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Chestnut Health Facts

Chestnuts are quite different from other nuts nutritionally and in a culinary sense. They have a sweet, nutty taste but a texture similar to a firm baked potato rather than the crunchy texture of other nuts. Nutritionally chestnuts are more like a wholegrain than a nut as they are low in fat, contain protein and are a good source of low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrate and dietary fibre. While they are a source of the similar vitamins and minerals found in other nuts, their high water content means the concentration of these nutrients is less. Chestnut season is from mid March to June and they are generally sold fresh, frozen or ground as chestnut meal. A standard serve of chestnuts is equivalent to about 30g or around four chestnuts.

Nutrition and health benefits of chestnuts Like other nuts, chestnuts have a number of health benefits, making them a worthwhile addition to your diet:

A good source of low GI carbohydrate – chestnut meal has been GI tested with a low to moderate GI value of 54.1 While whole chestnuts have yet to be tested we can assume since the ground chestnut meal is low GI, whole chestnuts will also be low GI. In general the finer the particles being tested the higher the GI. Low GI chestnuts are a good choice for people with diabetes, impaired glucose

Gluten-free – while all nuts are glutenfree, chestnuts can be ground into a meal which is a great replacement in baked products for those with Coeliac disease or gluten intolerance. Coeliac disease is a condition that requires a lifelong change to diet removing all sources of gluten. Chestnut and other nut meals as ingredients help provide
variety to these diets. Since gluten free diets are more likely to have a high GI, nuts in general help lower the GI of these diets.

A source of dietary fibre – roasted chestnuts provide around 2g of fibre per 30g serve2, 3 or a similar amount as in a slice of wholegrain bread. Particularly important for those with Coeliac disease who often don’t get enough fibre in the diet.

Low in total fat and saturated fat – unlike other nuts, chestnuts contain less than 1g of total fat per 100g, making them a tasty addition to a healthy, balanced low in saturated fat diet.3

Rich source of vitamin C – chestnuts are the only “nuts” that contain vitamin C with about 8mg in a 30g serve of roasted product or 20% of the RDI for vitamin C. The amount of vitamin C decreases by a third after heating.6

Very low in sodium and contains potassium, similar to other nuts.3 A low sodium, high potassium diet has benefits for blood pressure and heart health.4

Buying and storage tips

When buying chestnuts, look for evensized nuts which feel heavy for their size, with undamaged, firm shells. Due to their high moisture content (they are almost 50% water) chestnuts can dry out easily. If storing them for more than a day or two, place in a plastic bag to help retain their moisture. They should be stored as near as possible to 0°C. With proper storage chestnuts can remain in good condition for a few weeks.

How to prepare and cook chestnuts5

If you have never had the pleasure of eating “roasted chestnuts from an open fire” it’s time you tried them.

Top tip

Before cooking, the most important step is to cut the shell to prevent the nut exploding while cooking. Some people cut a slit across the face of the nut, others cut a cross into the flat-end.

To bake: Preheat oven to 200ºC. Place chestnuts onto a baking tray and bake for 15–20 minutes or until shell split opens.

To microwave: Place chestnuts in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate. Cook, uncovered, on 850 watts/High/100% for 4–6 minutes or until flesh is tender.

To roast, grill or barbeque: Cook, turning occasionally, in a pan over medium heat for 20–30 minutes or until shell split opens

To boil (if using to puree): Place chestnuts into a pan of cold water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15–20 minutes or until flesh is tender.

Wrap the cooked chestnuts in a tea-towel for 10 minutes to provide steam which helps with the peeling process. Then remove outer shell and inner skin while still warm (they’re tricky to peel once cooled).


References

  • International Diabetes Institute Glycemic Index Testing Service Chestnut Report August 2005.
  • National Health & Medical Research Council. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Canberra, ACT: Australian Government Department of Health & Ageing 2006.
  • Nuts for Life. 2014 Nutrient Composition of Tree Nuts. Sydney: Nuts for Life; 2014.
  • Blumenthal JA et al. Effects of the DASH diet alone and in combination with exercise and weight loss on blood pressure and cardiovascular biomarkers in men and women with high blood pressure: the ENCORE study. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(2):126–35.
  • Chestnut Growers Australia website www.chestnutsaustralia.com.au.
  • USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference release 27 (2014).
  • De Vasconcelos MC, et al. Composition of European chestnut (Castanea sativa Mill.) and association with health effects: fresh and processed products. J Sci Food Agric. 2010 Aug 15;90(10):1578–89.

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