Pine nuts are a nutritious snack that can be eaten raw or roasted. They can be added to salads, sprinkled over hummus, and mixed as part of pesto and other sauces.
Pine nuts are predominantly grown in the northern hemisphere in Asia, Europe and North America and are also known as pinyon, pignoli, pignoli, pinon and pignon (1).
Different species, environments and regions all contribute to slight variations in the shape and nutritional composition of pine nuts. Asian pine nuts are short while European varieties are long and thin (1, 2, 3).
The small, sweet, teardrop-shaped nut comes at a high price because of the time and labor required to harvest it.
It can take up to 25 years for pines to start producing edible pine nuts and significantly longer for production to peak. Pine nuts must then be extracted as seeds and the second shells removed before they are ready to eat (4).
In this article, we’ll go over the 4 formidable health benefits associated with pine nuts, potential risks, and tips on how to include them in your diet.
High blood levels of “bad” cholesterol or low density lipoproteins (LDL) can increase the risk of heart disease (5).
Pinolenic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that is only isolated in pine nut oil (6).
Pinolenic acid can help lower the levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Studies in rats have shown that pinolenic acid causes the liver to absorb and metabolize more LDL cholesterol from the blood (7, 8).
The specific mechanism by which this occurs is not yet clear and further research is needed.
Pinolenic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid found in pine nuts, may be beneficial for heart health due to its ability to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the blood.
Animal studies have shown that consuming pine nut extract can help lower fasting blood sugar levels (9).
Replacing a high-carb food with unsaturated fats (such as those found in pine nuts) can have positive effects on blood sugar levels (10).
In a 2014 review, researchers analyzed several studies on the effect of tree nut consumption on diabetic markers in people with type 2 diabetes (11).
They concluded that consuming 2 ounces (56 grams) of tree nuts per day for 8 weeks helped improve fasting blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity (11).
These studies looked at a variety of tree nuts – not pine nuts specifically – but pine nuts provide unsaturated fats and some protein and fiber so they can have effects similar to the other tree nuts (12).
In addition, 1 ounce (28 grams) of pine nuts provides 109% of the daily value for the mineral manganese, which is associated with a lower risk of diabetes (12).
A study of more than 10,000 participants found that those who consumed more than sufficient amounts of manganese (4.5 mg / day) had a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes (13).
In addition, pine nuts provide polyphenols, or phenolic compounds, that have antioxidant activities and other health benefits (13).
The phenolic compounds found in pine nuts can help lower the reactive oxygen species (ROS) found in the body, thereby improving blood sugar control. However, this is based on animal studies, and studies in humans are limited (14).
In addition to phenolic compounds, manganese is believed to reduce ROS, which helps activate stress pathways in the body that lead to the progression of diabetes (9, 13, 15).
More studies are needed to understand the process by which manganese and phenolic compounds work to minimize the risk of diabetes.
There are many mechanisms by which pine nuts could help regulate blood sugar levels, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes. These effects could be due to the healthy fats, phenolic compounds, or manganese that pine nuts contain.
Pine nuts contain a combination of protein, fiber, and healthy fats, all of which help keep you feeling full longer.
Although nuts are a high calorie food, they do not contribute to weight gain and will help you feel more satisfied. Choosing nuts as a snack over more processed foods can help reduce hunger (16, 17).
The fatty acids found in pine nuts have also been linked to weight management (8).
The combination of nutrients in pine nuts, including protein, fiber, and healthy fats, help make you feel full. This, in turn, can help maintain a healthy weight.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that you need to get in your diet. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (18).
EPA and DHA help maintain brain health by contributing to slower cognitive decline and a reduced risk of dementia and depressive symptoms (19).
Unfortunately, a large part of the world’s population does not consume enough omega-3 fatty acids.
Pine nuts are a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which contain 31.4 mg per ounce (28 grams). According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily allowance for adults is 1.1 grams for women and 1.6 grams for men (12, 18).
The type of omega-3 fatty acids in pine nuts is ALA, which is considered essential, but your body needs to convert it to the more useful forms EPA and DHA. This process is not very efficient in humans.
You can still increase your omega-3 intake a bit by sprinkling a handful of pine nuts on your pasta or adding them to avocado toast as a crispy element (20).
Pine nuts contain brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids that can help slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia and depressive symptoms.
In addition to their many health benefits, pine nuts pose a potential health risk for some people.
While this is not common, some people may have an anaphylactic reaction or an IgE-mediated allergy to pine nuts, which means their immune systems respond immediately to consuming the nuts (21).
Pine Mouth Syndrome, a temporary condition that can occur in some people, is characterized by a metallic or bitter taste in the mouth after consuming pine nuts (22).
The first reported case of jaw mouth was 2001. Symptoms begin within 48 hours of ingestion and can last up to 2 weeks (22).
The underlying cause of this syndrome is not clear (22).
Always see a doctor if you experience any unusual symptoms after consuming pine nuts.
Although not common, nut allergies exist and can negatively affect some people’s health. Do not consume pine nuts if you have a nut allergy or if you typically have pine and mouth syndrome.
Pine nuts are the seeds that are extracted from the cones of the pine.
The sweet, teardrop-shaped nuts can be used in sweet and savory recipes, either as a side dish or as a main ingredient, such as in pesto or trail mix.
The nutritional profile of pine nuts consists of protein, fiber, unsaturated fatty acids, and other nutrients like vitamin E, vitamin K, copper, iron, magnesium, and manganese (12).
Pine nuts have been linked to many positive health outcomes, such as improved heart health, blood sugar control, and weight management. However, do not consume pine nuts if you have a negative reaction.