Chestnuts are edible seeds procured from shrubs and trees from genus Castanea which belongs to the family of fagaceae. The species are about eight or nine in number. They belong to the same family as oak and beech trees. They grow in well-drained soil. Barring the Chinese chestnut which grows in fertile soil, all other species can grow in rocky or less fertile soil too.
It is grown in Asia, Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. China is the major producer of chestnut with about 2 million tons per year, followed by Turkey which produces only about three to four percent of what China produces. Production of the nut in other countries are still smaller in quantities.
Chestnut, is both a nut and fruit. It is a very hard nut, with crunchy texture. Chestnuts become soft on roasting or boiling. It has a mild sweetish taste and is not similar to other nuts. This nut may resemble cooked potatoes in taste and appear like raw mushroom after boiling.
It is used in culinary dishes and as animal fodder. A number of industrial uses are also derived from chestnut besides timber.
It is a high calorie food with significant amounts of carbohydrates, calcium and other nutrition. In a quantity of 100gm raw peeled chestnut, 20 calories of energy, 44gm carbohydrates, 1.6gm proteins, 11 gm sugars, 1.3gm fat, 40.2mg of vitamin C, significant amounts of folate, vitamin B6, Riboflavin (1), Niacin, Thiamine, calcium, magnesium phosphorous, potassium, Copper, iron and zinc are present.
Chestnuts provide as much carbohydrates as rice or wheat. They provide twice the quantity of starch when compared to potatoes.
Chestnut fruit can be peeled off and eaten raw. It is also processed and used in various forms. When the pellicle is not removed, it is astringent by nature.
Health benefits of Chestnut
Chestnuts provide a number of health benefits. Some such benefits are mentioned below.
Improves bone strength
Magnesium present in chestnut, increases the mineral density of the bones. Copper content in it, helps in absorption of iron in the body. Both copper and magnesium are vital minerals helpful in preventing osteoporosis (2), particularly in elderly women who are predominantly affected by weakness in bones. These minerals not only help in building bones but also provides strength to the bones. Chestnuts can be considered as a preventive medicine for age related disorder, like degeneration of bone. In addition to this, calcium and phosphorous in it, have a positive effect on the health of bones and teeth. Dental health is also effectively taken care of by chestnuts.
Improves the digestive system
Functioning of good bacteria, probiotics in the gastrointestinal tract is enhanced by consumption of chestnut. Probiotics (3) improve the functions of the digestive tract and also improves the gut health. Moreover, fiber present in the nuts enhances smooth movement of bowels and prevent constipation. The high level of water content in chestnut in combination with its rich fiber content softens the stools. The twin objects of improvement of the digestive system and appropriate bowel movement can be achieved by consuming chestnuts. Another important benefit is that the fiber has the potential in promoting satiety which controls the blood sugar level(4). This property helps to reduce the consumption of food. Peristaltic motion in the intestines is stimulated and the bowel movements are regulated, besides preventing inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (5).
Rich in Tannins
Water in which chestnuts are boiled retains a number of tannins. Tannins are helpful in preventing diarrhea and also curing the symptoms leading to the disorder. Since indigestion is also a cause for diarrhea, chestnut with its potential in improving the digestive system, helps to prevent and cure diarrhea effectively. Chestnut tree bark is also effective in the treatment of diarrhea(6). It provides similar benefit as whole chestnut with shells. The bark of the tree can be crushed and boiled with water. You need to strain the water once it is cooled down. Consume this extract to cure diarrhea quickly. In fact, the water extracted is consumed to kill worms in the stomach (worms in the stomach is one of the causes of diarrhea).
The process of metabolism in the body involves oxidation, leading to production of free radicals which are harmful, as they have the potential to break into cancer causing cells. Hence, anti-oxidants are needed by the body to eliminate free radicals. Chestnuts contain many anti-oxidants like vitamin C, gallic acid and ellagic acid (7) which are very effective in preventing the formation of cancer causing cells in the body. Anti-oxidants remove the toxins and enhances the functioning of the immune system.
