Chestnuts are small fruits protected by a thick shell, nutritious and satiating and containing many substances with antioxidant power, but not only. Let’s discover the nutritional properties and benefits of chestnuts.
Chestnuts are the succulent fruit of trees typical of mountain forests: the European chestnut or Castanea sativa. Part of the Fagaceae family, this tree is practically the only specimen to have spread in Europe (and only recently crossed with a Japanese variety).
In this regard, it can be noted that the chestnut is present in practically all the states of central-southern Europe and goes as far north as England and Germany.
Chestnut tolerates low temperatures quite well and only suffers damage when the thermometer drops below -25 ° C. It has a rather long fruiting cycle and requires 4 months of summer in the absence of drought to produce the ripe fruit (which further slows down the vegetative activity).
Widespread especially in the Middle Ages, the chestnut tree represented in the past a resource of considerable importance both for the production of timber and for its fruits, chestnuts, also defined as “poor man’s bread”. This fruit has a particular shape, rounded on one side, flat on the other and pointed at the end; it also has a very resistant brown skin and a fleshy, nourishing and energetic white-beige pulp.
In fact, the chestnut is a food rich in nutrients, so much so that, until a few decades ago, it represented the food base of the mountain people and the plant had earned the nickname of bread tree, precisely to underline its importance. Its use in the kitchen was much more frequent in the past, when chestnut flour was widely used for the preparation of many dishes.
Today, however, the use of chestnuts for the production of flour is only marginal as the latter is only rarely used for the production of some typical sweets, such as castagnaccio. In general, the chestnut fruit is eaten cooked in the months of September, October and November, that is the months in which it is in season, or used for the preparation of jams or marron glace.
Difference between chestnuts and marroni
There are many varieties of chestnuts (a few hundred) and first of all it is necessary to know what the difference is between chestnuts and marroni. The former are the fruits of wild trees and are generally smaller, while the chestnuts are the fruits of trees grown and possibly improved over the years. Usually if a hedgehog contains at least 5 or 6 fruits it is chestnuts, if it contains one or at most three, it is probably a brown.
Among the varieties worth mentioning are the “Marrone good”, a particular brown belonging to the IGP chestnuts from the Mugello area and the IGP chestnuts from the Val di Susa. Let’s now see the nutritional properties of chestnuts.
What do chestnuts contain? Calories and nutritional values
Chestnuts are an atypical fruit: they contain much less water than other known fruits and are particularly rich in carbohydrates, which make them an alternative to bread, pasta or flours also suitable for those suffering from celiac disease as they do not contain gluten.
They are a particularly caloric fruit (100 grams of chestnuts provide 174 calories) and for this reason they should be consumed in moderation between meals or substituted for other foods in the main meal. Roasted chestnuts are more caloric than boiled ones. They also have a medium-high glycemic index, although lower than white flour or polished rice and similar to that of whole wheat flour.
They are also very satiating, thanks to the large amount of starchy carbohydrates, but at the same time it is a low-fat fruit: 100 g of chestnuts contain only 1.7 g of fat, of which partly polyunsaturated belonging to the omega 3 and omega 6.
Chestnuts also contain several minerals and vitamins, especially B vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin K, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper and manganese. Specifically, consuming 100 g of chestnuts would allow us to take 9% of our daily requirement of iron, 10% of potassium, 16% of zinc, 14% of magnesium, 200% of copper, 20% of manganese, 19% riboflavin, 26% vitamin B6, 16% folate, 10% pantothenic acid and 9% vitamin E.
They are also rich in amino acids, including aspartic acid, arginine, alanine, glycine, proline, tronine and serine. Further analyzes conducted on chestnuts have identified gallic and ellagic acid as the major polyphenols present in this fruit, both with a strong antioxidant power.
Nutritional values per 100g of chestnuts:
- Kcalories: 174 kcal
- Waterfall: 55.8 gr
- Proteins: 2.9 gr
- Fat: 1.7 gr
- Carbohydrates: 36.7 gr
- Of which simple sugars: 8.9 gr
- Fiber: 4.7 gr
- Folate: 62 ugr
- Thiamine: 0.08 mgr
- Riboflavin: 0.28 mgr
- Niacin: 1.11 mgr
- Pantothenic acid: 0.49 mgr
- Vitamin B6: 0.34 mgr
- Biotin: 1.4 ugr
- Vitamin E: 1.20 mgr
- Vitamin K: 7.80 ugr
- Phosphorus: 81 mgr
- Magnesium: 33 mgr
- Sodium: 9 mgr
- Potassium: 395 mgr
- Iron: 0.9 mgr
- Zinc: 1.60 mgr
- Copper: 1.88 mgr
- Manganese: 0.50 mgr
- Glycemic index: 60
- Cholesterol: 0
Chestnuts: health benefits
The properties of chestnuts beneficial for our health are different and all derive from the activity exerted by the micronutrients contained in them. In short, chestnuts are nutritious, energetic, have anti-inflammatory and prebiotic activities and promote the reduction of cholesterol. Let’s now explore the benefits of these fruits.
✓ Anti-inflammatory properties of chestnuts
Chestnuts have anti-inflammatory properties thanks to the presence of phenolic acids, known for their powerful antioxidant action and for their ability to prevent a condition of oxidative stress.
Several studies have tried to evaluate the content of polyphenols present in this fruit, concluding in all cases that chestnuts contain a high quantity of phenolic acids and in particular the aforementioned gallic and ellagic acids, flavonoids (quercetin, rutin and apigenin) and of tannins.
