Water chestnuts are one of the healthiest additions to your diet, thanks to their richness in nutrients like antioxidants. Again, they are pretty versatile, meaning there are endless possibilities on how you can prepare them. But why eat them?
Our focus in this read is the water chestnut benefits. We will break down the benefits of having water chestnuts, which magnify why you should already have them in your diet. Let us get started!
What Are Water Chestnuts?
From the name, you may think these are types of nuts, just like hazelnuts or almonds. You may also hold this belief because water chestnuts resemble a nut’s shape and color (7). However, water chestnuts are not nuts.
Instead, water chestnuts are annual aquatic tuber vegetables that are grown in marshes and ponds. They are also known as the Chinese chestnuts and are very popular in Australia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and several Pacific Islands (7).
They have a spiky husk and dark brown shell, which you must remove before eating (2). Water chestnut is one of the four species of the chestnut tree. The others include European, American, and Japanese chestnuts (2).
Water Chestnut Benefits
You may have seen water chestnuts in several cuisines and may be wondering why they are popular. They have gained popularity due to their health benefits.
Here are some of the benefits of eating water chestnuts:
Water chestnuts are rich in several nutrients, which contribute to various benefits. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whole water chestnuts are packed with several nutrients. For example, a 100 g serving of chestnuts has the following (9):
- Calories- 42
- Protein- 0.7 g
- Carbs- 9.15 g
- Fat- 0 g
More so, they are packed with fiber, potassium, iron, antioxidants, manganese, copper, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, and other essential nutrients (8).
Here is a quick run-through of water chestnut nutrition facts and benefits:
Rich In Antioxidants
Water chestnuts are rich in antioxidants that help in various roles. First, antioxidants are essential nutrients in your body as they help your immune system fight free radicals. These are harmful molecules that lead to oxidative stress when they build up and damage your cells.
Oxidative stress is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases and cancer. Water chestnuts also contain an antioxidant called ferulic acid (7). A test study of breast cancer discovered that ferulic acid killed and reduced the growth of cancer cells (7). However, more research is needed to determine if truly water chestnuts can fight cancer in humans (7).
A 2014 study was conducted to review water chestnuts’ nutritional and pharmacological properties, also known as the Chinese chestnuts or Trapa bispinosa Roxb (5). The study determined that water chestnuts have an alkaloid level of 0.775 ± 0.33% (5).
Researchers found these levels significant as they contribute to these vegetables’ anticholinergic, anesthetic, and spasmolytic properties (5).
Spasmolytic properties enable water chestnuts to relieve the spasm of smooth muscle, while the anticholinergic properties enable them to block the activities of the neurotransmitter called acetylcholine (5). On the other hand, the anesthetic properties allow water chestnuts to induce insensitivity to pain (5).
High In Vitamin C
These aquatic vegetables are also rich in vitamin C, which performs various body roles. For example, it boosts your immune system, enhances wound healing, and helps produce some neurotransmitters, L-carnitine, and collagen (6).
As an antioxidant, vitamin C helps remove unwanted substances from your body known as reactive oxidative species (6).
Packed With Flavonoids
The same study discovered that water chestnuts had flavonoids. Flavonoids are essential in your body as they help with different functions. For example, they are famous for their pharmacological actions as scavengers. They prevent the stickiness of platelets that leads to platelet aggregation (5).
In a nutshell, flavonoids regulate cellular activity and fight free radicals that lead to an oxidative state. Their role is to protect your body against toxins and stressors.
Below is another comprehensive list of the water chestnut health benefits:
Improved Blood Pressure
Water chestnuts help in improving blood pressure, thanks to different nutrients. They contain potassium that helps lower blood pressure that has been linked to stroke and heart disease (4).
They also have high fiber content that helps in balancing blood sugar levels. When you consume water chestnuts, your body absorbs them slowly, which prevents blood sugar spikes (2). Keep in mind that a spike in blood sugar is dangerous for people with diabetes.
On top of that, chestnuts have a low glycemic index of 54. Food experts have revealed that consuming foods with a lower glycemic index does not result in any significant changes in your blood sugar levels (2).
Various studies support that water chestnuts prevent lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of high blood pressure like stroke and cardiovascular disease (7).
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Inflammation is a protective response to an infection, trauma, or tissue injury (1). It is regulated by activating different immune cells, mainly the macrophages, which mediate various immune-pathological incidences during inflammation (1).
It is characterized by redness, swelling, warmth at the site, and pain because it is your body’s response to tissue damage (1). A 2015 study was conducted to determine if water chestnut extract (WCE) had any anti-inflammatory properties.
The study findings revealed that the extract had gallic acid (1). Gallic acid has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties (1). So, the study suggested that gallic acid is the primary anti-inflammatory activity in water chestnut extract (1).
Medicine Net also acknowledges that the peels of water chestnuts in antioxidants help fight inflammation, for example, fisetin, luteolin, tectorigenin, and diosmetin (8). These are also responsible for protection against several diseases (8).
Reduced Disease Risk
Firstly, eating water chestnuts has been linked to a reduced risk of several diseases. One of them is cancer. As mentioned earlier, these vegetables are rich in antioxidants that prevent cell damage from free radicals known to increase cancer risk.
