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The Health Benefits of Water Chestnuts and Quick Recipes


Heard about water chestnuts?

This mystery food has people scratching their heads, and for a good reason. Its name is quite misleading, as it’s not a nut and isn’t related to chestnuts.

Today, we walk you through everything you need to know about water chestnuts, where they grow, their health benefits, and how to use and eat them.

What Exactly Is the Chinese Water Chestnut?

The water chestnut, or Eleocharis dulcis, is an aquatic tuber popular in Chinese cuisine.

It got its name from its chestnut resemblance with its round shape and brown coloring. Water chestnuts only grow in freshwater marshes, where they require a frost-free environment.

What Nutrients Do Water Chestnuts Contain?

Water chestnuts provide several health benefits due to their high amount of nutrients. Most of its content has been linked to a lower risk of stroke and high blood pressure [1]. A water chestnut includes the following:

  • 74% water
  • 1% protein
  • 24% carbohydrates
  • A minimal amount of fat

If we look at it in a reference amount of 100-gram, a raw water chestnut will provide you with:

  • 97 kcal of food energy
  • 25% of your daily value of vitamin B6
  • Roughly 10 to 17% of your daily value of other vitamin B, potassium, and manganese—a trace mineral
  • 16% copper
  • 12% riboflavin
  • 3 grams of fiber
  • 0.1 grams of fat

Uses

Water chestnuts are a popular component in Chinese recipes, especially stir-fries, where they add a crunch to the other vegetables. You may also find them in appetizers paired with bacon or in dips for a little crunch. You can get both fresh and canned water chestnuts, but the flavor is best when fresh.

If you’re on a low-calorie diet or looking to boost your weight loss, adding some sliced water chestnuts to a side dish is a welcomed idea. Preparation depends on whether they’re fresh or canned, we’ll elaborate on that further down.

Besides being a topper on dishes, we also make flour and oil from water chestnuts.

Humans aren’t the only ones benefitting from this plant. In Australia’s Northern Territory, the magpie geese eat the water chestnut bulbs during the dry season. This allows them to bulk up on fat for the wet season, preparing them for mating. During the wet season, they use the leaves of the water chestnuts to build floating nests.

What Do Water Chestnuts Taste Like?

Under their crunchy, brown exterior, water chestnuts consist of white flesh, which is the part that we eat. The taste depends on how you cook the water chestnut.

Eat water chestnuts raw, and you’ll get a slightly sweet flavor, which goes well with vegetables. When boiled, the tuber becomes firmer and slightly crunchier but takes on a nutty taste that’s easy to pair with seasonings and sauces.

Water Chestnuts Benefits

The health benefits of water chestnuts are broad. They’re excellent additions to a wholesome nutrition plan to lose weight, lower blood pressure, reduce the chance of stroke, among others.

Low-Calorie

Despite the number of nutrients water chestnuts provide, it was found that they’re low in calories. Half a cup of water chestnuts only amounts to 60 calories. Yet, it’s a high-filling food, so it’s an easy substitute for other items rich in calories without jeopardizing your nutrition. Low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods like these are a critical part of how to lose weight.

Highly Nutritious

As we learned earlier, water chestnuts contain various nutrients, such as potassium, fiber, protein, and antioxidants. All of which are linked to multiple health benefits.

They’re a great source of fiber and can provide up to 12% of women’s daily recommendations and provide 8%for men [2].

Increasing your fiber-rich food intake has several benefits, including reduced blood cholesterol levels, better bowel movements, optimized gut health, and regulated blood sugar levels [3].

Besides fiber, another essential nutrient that water chestnuts provide is copper. Copper assists your body with forming red blood cells as well as maintaining healthy bones, nerves, blood vessels, and immune function. It also assists in iron absorption [4].

Water chestnuts also offer a bit of a lesser known nutrient: manganese. However, manganese is a crucial substance, necessary for the production of antioxidants and enzymes that fight radical damage. These also aid in lipid and carbohydrate metabolism.

Manganese is also beneficial for your health overall, such as promoting a healthy nervous system and brain function [5].

Rich in Antioxidants

Water chestnuts provide many antioxidants, molecules that are crucial for protecting the body against harmful free radicals. This “nut” is rich in antioxidants such as ferulic acid, catechin gallate, epicatechin gallate, and gallocatechin gallate.

Most of the antioxidants sit in the plant’s peel, but the white flesh also contains plenty. Interestingly, the antioxidants, in particular ferulic acid, also help it remain fresh even after cooking.

Reduce Disease Risk

Because of its high number of antioxidants, eating water chestnuts could reduce certain disease risks. If people allow free radicals to accumulate in the body, they may prevent the body’s natural defenses from working correctly, leading to oxidative stress [6].

