Chestnut trees are native to the forests of China, Japan, Europe and North America. Did you know that until blight wiped them out about 100 years ago, the American Chestnut dominated the hardwood forests of the east coast? Billions of trees succumbed to a deadly fungus introduced to the North American ecosystem via Asian Chestnuts, which are naturally resistant. Researchers and breeders are working to bring back the American Chestnut but the process will take decades and in the meantime, the United States imports most of its chestnuts from Europe. A cold weather favorite, chestnuts are a popular ingredient in holiday cooking. As The Christmas Song suggests, they are particularly tasty when roasted on an open fire but should you eat them? Are chestnuts Paleo?
Nutritional Value of Chestnuts*
Serving Size: 100g
- Calories: 196
- Total Fat: 1.3 g
- Saturated Fat: 0.2 g
- Monounsaturated Fat: 0.4 g
- Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.5 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
- Cholesterol: 0 g
- Carbohydrate: 44 g
- Protein: 2 g
- Sodium: 2.0 mg
- Fiber: 0 g
- Vitamin C: 40.2 mg
- Copper: 0.4 mg
*Values are for peeled, raw, European chestnuts
Health Benefits of Chestnuts
Chestnuts have a very impressive nutritional profile if you’re looking at values for unshelled chestnuts, which is what the authors of most internet posts have based their assessments on. For instance, the shells contain a lot of fiber and apparently, a lot of manganese! Once peeled, which is how we eat them and therefore how we should evaluate their value to us, the nutritional profile of chestnuts proves a bit weaker. Peeled chestnuts do not contain any fiber however they are an excellent source of vitamin C and carbohydrate and a good source of copper. They contain smaller but significant amounts of some B-vitamins including folate, as well as minerals including iron, magnesium, and potassium and very small amounts of manganese, zinc and calcium. The good news is that you’re more likely to absorb the minerals contained in chestnuts than you are from other nuts because chestnuts are much lower in phytates, which inhibit absorption of minerals from the gut. For instance, chestnuts contain 47 mg phytate per 100 gms compared to >1100 mgs phytate in the same amount of almonds.
The high carbohydrate and low fat content of chestnuts leaves them nutritionally closer to starchy vegetables than to oily nuts. As such, they are an excellent post-workout snack if you’re trying to replenish glycogen stores but may not be the best choice if your goals are weight loss or improved blood sugar metabolism.
Chestnut flour can be used as an alternative to other nut flours in baked items and as a thickener for sauces and stews.
If you are allergic to tree nuts, you may be allergic to chestnuts as well.
Seasonality of Chestnuts/Where to Buy Chestnuts
You can find loose chestnuts in their shells in the produce section of large supermarkets and natural food stores when they are in season from October thru March. They are also sold cooked and peeled in jars or packages and can be purchased this way on-line and in some stores year round. Chestnut flour is available on-line.
When buying fresh chestnuts, look for nuts that feel heavy for their size, are free of blemishes and mold and have firm shells. Chestnuts have high water content and should be refrigerated after purchase. They will remain fresh for a few weeks when stored in the refrigerator, preferably in an area of high relative humidity such as the vegetable drawer.
Are Chestnuts Paleo?
Yes, chestnuts are Paleo. Since they resemble sweet potatoes, plantains and other starches more closely than they resemble oily nuts, they should be considered a starchy carbohydrate in your Paleo diet rather than a source of fat. Tolerance to carbohydrates is very individual and how often you’re able to include chestnuts in your diet will depend on your health, your goals and your activity level.
How to Prepare Chestnuts
Chestnuts can be eaten raw, baked, boiled and of course, roasted on an open fire. Prior to cooking, score a slash or an “X” in either the dome or the flat side of the chestnut to prevent bursting. Bake in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the shells splits open. Alternatively, simmer in a pot of water for 15 to 20 minutes until the chestnut meat is tender or roast in a pan, on a grill for 20-30 minutes until the shells open. Wrapping warm chestnuts in a tea towel for a few minutes steams them a bit and makes them easier to peel.
To make chestnut flour, peel and chop cooked chestnuts and dry in a food dehydrator or in the oven on the lowest setting until nuts are very dry and hard. Grind into flour in a blender, food processor or coffee grinder. Store in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze.