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Chestnuts, properties, cooking methods, recipes and warnings

October 29, 2023
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Chestnuts, properties, cooking methods, recipes and warnings

Chestnuts provide proteins, energy, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and mineral salts, protect muscles, skin and brain, help keep body weight under control and reduce abdominal fat and cholesterol

They are the gift of autumn, they inspire songs and cheer up snacks, lunches and dinners, we are talking about chestnuts, the fruits of the chestnut tree, or Castanea sativa. Chestnuts can be consumed in different ways, roasted or boiled, in soups, as cream, in bread and desserts in the form of puree or flour. Nowadays, we are used to seeing chestnuts as a delicacy, but these tasty fruits are much more. Once upon a time, chestnuts were pure sustenance and were the basis of many peasant recipes thanks to their high energy and protein intake. So let's delve deeper into the properties of chestnuts, based on the most recent scientific research.

Chestnuts, nutrients and properties

Chestnuts are a fruit with low fat and low sodium content, they do not contain gluten and are rich in minerals, especially magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and vitamins, namely group B vitamins, such as folates, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine and pantothenic acid, vitamin C and A, useful for brain function and skin health. Chestnuts also provide fiber, proteins and starches, of which more than half are resistant starches with an anti-inflammatory and prebiotic action, able to support the gut microbiota [1][2]. Not only that, chestnuts also provide antioxidants, such as tocopherol, and unsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid, useful for protecting the heart in adults and stimulating the development of the retina and brain in children [1]. Worthy of note is the fact that chestnuts contain high levels of phytosterols, especially beta sitosterol, which help keep cholesterol under control and keep diabetes at bay. Chestnuts contain higher quantities of phytosterols than walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts [1].

Chestnuts reduce abdominal fat

A recent study evaluated the effect of chestnut intake on body weight and fat distribution. The study took place on animals but the methods and quantity of intake were designed to reproduce the consumption of chestnuts in humans. What emerged is that including chestnuts in the diet did not cause weight gain but, on the contrary, allowed us to observe a decrease in abdominal fat. It is believed that this beneficial action is due to the unsaturated fatty acids and resistant starches contained in chestnuts. The intake of chestnuts also reduced cholesterol values [1].

Chestnuts and muscles

Based on interesting scientific research, chestnut flour has been shown to counteract muscle atrophy thanks to its precious antioxidants [4].

Therefore, chestnuts and derived products, such as flour, are useful for protecting muscles and counteracting conditions such as loss of muscle mass and sarcopenia.

Chestnuts, how their properties change with different cooking methods

Roasted chestnuts are a true delicacy and are the ideal ingredient to cheer up and warm up cold autumn afternoons. This cooking method allows you to increase several nutrients in chestnuts. For example, roasted chestnuts have, compared to the raw product, a greater quantity of proteins, unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, folate and other B vitamins, while the mineral salts are preserved. With boiling, chestnuts become softer, almost buttery, antioxidants are preserved and the presence of some minerals increases, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese [2].

Not just chestnuts, other natural remedies from the chestnut

Not only the fruits, even the leaves and bark of the chestnut can be used as interesting natural remedies. The infusion of chestnut leaves, prepared by brewing a half handful of dried leaves, or a handful of fresh leaves, for ten minutes in a liter of water, is a remedy for treating coughs and diarrhea [2]. Chestnut bark decoction is an astringent and can be applied to wounds, bruises and sores to promote rapid healing. Boil a liter of water for a few minutes together with two handfuls of chestnut bark, then remove from the heat and leave to rest for 5 minutes, filter and, once cooled, use for compresses (Messegue, my Herbarium).

Chestnuts, recipes

In addition to enjoying chestnuts on their own, as a snack, you can also use these delicious fruits as an ingredient in various preparations. You can add chestnuts to soups, instead of pasta and rice, as you find in the Chickpea and Chestnut Soup recipe, or even to sauces, as in the recipe Pasta with chestnuts, mushrooms and autumn vegetables. You can also use their flour to make bread, panettone or even delicious traditional desserts such as castagnaccio or Mont Blanc. All recipes mentioned can be found in the Healthy Eating section.

Chestnuts, warnings

Chestnuts, as we have seen, are beneficial but we must not forget that they contain carbohydrates, therefore, if consumed in moderation they are healthy, but do not exaggerate with the quantity and always include chestnuts in a varied and balanced diet for do not overeat with calories and increase body weight. Enjoy roasted or boiled chestnuts without additional ingredients, such as butter, wine, sausages or cheeses. Finally, a recommendation regarding roasted chestnuts. This cooking method causes the development of acrylamide, a toxic substance that is also found in baked or fried potatoes and in other baked products such as bread, biscuits or sweets, especially if very dark on the outside and decidedly lighter on the inside. The dark colour, in this case, is unlikely to be due to the presence of ingredients such as cocoa, which would give a more uniform colour. To keep the quantity of acrylamide under control, the advice is not to cook the chestnuts for a long time and, once cooked, remove them immediately from the pan as the acrylamide content is directly proportional to the cooking time [6][7].

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