Like a wacky cousin at your family reunion, chestnuts are a little different. First of all, the chestnut hardly has any fat. Most nuts, like almonds or walnuts, contain around 50 per cent fat. True, it's mostly monounsaturated — the good fat but it is still fattening. Chestnuts on the other hand, usually have less than 5 per cent fat. They also have less protein and minerals than other nuts but whatever protein they have is very high quality.
Compared to other nuts, they have more complex carbohydrates and vitamin C and about half the chestnut is made up of water which makes it go rancid rapidly. Fibre, folate and potassium are found in smaller amounts. The ancient Chinese prized chestnuts as far back as 1600 BC and chestnuts were enjoyed in Japan and Europe for centuries. Up until the early 20th century, chestnuts flourished and were popular in America too. It's easy to see why this particular nut has been so popular. Beneath its smooth, hard shell and bitter skin, the chestnut reveals delicious sweet meat with a taste similar to corn. Chestnuts also offer help for your heart and weight and may even fight cancer.
Three smart ways chestnuts keep you healthy
Keeps your weight in check: If you like to snack — and who doesn't — you might want to chomp on some chestnuts. Watching your calories and fat intake, along with exercising, are key strategies in the battle to lose weight. Because chestnuts have only a fraction of the fat and calories of other nuts, they make a great alternative to almonds, walnuts, cashew nuts and you get not only a more nutritious snack but also a more substantial one.
A cup full of chestnuts is about 300 calories and someone who just sat down and ate a cup of warm, naturally sweet chestnuts will feel better and more satisfied than someone who sat down and ate a doughnut which has more like 400-500 calories with a lot more fat. Chestnuts won't magically make you lose weight but can help as part of a healthy diet.
A healthier heart: Since obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease; chestnuts can help your heart by narrowing your waistline. But chestnuts can help your heart in other ways too. The scant fat chestnuts contain includes monounsaturated fat, the kind that lowers cholesterol, but it slashes the LDL or bad cholesterol that clogs your arteries without harming the HDL or good cholesterol. Fibre can also lower cholesterol while potassium and vitamin C help control your blood pressure.
High blood pressure means higher risk for heart problems because your heart has to work harder than it should to pump blood through your body. The whole package adds up to a healthier heart.
Contributes to cancer prevention: Chestnuts won't exactly make cancer quake in its boots but they do contain some nutrients that have been linked to reduced rates of the dreaded disease. Fibre and folate have mainly been credited with stopping colon cancer, while vitamin C may help prevent cancer at several sites of the body.
A word of caution
Chestnuts can explode if you don't split or poke holes in them.That's one good way to tell when a batch of roasting chestnuts is done. You can roast chestnuts in the oven or microwave, boil them, puree them or even eat them raw. They can be used in desserts, side dishes or main courses including many traditional Italian dishes.