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Chestnuts Could Be A Low-Fat Alternative For Holiday Snacking

Ed Hunter (352) 392-1773 x 278

Linda Bobroff, (352) 392-1895

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GAINESVILLE — Chestnuts roasting in a . . . microwave? Just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? Yet a two-minute zap of 12 pierced chestnuts on a paper plate will cook up the hard-shell beauties just as well as the traditional “open fire” method. And better yet, a University of Florida food and nutrition specialist says chestnuts could be a tasty and low-fat treat during the holiday season.

“Chestnuts are a lot different from other nuts that we eat around the holidays such as pecans and almonds in that they are low in fat,” said Linda Bobroff, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Where a handful of cashews or other nuts might have 12 or 15 grams of fat, a handful of chestnuts — about three large chestnuts — is going to have about 1gram of fat.”

Bobroff said one challenge facing most people during the holiday season is to get to January weighing the same as they did in mid-November. The average person will pick up an additional 5 to 8 pounds from Thanksgiving through the new year, she said.

“Many people don’t want to gain weight since a lot of us weigh more than we want to,” Bobroff said. “One way of not gaining the weight is to watch the amount of fat that we eat as well as the amount of food that we eat.

“If you’re watching your fat, chestnuts are a good choice,” she said. “And it’s not a food that many of us usually make or roast or cook, so it adds something different.”

The uses for chestnuts are limited only by the cook’s imagination. You can eat them straight out of the proverbial “open fire” or in the traditional chestnut turkey stuffing. There are even recipes for sweet snacks such as candied chestnuts, the directions for which can be found at

The Farm Store Web site along with other chestnut recipes.

Bobroff said most people probably wouldn’t think of any nut as being a low-fat food.

“It surprised me the first time I learned that chestnuts are low in fat,” Bobroff said. “I had a perception that they were really high in fat and my mom’s chestnut dressing was loaded with fat because of that. It might have been loaded with fat, but not from the chestnuts.

“It’s what we cook with that often adds fat to things,” she said. “Other nuts are high in fat, but they are a good food, great sources of protein and lots of other nutrients. Chestnuts are lower in protein than the other nuts but they are low in fat, so that’s the trade-off.”

But Bobroff was careful to emphasize that everyone should not abandon all the traditional nuts in favor of the chestnut.

“Filbert nuts, almonds, cashews and pecans for pecan pie, they are all wonderful in moderation,” she said.

Chestnuts were once a fixture of American life, with vendors selling paper bags of freshly roasted nuts on street corners during the holiday season. Then in 1904 the chestnut blight, which was caused by an Asian fungus, found its way into the United States. By 1950, native American chestnut trees that once flourished in the eastern half of the country were all but wiped out.

Since 1983, the American Chestnut Foundation, a private nonprofit group based in Bennington, Vt., has been sponsoring research to create a blight-resistant American chestnut through cross breeding with Chinese chestnut trees. Once a blight-resistant tree is developed, the group hopes to restore the American chestnut to its native ranges, which included the Appalachian forests from Maine to Georgia and Michigan to Louisiana.

So since the American chestnut is not as prevalent as it once was, why are chestnuts so firmly associated with the holiday season? Bobroff has a theory.

“I think about chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” Bobroff said. “I think the song probably did a lot for chestnuts’ popularity.”