Pine nuts are a nutritious snack that can be eaten raw or roasted. They can be added to salads, sprinkled on top of hummus, and blended up as part of pesto and other sauces.
Pine nuts are grown predominantly in the Northern Hemisphere in Asia, Europe, and North America and are also known as pinyon, pignoli, pignolia, pinon, and pignon (1).
Different species, environments, and regions contribute to slight variations in pine nuts’ shape and nutritional composition. Asian pine nuts are short, while European varieties are long and thin (1,
The small, sweet, teardrop-shaped nut comes with a hefty price tag due to the time and labor involved in its harvest.
It can take up to 25 years for pine trees to start producing edible pine nuts and significantly longer for production to reach its peak. Pine nuts then need to be extracted as seeds, and the second shells must be removed before they’re ready to eat (4).
In this article, we go through the 4 impressive 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), may increase the risk of heart disease (
Pinolenic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid isolated exclusively in pine nut oil (
Pinolenic acid may help lower LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Rat studies have suggested that pinolenic acid causes the liver to take up and metabolize more LDL cholesterol from the blood (
The specific mechanism through which this happens is not yet clear, and more research is needed.
Pinolenic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid found in pine nuts, may be beneficial for heart health due to its ability to reduce the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.
Animal studies have shown that consumption of pine nut extract may contribute to a decrease in fasting blood glucose levels (
Replacing a carb-rich food with unsaturated fats (such as those found in pine nuts) may have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels (
In a 2014 review, researchers analyzed multiple studies on the effect of tree nut consumption on diabetic markers in people with type 2 diabetes (
They concluded that, on average, eating 2 ounces per day (56 grams) of tree nuts over a period of 8 weeks contributed to an improvement in fasting blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity (
These studies looked at a variety of tree nuts — not pine nuts specifically — but pine nuts deliver unsaturated fats and some protein and fiber, so they may have similar effects to the other tree nuts (
Additionally, 1 ounce (28 grams) of pine nuts provides 109% of the Daily Value for the mineral manganese, which is linked with a lower risk of diabetes (
A study with more than 10,000 participants found that those who consumed a higher-than-adequate amount of manganese (4.5 mg/day) had a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes (
Furthermore, pine nuts deliver polyphenols, or phenolic compounds, that have antioxidant activities and other health-promoting benefits (
The phenolic compounds found in pine nuts may help lower reactive oxygen species (ROS) found in the body and therefore improve blood glucose control. However, this is based on animal studies, and human studies are limited (
It is believed that manganese, in addition to phenolic compounds, reduces ROS, which contributes to the activation of stress pathways in the body that result in the progression of diabetes (
More studies are needed to understand the process through which manganese and phenolic compounds work to minimize diabetes risk.
There are many mechanisms through which pine nuts could help regulate blood sugar levels and thus reduce diabetes risk. 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 fuller longer.
Even though nuts are a high calorie food, they don’t contribute to weight gain, and they help you feel more satisfied. Choosing nuts for a snack over more-processed foods may help reduce hunger (
The fatty acids found in pine nuts have also been associated with weight management (
The combination of nutrients found in pine nuts, including protein, fiber, and healthy fats, contributes to increased feelings of satiety. This in turn can help with maintaining a healthy weight.
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that you need to consume through your diet. There are three types of omega-3s: alpha linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (
EPA and DHA assist in preserving brain health by contributing to slower cognitive decline and reduced risk of dementia and depressive symptoms (
Unfortunately, a large portion of the world’s population is not consuming enough omega-3s.
Pine nuts are a source of omega-3s, containing 31.4 mg per ounce (28 grams). According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily intake for adults is 1.1 grams for females and 1.6 grams for males (
The type of omega-3s in pine nuts is ALA, which is considered essential, but your body has to convert it to the more useful forms, EPA and DHA. This process is not very efficient in humans.
You can still boost your omega-3 intake a little by sprinkling a handful of pine nuts onto your pasta or adding them as a crunchy element on top of avocado toast (
Pine nuts contain brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, which may help slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia and depressive symptoms.
Along with their many health benefits, pine nuts come with a potential health risk for some people.
While this is not common, some people may have an anaphylactic response or IgE-mediated allergy to pine nuts, meaning their immune system immediately starts overreacting in response to eating the nuts (
“Pine mouth” syndrome, a temporary condition that may occur in some people, is characterized by a metallic or bitter taste in the mouth after eating pine nuts (
The first reported case of pine mouth was in 2001. The symptoms begin within 48 hours of consumption and can last up to 2 weeks (
The underlying cause of this syndrome is not clear (
Always seek medical attention if you experience any unusual symptoms after consuming pine nuts.
While not common, nut allergies do exist and can negatively impact the health of some people. Do not consume pine nuts if you have a nut allergy or if you typically experience pine mouth syndrome.
Pine nuts are the seeds extracted from the cones of the pine tree.
The sweet, teardrop-shaped nuts can be used in recipes both sweet and savory, as either a garnish or a main ingredient, such as in pesto or trail mix.
Pine nuts’ nutritional profile consists of protein, fiber, unsaturated fatty acids, and other nutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin K, copper, iron, magnesium, and manganese (
Pine nuts have been associated with 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.
Just one thing
Try this today: Use pine nuts as a crunchy and satisfying topping on a salad or bowl of oatmeal.