Pine nuts have a rich culinary history dating back thousands of years -- they were even mentioned in the bible. The Old Testament (Hosea 14:8) reads: "I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found." Biblical scholars believe this passage refers to a pine tree and its edible fruit, the pine nut.
Pine nuts are edible seeds that come from the cones of pine trees, making them labor-intensive to produce. Not surprisingly, they're expensive to buy (ever made pesto?). But considering their nourishing array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, pine nuts offer a wide variety of health benefits to older adults.
Pine Nut Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
1. Pine nuts can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Studies show that eating tree nuts about five times a week can help lower the risk of death due to heart disease. Like other nuts, pine nuts are high in beneficial monounsaturated fats, magnesium and vitamin E, which work together to protect the heart. Pine nuts also naturally contain plant sterols, a compound that can help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Eating tree nuts, including pine nuts, is associated with lower waist circumference, body mass index and blood pressure. It's important to keep these things under control to help prevent heart disease.
2. Pine nuts are high in antioxidants.
From Vitamin E to zinc, pine nuts' antioxidants may help protect cells from damage.
3. Pine nuts ward off cognitive decline.
All nuts are part of the MIND Diet, a well-researched dietary pattern that can help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by up to 35%. The MIND Diet recommends enjoying nuts at least five times a week.
4. Pine nuts are rich with the right kind of calories.
A 1/4 cup of pine nuts, about 330 kernels, contains approximately 380 calories. But these are hardly empty calories. Nuts are packed with healthy fats, fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. In addition to being more nutritious, nuts are also more filling than other snack foods -- and that may lead you to take in fewer calories in the long run.
How to Incorporate Pine Nuts Into Your Diet
Pine nuts are a star ingredient in classic Italian pesto, a savory combination that also includes basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Use it on pasta, as a sandwich spread or swirled into soup for an added layer of flavor. Crunchy toasted pine nuts are delicious sprinkled on pasta dishes, green salads or creamy soups like carrot or butternut squash. They also add a nice touch to trail mix.
Siberian Pine Nut Oil and Pine Nut Syndrome
While pine nuts have known health benefits, be wary of the heal-all claims associated with high doses of Siberian pine nut oil. Often touted as a magical elixir for lowering cholesterol, boosting immunity and easing digestion, studies to date have only been conducted in mice. Best to stick with the nuts rather than the oil until more is known.
Also, some people develop a bitter or metallic taste in their mouth after eating pine nuts. While rare, pine nut syndrome (as it's known) can last a few weeks. It may be from one particular species of pine nut from China called Pinus armandii. It's not harmful but can be a nuisance.
Cara Rosenbloom is a Toronto-based registered dietitian, writer and recipe developer. She's the co-author of the best-selling cookbook Nourish: Whole Food Recipes featuring Seeds, Nuts and Beans (Whitecap, 2016) and writes a health column for the the Washington Post.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook