.

Of course, calcium is important for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. This mineral is also important for maintaining hair and nail health in perimenopausal and menopausal women. Adequate calcium intake may also decrease your risk for colorectal cancer.

  • Phosphorus, 776 mg.

This mineral often does not get the credit it deserves, but it does so much for your body. Phosphorus is almost as abundant in your body as calcium and helps calcium build strong bones and teeth. Phosphorus is also important for how your body stores and uses energy, repairs cells and is needed to make proteins like the one responsible for the oxygen-carrying capabilities of our red blood cells. This mineral has also been linked to weight management. In a study of almost 40,000 women in Korea, phosphorus deficiency correlated with weight gain from oral contraceptives. Furthermore, a study from Lebanon showed that phosphorus supplements in a small group (63 people) for 12 weeks significantly decreased body weight, BMI, waist circumference and subjective appetite scores.

  • Vitamin K, 72.8 mcg.

This vitamin is critical for proper blood clotting and bone metabolism. It may also help maintain brain function, a healthy metabolism and may even help prevent cancer.

  • Vitamin E, 12.60 mg.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin E for the average adult is 15 mg. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that may combat oxidative stress and delay aging.

“In addition to its activities as an antioxidant, vitamin E is involved in immune function and, as shown primarily by in vitro studies of cells, cell signaling, regulation of gene expression, and other metabolic processes,” says the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Downsides to pine nuts?

It is true that nuts are high in calories. A half a cup (100 grams) of pine nuts contains 673 calories. However, they are also high in protein (18.48 grams in one cup), which may help you feel fuller for a longer period of time, and low in carbs.

  • And as strange as it sounds, there is such a thing called “pine nut syndrome,” also called “pine mouth.”

After eating pine nuts, some people may experience a lingering bitter or metallic taste in the mouth (the taste may not surface until 1-2 days after eating pine nuts). This unpleasant taste, which is medically called metallogeusia, can last for several days, maybe even up to two weeks.

It’s a bit of a mystery as to why some people may experience this while many others don’t. You definitely want to avoid spoiled pine nuts. Pine nut oil is said to go rancid more easily. The NIH also says you need to be mindful of where your pine nuts are coming from.

“The distribution of Chinese pine nuts not suitable for human consumption, is caused by an increasing demand due to price differences. The reason for the taste disturbances is unknown, some suggest turpentine-based products in its composition, and others have studied the fatty acid content of pine nuts and the properties of pinolenic acid. So far the presence of pesticides or mycotoxins is been ruled out, but the puzzle remains unsolved.”

It may also help if you store your pine nuts in the refrigerator. This may prevent them from spoiling.

  • Be mindful of allergies.

Tree nut allergies are one of the eighth most common allergies. GI testing can help determine if you have allergies as well as any digestive issues.

And finally, I always recommend that people with any existing health issues and anyone who is taking both prescription and over-the-counter medications speak with their doctors about what foods they are including in their diets.

It is also good to get medical advice if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Think you want to give pine nuts a try?

Check out this pine nut recipe - roasted broccoli with lemon and pine nuts.

Let me know what you think!

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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