Oxidative stress is linked to a greater chance of acquiring chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many cancers. Fortunately, because of its antioxidant content, the water chestnut could help prevent this. Some studies showed it could neutralize free radicals involved in chronic disease progression [7].

Lowers Risk of Heart Disease and High Blood Pressure

Risk factors for heart disease are often elevated by high blood cholesterol, high blood triglycerides, risk of stroke, and high blood pressure.

However, because water chestnuts have a high potassium content, they can help lower blood pressure, reducing heart disease risk. Potassium is an essential mineral as it helps regulate muscle contractions, nerve signals, and fluid balance.

Studies show that a high-potassium diet can also reduce high blood pressure and water retention. Nutrition high in potassium may also reduce the risk of stroke while preventing kidney stones and osteoporosis [8].

Helps Fight Cancer Growth

Some studies have concluded that ferulic acid can help reduce the risk of many cancers. In one test-tube study for treating breast cancer, experts found that ferulic acid helped contain and suppress cancer cells’ growth, even promoting their death [9].

Additional test-tube studies looked at other related types of cancers, such as skin, thyroid, bone, and lung cancer cells, all with promising results.

Cancer cells require free radicals to help them grow and spread. Ferulic acid can fight cancer cells by limiting the number of free radicals present in the body, neutralizing the radicals, minimizing cancer cell growth [10].

However, it’s fair to note that we base this evidence on test-tube studies, and more human-based research is necessary before establishing any conclusion.

Encourage Weight Loss

Water chestnuts are a high-volume food, meaning it contains either a high content of water or air, in this case, water.

Although it’s a low-calorie food, water chestnuts work great at curbing hunger, which may make it easier to stick to a strict diet. Feeling hungry is usually a diet killer, so swapping the less filling foods with foods like water chestnuts can help you significantly.

Water chestnuts consist of 74% water and 24% carbohydrates, so you can easily swab your current carb source for these without compromising nutrition or your health. Not only will it allow you to control your hunger, but you’ll be consuming fewer calories.

The best appetite suppressants are effective in helping weight loss because, like water chestnuts, they enhance satiety without upping your calories.

How to Eat Water Chestnuts

Water chestnuts are versatile; you can eat them raw, stir-fried, boiled, pickled, grilled, and even candied. Many prepare them by peeling or dicing, grating or slicing into the dish.

Raw Water Chestnuts

Many prefer eating them raw, like sliced over a stir-fry or salad. When eaten raw, water chestnuts will have their natural, sweet, crunchy flavor. Before consuming, though, make sure you peel and wash them thoroughly.

Canned Water Chestnuts

If you’re cooking with canned water chestnuts, rinse them thoroughly with warm water. Otherwise, they can taste sort of “tinny,” which isn’t very pleasant, especially when eaten raw. Canned water chestnuts also have a longer shelf life, so they’re a better option if you’re not using them right away.

In Dishes

People add fresh or canned water chestnuts to almost any dish; it has been used in Asian dishes since ancient times. Recipes could include omelets, stir-fries, dips, chop suey, salads, you can stir them in curries, among many others. Here are 7 weight loss programs whose diets go well with water chestnuts.

How to Cook Water Chestnuts

If you’re cooking with fresh water chestnuts, you need to begin by cutting off the plant’s top and bottom. After this, use a peeler to remove the skin and rinse the water chestnut with cool water.

If you peel them ahead of time, use a bowl with cold water and place them in the fridge. Change the water daily to keep them fresh.

With canned water chestnuts, rinse under warm water, as mentioned above.

How to cook water chestnuts depends on the specific recipe. Although, many ask that you wait with adding them until the end of the cooking time. It was found that adding them too early will alter their texture, whereas waiting will preserve their crisp character and nutty flavor even after being cooked through.

As a Flour Alternative

Water chestnuts are also used as a flour alternative, offering a healthier choice than regular flour. Many people peel, boil, dry, and then ground the flesh into flour to make water chestnut flour.

Its flour form has a bright, white color and is starchier by texture than regular flour. In Asian cuisine, the flour is called Singhara atta, and it’s a product often used as a thickening agent.

Some also use it to make a batter for deep-frying, and there are even recipes for cakes and sweets. It’s easy to store in a covered container, placed in a cool, dry place.

FAQ

Below we answer a few common questions about water chestnuts:
Where Can I Buy Water Chestnuts?

Water chestnuts are available in various stores, depending on whether you’re searching for fresh or canned.

You may buy fresh water chestnuts year-round in Asian markets. They come either in bins or packages. However, unless they’re grown locally, fresh options are usually not available in a regular grocery store.

When shopping for fresh water chestnuts, go for the ones that appear firm with unwrinkled skin and little to no soft spots. Soft water chestnuts are generally mushy inside and not very pleasant to eat. We recommend that you buy a few more than needed to compensate for any spoiled ones.