✓ Chestnuts for the well-being of the intestine
Chestnuts are a very digestible fruit. Furthermore, thanks to the abundance of dietary fiber, they are useful for preserving or restoring intestinal regularity. They do not contain gluten and have a nutritional value similar to that of cereals; they can, therefore, completely cover the carbohydrate part of the meal and are very suitable in case of celiac disease. Be careful, however, to eat them well cooked; otherwise, due to the high starch content, they can be poorly digestible.
✓ Prebiotic activity
We can speak of prebiotics when we refer to all those compounds capable of being used by our bacterial flora as a substrate for growth, to feed and stay healthy. In this regard, a prebiotic effect of chestnuts has been reported thanks to the presence of components that cannot be digested by humans.
The ingestion of chestnuts is also useful for increasing the vitality of probiotic microorganisms during their passage into the stomach. The prebiotic activity of chestnuts is also useful in regulating the hive: since ancient times, in fact, it has been used as a laxative or in case of diarrhea.
✓ Reduction of cholesterol
Chestnuts, as we have seen, are a good source of fiber, substances that limit the absorption of cholesterol. In addition to fiber, the omega3 and omega6 fatty acids present in the fruit also help reduce cholesterol.
✓ Prevention of neurodegenerative diseases
This property of chestnuts seems to be due to the good presence of vitamin E, essential for the well-being of our nervous system and for the prevention of a series of age-related degenerative diseases.
✓ Antibacterial properties of chestnuts
The anti-bacterial activity of the chestnut was tested which in a 2000 study showed activity against 7 bacterial strains: from E. Coli to S. Aureus to P. Aeruginosa. This anti-microbial activity seems to be due to the presence of phenolic compounds in chestnuts and, in particular, it seems that the greatest effect is exerted by quercin and rutin.
✓ Chestnuts to recharge your batteries
Chestnuts, thanks to the richness of minerals, are a useful food in case of asthenia, in convalescence after a flu, in children and the elderly. They are very caloric and therefore constitute a good source of energy; this feature makes them suitable for the diet of sportsmen and all people who need to increase their energy intake.
✓ Benefits of chestnuts on the skin
Thanks to the antioxidant content, chestnut extract could be useful in improving hydration and skin damage caused by exposure to UV rays. Relatively few studies have evaluated this effect of chestnuts and more research will be needed in this regard.
Chestnuts: how many to eat
As we have already said, chestnuts are consumed as they are in most cases. A portion of chestnuts is equivalent to about 60 grams or, more practically, to 6 or 7 fruits and can also be eaten twice a day when in season, possibly away from other sources of carbohydrates. Given the high energy intake, the best time to eat chestnuts is a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, before studying or half an hour before physical activity. Also excellent for breakfast, to provide the body with important nutrients and better face the day.
Chestnuts: some tips for use
Chestnuts can be prepared in several ways. The most classic are roasted in a pan or on the grill (the so-called “roasted chestnuts”), baked (20/30 minutes at 200 ° C) or boiled in water (for about 40/50 minutes) and then consumed. In some cases the chestnuts are dried to be used also in the following months or used for the production of jams or spreads.
Depending on the cooking method, chestnuts change some characteristics. As we said above, for example, roasted chestnuts or baked chestnuts have more calories than boiled ones, which are more suitable if you follow a slimming diet. On the contrary, however, in case of diabetes it is preferable to avoid boiled chestnuts since heating in water causes gelatinization of the starch present in the fruits, thus making it more available, increasing blood glucose levels.
Chestnut flour today is used above all for the production of sweet dishes even if in reality it lends itself well to the preparation of first courses or even savory appetizers.
For example, the chestnut goes well with the pumpkin: excellent chestnut tagliatelle with pumpkin and porcini mushrooms or chestnut flour cakes and soft pumpkin filling.
This flour can also be used for the preparation of quick and nutritious breakfasts such as pancakes made with chestnut flour, eggs and olive oil: 50 grams of flour, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of oil, 1/2 glass of water and 10 minutes of preparation. The result? A goodness!
How to freeze chestnuts
To have chestnuts available even when their seasonal period ends, they can be stored in the freezer. If you want to freeze raw chestnuts, once purchased, they must be washed and dried thoroughly, so you can freeze them as they are. Alternatively, you can freeze them already cooked roasted or in the oven. In this case, once cooked, they must be peeled, left to cool, then put in special containers to be stored in the freezer. In this way we will always be able to have this delicious fruit available.
Chestnuts: contraindications and potential negative effects
Let’s now see the contraindications of chestnuts. As we have told you, they are a caloric and high glycemic index food. For this reason, in case of obesity, severe overweight, hyperlipidemia, high blood sugar or type 2 diabetes mellitus it is necessary to pay attention to their consumption, which is not totally discouraged but which must be moderate. In case of diabetes, then, it is advisable to eat chestnuts away from the intake of other carbohydrate sources and avoid boiling.
In general, eating too many chestnuts could cause intestinal disorders such as swelling, acidity or cramps, which will still tend to disappear within a few hours. Also be careful in case of colitis or aerophagia, which could be worsened after excessive intake of these fruits. The high tannin content means that, if taken in excess, they can be irritating to the intestinal mucosa and cause liver toxicity.
Finally, it is good to pay attention to the matte chestnuts, that is the fruits of the horse chestnut. These are very similar to chestnuts but are not edible as they contain substances that are toxic to humans. The matte chestnuts are easily found in cities (which is more difficult for chestnuts) and differ in the hedgehog: that of the horse chestnut fruits is green in color and has smaller thorns than the chestnut or brown hedgehog.