Secondly, these vegetables also reduce heart disease and stroke by lowering your blood pressure.
Finally, WebMD also reveals that water chestnuts are gluten-free, meaning they are effective food options for individuals with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or a wheat allergy (2).
The 2014 study reviewing the nutritional and pharmacological properties of water chestnuts, also known as Trapa bispinosa Roxb, also discovered that they help with ulcers (5). According to the study, tests conducted on Wistar rats showed antiulcer activity, perhaps a potential of antiulcer activity in humans (5).
There are several debates about whether water chestnuts cause weight gain or weight loss. However, most studies acknowledge that they cause weight loss. As seen from the nutritional information of water chestnuts released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, water chestnut calories are very low.
A 100 g serving only has 47 calories, making an ideal weight-loss snack or food option (9). This is crucial in weight loss because the idea is to consume fewer calories than your body is burning. Similarly, WebMD reveals that this vegetable is a high-volume food (2).
A high-volume food takes up more space in your stomach, making you feel fuller for longer on significantly fewer calories. It means that you curb hunger and get fuller faster and on very few calories when you add chestnuts to your diet.
A 2020 preliminary study was conducted on mice to determine if dietary supplementation with chestnut reduced abdominal adiposity (3). Abdominal adiposity refers to excess fat in your abdomen, also known as belly fat or visceral adiposity (3).
The study discovered that adding chestnuts to your diet can help in reducing visceral fat and blood cholesterol (3). Furthermore, the researchers reveal that the results were promising, given that no toxic effects were observed even when the chestnuts ratio was doubled.
Even so, remember that weight loss is an all-rounded program. Eating chestnuts alone for weight loss will not keep the weight at bay for long. On the contrary, they may also result in weight gain if you overindulge and break your calorie deficit.
So, plan on leading a healthier lifestyle once you start your weight loss journey. Ditch the unhealthy patterns like smoking and alcohol consumption. Instead, drink more water, move more, get enough rest, and focus on good nutrition.
Another benefit of consuming water chestnuts is improved digestion. They have high fiber content that helps grow healthy bacteria in your gut, making digestion smoother (4). Additionally, fiber improves digestion by preventing constipation, which may interfere with bowel health. This is by softening stools through water absorption, making it easier to pass stool (8).
How To Add Water Chestnuts To Your Diet?
After reading this, you may be interested in adding this tuber vegetable to your diet plan. But, first, we urge you to talk to your doctor and nutritionist. If they do give you the go-ahead, then go through these creative ways on how to prepare water chestnuts (7):
- Eating Their Flesh Raw. All you have to do is peel away the outer brown skin of a whole water chestnut, which will reveal the inner white flesh. Go ahead and enjoy it.
- Adding Them To A Flour Mixture. You can also add these tuber vegetables to your flour mixture and make any baked goods of your choice. For example, you may choose to bake a pound cake.
- Using Them As A Thickening Agent. Go for water chestnuts if you are looking for a thickening agent for your gravy or soups.
- Using Them To Prepare Different Cuisines. You can also use water chestnuts to prepare dishes such as chop suey, stir-fries, or other curries. You may be required to use various forms of this vegetable depending on the cuisine you are preparing. It means that you can use them whole, ground up, sliced, or diced.
- Using Them In Salads. You can also roast your chestnuts and add them to your salad instead of croutons.
- Using Them To Make Candy. In France, this vegetable is used to make candied chestnuts, better known as marron glacé.
- Eating Them As Snacks In Roasted Form. You can also avoid the side effects of consuming raw chestnuts by roasting them. Although the benefits are similar, note that roasting changes the flavor. Water chestnuts reduce the bitter taste from tannins and increase sweetness levels when roasted (2).
Water Chestnut Side Effects
Despite the impressive list of benefits, water chestnuts are also associated with several side effects. For example, food experts reveal that eating raw water chestnuts may lead to nausea, stomach irritation, and liver damage because they have too much tannic acid (2).
Likewise, you may also experience nausea and vomiting if you consume water chestnuts in flour form in large quantities (2). So, it is recommended to roast these chestnuts and consume a considerable amount in flour form to avoid these effects.
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The Bottom Line
Water chestnuts are nutritious aquatic vegetables that have been linked to several benefits. Some of these include weight loss, improved digestion, reduced blood pressure, and disease risk. Be sure to talk to your doctor before adding these vegetables to your diet if you are interested in reaping these water chestnut benefits.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Water Chestnut Extract on Cytokine Responses via Nuclear Factor-κB-signaling Pathway (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Chestnuts: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and Uses (2020, webmd.com)
- Dietary Supplementation with Chestnut (Castanea sativa) Reduces Abdominal Adiposity in FVB/n Mice: A Preliminary Study (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Slide show: 10 great health foods (2021, mayoclinic.org)
- Trapa bispinosa Roxb.: A Review on Nutritional and Pharmacological Aspects (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Vitamin C: Why is it important? (2021, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What are the health benefits of water chestnuts? (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What Exactly Are Water Chestnuts?(2021, medicinenet.com)
- Whole Water Chestnuts (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)