Enhances the functioning of the brain
Cognitive problems of the brain are mainly due to deficiency in B vitamins. Since chestnuts provide a number of Vitamin B compounds like B6, folate, thiamine, riboflavin, it helps in promoting the functioning of the brain. In addition to B vitamin compounds, it contains potassium also. Both these combined together,r improves neurological functions of the brain and prevent various cognitive disorders. This particular benefit is more helpful for elders as they are more prone to memory loss and other cognitive disorders including Alzheimer’s.
Prevents heart ailments
Antioxidants in chestnuts decrease inflammation and provides a protective cover to the heart. Moreover, potassium is an important mineral present in chestnut which helps balancing the blood pressure and prevent the risk of strokes. Potassium in chestnut reduces the blood pressure which is required to maintain cardiovascular health (8). Moreover, presence of significant amount of fiber in it lowers the cholesterol level which is very important to prevent heart diseases and heart attacks. Essential fatty acids like linoleic acid and palmitic acids, have the potential to lower the overall cholesterol ratio in the blood. This improves the elasticity of the blood which prevents blocking of arteries and consequent heart disorders. You can also clear the plaques formed in the arteries due to LDL cholesterol by consuming chestnuts.
Prevents and treats diabetes
Chestnuts are low in calories and fat. It contains high amounts of minerals and vitamins, which makes it an ideal food for diabetics. It restricts food intake besides improving satiety. The good amount of dietary fiber present in the nuts, improve the digestive system’s performance. In addition to balancing the blood sugar level, It also prevents sudden spike in the sugar level since it is a food with a low glycemic index.
Ideal for pregnant woman
Pregnant women derive immense benefit by the consumption of chestnuts as it provides the necessary energy, calcium, minerals, vitamins and electrolytes. All these are required for the overall health of a pregnant woman besides nourishing the child. Nausea, generally experienced during the first trimester in a pregnant woman, is effectively prevented or cured by including chestnuts as diet.
Prevents gallbladder stones
The electrolyte Potassium present in chestnut has the potential to prevent higher spillover of calcium into the blood by enabling better deposition of calcium in the bones. It also helps to prevent formation of calcium oxalate, as only a limited quantity of calcium is let into the blood. Due to this phenomenon, chestnut prevents formation of gall bladder stones.
Chestnut is a gluten free diet and hence it is an alternate food for people suffering due to gluten sensitivity, celiac disease or wheat allergy.
Cures respiratory disorders
Expectorant properties in chestnut make it a useful diet in curing respiratory disorders like cough, cold, bronchitis and sore throat. The feeling of dryness in the throat, is cured by consumption of chestnut in the place of any other expectorant. Even as it enhances the performance of the immune system, chestnuts prevent chronic illness. This is possible because it has both expectorant and anti-oxidant properties.
Aids weight loss
Chestnuts are low in fat but high in energy and hence can be conveniently included in any diet adopted for weight loss. In addition to providing the required energy to the body, fiber content in the nut improve satiety preventing excessive intake or frequent food cravings.
Prevents and treats anemia
Anemic conditions can be cured and prevented by including chestnuts in regular diet. Iron and copper present in the nuts not only help in production of blood cells but also in enhances the hemoglobin level in the blood essential to combat anemia. The rich iron content which is a carrier of oxygen prevents fatigue, swelling of the tongue, general weakness and headache.
Tannins present in the shells of the nut are useful in treating skin disorders, swellings caused by tearing of the tissues, pains and wounds and even hemorrhoids. This is possible due to the anti-inflammatory and astringent properties of chestnuts.
As a word of caution, it is advisable to consume chestnuts either roasted or boiled. Even after roasting or boiling removing the outer shell help remove the tannins as they are not needed in a regular diet form. Tannins present are used in other ways than internal consumption. Excessive consumption of the nuts can cause bloating or flatulence. Hence only a measured quantity must be consumed at a time. High level of Vitamin B6 present in the nuts have the potential to harm the nerves if consumed in excess.