Pine nuts are some of the most elegant nuts around.
Their graceful and smooth exterior together with their subtle, sweet taste make them an appealing snack for many.
However, they’re also quite expensive — one of the priciest nuts around, in fact.
Still, could they be worth it?
In this post, learn about the 13 wonderful health benefits of pine nuts and decide for yourself.
What Are Pine Nuts?
Pine nuts, also known as pignolia nuts, are the edible seeds of the trees belonging to the pine family.
While all pine seeds are edible, most species of the tree produce tiny ones that aren’t worth harvesting.
In fact, only 20 or so species of pine can grow seeds large enough to be considered valuable human food.
Pine nuts are grown all around the world — from the U.S. and Italy to China and Korea.
The most common cultivated variants are:
- Italian stone pine
- Mexican pinyon
- Chinese nut pine
- Colorado pinyon.
Origin Of Pine Nuts
Pine nuts are said to have been eaten by Native Americans as far back as 10 000 years ago.
It was especially popular among the early peoples of the Great Basin.
The Native Americans didn’t cultivate the nuts, but gathered them from the wild trees that grew around their territory.
To them, they were a valuable source of nutrition they could freely harvest and then store for long periods of time.
The first cultivation of pine nuts likely occurred in southern Europe around 5000 years ago — where they’re still used in traditional cooking today.
Why Are Pine Nuts So Expensive?
Pine tress are a common sight all over the world — so why are pine nuts so pricey compared to other nuts?
There are 4 main factors that contribute to this:
1. Edible Pine Nuts Are Not That Common
As mentioned, most pine trees produce tiny seeds that are not worth harvesting.
Only about 20 species of pine bear seeds that are large enough for regular human consumption.
While they’re not exactly rare, they’re not as plentiful as many people think.
2. They Don’t Grow Closely Together
Compared to other plants used for food, pines don’t grow densely.
Because of this, workers need to spend more time going from tree to tree to harvest.
This leads to more manpower needed, which equals more expenses for the food companies, which results in a higher price tag for you and me.
3. Pine Nuts Are Tedious To Gather
Pine cones must be hand-picked from the trees, ripened, and finally broken before the edible nuts can be extracted.
The farmers could of course wait until the cones drop to the ground, fully ripe — like nature intended.
However, this would make the seeds vulnerable to birds, mice and other critters.
For a company looking to maximize profit, this would be an unacceptable loss.
4. They’re Vulnerable To Weather & Disease
The cones of domesticated pine trees are greatly affected by weather and various plant diseases.
For example, in 2014, bad weather and parasites lead to a major pine nut shortage in Italy.
The scarcity drove the prices so far up that the nuts became a popular target for thieves.
Health Benefits Of Pine Nuts
Alright, now that we’ve covered what pine nuts are, where they come from and why they’re kind of pricey, let’s get back to the heart of the matter.
Here are the 13 wonderful health benefits of pine nuts.
1. Fight Inflammation & Premature Aging
Regularly eating pine nuts could help you slow the signs of aging.
This is mainly due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
Why is this important?
Because inflammation has been found to be heavily involved in aging.
Scientists even have a special word for it — “inflammaging”.
A study from 2016 found that people who regularly ate nuts experienced less inflammation overall.
2. Maintain Eye Health
Pine nuts contain a lot of lutein and zeaxanthin.
These are carotenoids — plant pigments with antioxidant properties.
There are hundreds of carotenoids that can be used by your body.
However, only lutein and zeaxanthin find their way into the macula of your eyes.
When you get enough of them, they can protect your eyes against macular degeneration and glaucoma.
They do this by filtering harmful UV rays and fighting free radicals, according to certain studies.
3. Reduce Cancer Risk
Pine nuts are chock-full of magnesium.
100 grams will provide you with 250 mg of the mineral — 63% of the RDV.
Diets high in magnesium have been shown to be protective against some types of cancer — especially pancreatic cancer.
In a study published in 2015, over 67 000 people were tracked regarding magnesium intake and prevalence of pancreatic cancer.
The results were staggering:
For every decrease of 100 mg of magnesium, the chance of getting pancreatic cancer rose by a whopping 24%.
In another study from 2015, higher magnesium intake was correlated with a lower rate of colorectal cancer as well.
Keep those cells in check — snack on some pine nuts!
4. Make Weight Loss Easier
Surprising to some, the pine nut is actually one of the nuts with the most calories per gram.
However, as we’ve covered before with almonds, this does not necessarily equal weight gain.
Even though they’re calorically dense, pine nuts have several factors that make them a good food for losing and managing weight:
- Fiber – 3.7 grams per 100 grams of nuts.
- Protein – 13.7 grams per 100 grams.
- Healthy fats – 68 grams per 100 grams.
All of these increase the feeling of fullness — reducing the chance you’ll feel like snacking between meals.
This is probably why pine nuts (along with other tree nuts) have been linked to a lower average body weight.
5. Boost Energy Levels
There are many nutrients in pine nuts that help you stabilize your energy levels, such as iron, protein and healthy fats.
However, the most important one is the incredibly-high magnesium content.
This is because the mineral plays a vital role in the breakdown of glucose and fat.
In other words, it helps turn the food you eat into usable energy for your body.
Now, consider the fact that almost half the U.S. population don’t get enough magnesium from their food.
This may be one of the reasons why so many people are dependent on caffeine these days.
6. Strengthen Immunity
Another prominent trace mineral found in pine nuts is zinc.