Canned water chestnuts are available at most supermarkets year-round. You may get them either whole or sliced. However, it’s best to buy them whole as they still have their crunchy texture.

Where Do Water Chestnuts Grow

Water chestnuts are grass-like, growing in marshes found in Asia, Oceania, Australia, and tropical parts of Africa. It requires a relatively warm environment to develop that is frost-free for at least seven months of the year during their growth period.

There are also people growing the plant in the US. Although, it’s only possible in a few states, such as Florida, Hawaii, and California.

How to Grow Water Chestnuts

Growing water chestnuts in the US rarely yields high success rates and most of the products we see here are grown and imported, mainly from China.

Still, if you live in a state such as California, Hawaii, or Florida, you could give it a go. Although, it is a time-consuming process.

To successfully cultivate water chestnuts, you need a large area, controlled irrigation, and at least 220 frost-free days for them to reach maturity. Plant the corms, or the water chestnut, 4 to 5 inches deep in soil with 30 inches between each row.

Flood the area for a day and let the water drain. Then leave the plants to grow until they reach 12 inches in height. Then flood the area again when the weather is warm and leave the Chinese water chestnut to reach maturity, which is around fall, before harvesting.

You can plant water chestnuts in marshlands and swamplands, but make sure there are either ditches or dikes to help control the water levels. Leaving them for too long in water may spoil the corms.

What Food Group Is a Water Chestnut?

The Chinese water chestnut belongs to the non-starchy, low-calorie vegetable group.

Are Water Chestnuts a Vegetable?

Yes, water chestnuts are a vegetable. They’re an aquatic vegetable sporting stem-like green leaves growing to about 5 ft. in height. The “nut” of the plant grows underground.

The water chestnut is often confused with the water caltrop since they share the same name. But they’re very different and shouldn’t be confused.

Conclusion

The water chestnut, Eleocharis dulcis, is an aquatic plant native to Asia, tropical parts of Africa, Australia, and some Pacific Islands. It’s a popular ingredient in Chinese dishes and may be eaten raw or cooked.

Raw water chestnut has a sweet flavor with a crunchy texture, and when cooked, it becomes more nutty in taste but still crunchy.

Water chestnuts contain an array of nutrients, such as fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, antioxidants, copper, manganese, among many others. It’s thanks to its content of antioxidants and potassium that it may help fight heart disease and high blood pressure. Also, because it’s a high-filling food and low in calories, it’s fantastic for weight loss.

References

1. Adkar, Prafulla, et al. “Trapa Bispinosa Roxb.: A Review on Nutritional and Pharmacological Aspects.” Advances in Pharmacological Sciences, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3941599/#:~:text=Nutrient%20composition%20of%20water%20chestnuts,8.7%25%2C%20lipid%200.84%25.

2. USDA. “How Much (Dietary) Fiber Should I Eat?” AskUSDA, ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-much-dietary-fiber-should-I-eat#:~:text=Information&text=Dietary%20fiber%20intake%20is%20recommended,intake%20should%20be%2028%20grams.

3. “Rough Up Your Diet.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 11 Oct. 2019, newsinhealth.nih.gov/special-issues/eating/rough-up-your-diet.

4. Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). “Office of Dietary Supplements – Copper.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Copper-HealthProfessional/.

5. Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). “Office of Dietary Supplements – Manganese.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Manganese-HealthProfessional/#:~:text=Through%20the%20action%20of%20these,with%20vitamin%20K%20%5B5%5D.

6. Victor VM;Rocha M;De la Fuente M; “Immune Cells: Free Radicals and Antioxidants in Sepsis.” International Immunopharmacology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15037211/.

7. Lobo, V, et al. “Free Radicals, Antioxidants and Functional Foods: Impact on Human Health.” Pharmacognosy Reviews, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, July 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249911/.

8. MedlinePlus. “Potassium.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 4 Dec. 2020, medlineplus.gov/potassium.html#:~:text=It%20helps%20your%20nerves%20to,harmful%20effects%20on%20blood%20pressure.

9. Zhang X;Lin D;Jiang R;Li H;Wan J;Li H; “Ferulic Acid Exerts Antitumor Activity and Inhibits Metastasis in Breast Cancer Cells by Regulating Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition.” Oncology Reports, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27177074/#:~:text=In%20the%20present%20study%2C%20we,line%20MDA%2DMB%2D231.

10. Gao, Jinhua, et al. “The Anticancer Effects of Ferulic Acid Is Associated with Induction of Cell Cycle Arrest and Autophagy in Cervical Cancer Cells.” Cancer Cell International, BioMed Central, 13 July 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6045836/.

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