Chestnuts may seem like an average, everyday nut, but there are a number of important health benefits of chestnuts, including their ability to manage diabetes, improve digestive health, boost the immune system, strengthen bones, lower blood pressure, protect cardiovascular health, increase cognition and prevent chronic illness.
They many not be the most dramatic or exciting nut out there, but chestnuts have been consumed for thousands of years, so there must be a good reason for it. Chestnuts are the edible nuts produced by the trees and shrubs of the Castanea genus, which are commonly found throughout the northern hemisphere. While there are a number of different species of chestnuts, most of them possess similar qualities and nutritional profiles, although they should not be confused with horse chestnuts, which are quite different. There are a number of different ways that the chestnut tree is used for health benefits, although the fruit of the tree (the chestnut itself) is arguably the most popular.
Roasting chestnuts is particularly popular, but chestnuts are also commonly candied, boiled, pureed, ground into flower for bread-making, grilled, steamed, and deep-fried, among many other preparations. They are enjoyed across the world for their unique flavor and praised for their wealth of important nutrients. Chestnuts provide high levels of dietary fiber, minerals, “good” fats, vitamins, nutrients, antioxidant compounds and other important components that make up a healthy diet. While some people do suffer from tree nut allergies, and should stay away from chestnuts, those who are able to access and enjoy chestnuts should definitely do so! Now, let’s dig in a bit deeper to the many health benefits of chestnuts.
Health Benefits of Chestnuts
Diabetes Prevention and Management: Many people are unaware of the significant role that dietary fiber can play in the regulation, prevention and management of diabetes. Foods that are high in dietary fiber, like chestnuts, are considered low glycemic foods, which means that they cause blood sugar to rise more slowly. This helps to prevent the spikes and drops in blood sugar that are so dangerous for diabetic patients, and are often precursors to the development of diabetes in those currently unaffected.
Immune System Health: The high concentration of vitamin C and other antioxidant compounds in chestnuts make them an ideal boost to your immune system. Vitamin C not only stimulates the production of white blood cells, but also acts as an antioxidant, seeking out free radicals within the body and neutralizing them before they can cause healthy cells to mutate, or induce oxidative stress near vital organs. This can help the immune system focus its efforts on pathogens and preventing illness.
Bone Mineral Density: Copper and magnesium aren’t the first things that one thinks of when it comes to bone health, but copper is extremely important in the process by which the body absorbs iron, which is also crucial for bone growth and development. Magnesium is also very good for increasing bone mineral density, along with a wide variety of other health benefits. With these vital minerals that are found in chestnuts, you can prevent or slow the onset on many age-related disorders, such as osteoporosis.
Digestive Issues: Chestnuts have one of the highest contents of dietary fiber in the world of “nuts”, which means that they are powerful allies in any gastrointestinal struggle. Dietary fiber helps to bulk up stool and stimulate peristaltic motion in the intestines, thus regulating your bowel movements and preventing inflammation and discomfort. Dietary fiber can also help to optimize the absorption of nutrients, which means getting more out of the food you eat, and improving your overall nutrient profile.
Cognition: Brain function and cognition are improved in a number of ways through the consumption of chestnuts. First of all, these nuts are rich in the B family vitamins (e.g., folate, riboflavin, thiamine) which are directly linked to proper neurological development and function. Furthermore, the potassium found in chestnuts can increase blood flow to the brain and promote good nervous system health, thus increasing concentration, retention and memory.
Chronic Illness: Chronic illnesses of all kinds are caused by the release of free radicals, the natural byproducts of cellular respiration. These can cause healthy cells to mutate, resulting in cancer, oxidative stress and a number of chronic illnesses. Without antioxidants like those found in chestnuts, our body would be fighting battles on far more fronts, so increasing your defenses with a handful of chestnuts a day is not a bad idea.
Blood Pressure: When it comes to lowering blood pressure, few minerals are as essential as potassium. Potassium controls water movement within the body, and also functions as a vasodilator, increasing blood flow and releasing the tension on constricted blood vessels and arteries. This reduction in blood pressure can boost overall cardiovascular health and lessen your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Heart Health: Many people think of fats as a bad thing to be burned off during a diet, but in fact, our body needs a number of other fats to function normally. These good fats, found in high concentrations in chestnuts, help to balance our cholesterol, reduce inflammation throughout the body, and lower the risk of atherosclerosis and blood clots building up in the body. This lowers your risk of stroke, heart attack and coronary heart disease to a large degree.
A Final Word of Warning: Again, many people suffer from tree nut allergies of varying severity, so be cautious when adding a new nut to your diet. Speak with your doctor or an allergist before switching your nutrient profile, particularly when it may contain a powerful allergen. If you don’t suffer from nut allergies of any kind, then roast up a pan of these nuts and enjoy the benefits they provide!