100 grams of the nuts will give you 6.4 mg of it — about 43% of the RDV.
Around 50 years ago, scientists discovered that zinc-deficient patients were more commonly dying to infections at a young age.
Since then, the mineral has been recognized as vital for the human immune system.
To keep your body’s defenses at full strength, be sure to eat enough zinc-rich foods, such as pine nuts.
7. Sustain Brain Health
Pine nuts have 5.5 mg of iron per 100 grams.
Iron is an essential mineral for the brain, as it’s needed for transporting and storing oxygen in your blood.
If your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood, cognitive impairment may soon follow.
The magnesium in pine nuts helps your brain in other ways as well.
For one, a higher intake of the mineral has been linked to a steadier mood.
8. Alleviate PMS Symptoms
For many women, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can cause a lot of discomfort.
If the symptoms are severe enough, they can even make regular, day-to-day activities stressful.
Women who have lower levels of magnesium tend to experience more severe forms of PMS.
In 2010, a double-blinded placebo-controlled study was published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research.
The researchers concluded that ingesting magnesium and vitamin B6 significantly decreased the severity of PMS symptoms.
You can get both of these nutrients by eating pine nuts.
9. Support Diabetes Management
According to a CDC report from 2017, over 100 MILLION Americans are now living with diabetes or prediabetes.
That’s a depressingly-huge number.
Luckily, there’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that diabetes (type 2) can be treated and even reversed with diet and lifestyle.
A great example is the acclaimed “Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes”.
Even if getting rid of the disease is not doable, you could still learn to manage it effectively.
One way to do that is by replacing your regular snacks with pine nuts.
In a study published in the Diabetes Care journal, eating two ounces of nuts instead of a small muffin resulted in improved serum lipids and glucose control in patients.
10. Decrease Heart Disease Risk
Another major cause of suffering in today’s society is heart disease.
Actually, it’s the number one killer worldwide!
Thankfully, heart disease can almost always be prevented by a healthy lifestyle and diet.
For one, you could start eating nuts on a regular basis, like pine nuts.
Pine nuts’ monounsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, phytosterols and phenolic compounds have all been shown to be good for your heart health.
Additionally, in a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, nut consumption was linked to a decreased risk of sudden death by heart attack.
11. Keep Your Bones Strong
When most people think of bone health, they usually think of calcium.
While calcium is an important factor for strong bones, there’s another vital nutrient that’s often overlooked:
It’s essential for regulating where your calcium deposits are (or are not) used in your body.
Too little K in your diet may lead to osteoporosis or the calcification of arteries and other soft tissues.
The vitamin is especially important for elderly people who are vulnerable to bone fractures.
In a meta-analysis involving almost 81 000 people, people with the highest vitamin K levels experienced a 22% reduction in the risk of fractures.
As it turns out, pine nuts, along with cashews, are the only tree nuts with significant levels of vitamin K.
100 grams will provide you with 54 mcg of the nutrient — an impressive 67% of the RDV.
12. Promote A Healthy Digestion
Pine nuts are also filled with phosphorus.
This mineral is essential for life, and is the second-most abundant mineral nutrient found in your body, after calcium.
Besides being needed for the formation of bones and teeth, it’s also important for digestion.
First off, it neutralizes acids in order to maintain a steady pH in your body.
This is important, since your digestive system has been shown to require a fine pH balance in order to function properly.
Since phosphorus is an electrolyte, it’s also believed to be helpful regarding constipation, diarrhea and bloating.
100 grams of pine nuts contain 575 mg of phosphorus — 57% of the RDV.
13. Help Your Body Detox
Another major benefit of pine nuts’ phosphorus is the detoxifying effect it has.
As you probably know, having healthy kidneys is essential for optimal health.
They regulate water fluid levels in your body and remove waste products from your blood stream.
To be able to do their job properly, your kidneys need phosphorus.
Phosphorus helps them eliminate waste and toxins through your urine.
Before you start juicing or fasting in hopes of detoxifying your body, make sure your kidneys are working at their full potential.
Where To Get Pine Nuts
Pine nuts can be found growing freely in the wild.
However, as mentioned earlier:
Only about 20 species of pine actually produce nuts large enough to warrant harvesting.
Out of these 20, 4 of them are at the top when it comes to taste and size.
- Korean Nut Pine/Chinese Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis)
- Italian Stone Pine/Umbrella Pine/Parasol Pine (Pinus pinea)
- Mexican Pinyon/Mexican Pine Nut/Mexican Stone Pine (Pinus cembroides)
- Colorado Pinyon/Rocky Mountain Pinon (Pinus edulis)
If any of these grow near you, try finding some pine cones that are ready to harvest.
Here’s a great video on how to find and harvest pine nuts in the wild:
Most likely, you won’t have the time to do all that every time you want some pine nuts.
In that case, you can of course buy them online or in most grocery stores.
If you want to order online, I recommend Now Foods’ raw pine nuts, which are fully organic and non-GMO.
Pining For Pine Nuts
As you can see, the health benefits of pine nuts are quite impressive.
Even if they’re relatively high in price compared to most other nuts, they’re certainly worth it if you have the money.
Whether you harvest some yourself or buy them packaged, there are plenty of ways to enjoy these wonderful creations of the pine.
You can eat them as-they-are — a simple but tasty snack.
Alternatively, you can throw them in a salad or use them in a homemade pesto recipe.
Whatever you choose to do with them, there’s no doubt that pine nuts are a great addition to a healthy diet.