The Health Benefits of Pili Nuts Will Make Them Your Favorite Crunchy Snack

Pili nuts are nutrition powerhouses. Here's the 4-1-1 on all the health benefits they have to offer.

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Unless you're allergic to nuts, you probably have a go-to for each and every occasion. You might swirl roasted pecans into your creamy oatmeal, fold walnuts in your rich brownie batter, and pop cashews in your mouth for a filling afternoon snack.

But there's likely one nut you're not stocking in your pantry and, as a result, you're missing out on a buttery, nutrient-packed addition to your plate: pili nuts. Here, pros break down what makes pili nuts so special and how to incorporate them into your diet.

What Are Pili Nuts?

Resembling a miniature avocado, the pili nut (pronounce "peel-y") is a type of tropical tree nut indigenous to the Philippines, according to research published in the Philippine Journal of Science. The nuts start off a shade of dark green and then turn black, which is how you know when they're ready to be harvested. The outer edible fruit, pulp, and shell are then peeled off, leaving the nut (aka kernel), which is generally opened by hand with a machete. "Imagine an avocado and, instead of a pit inside, there's a nut that gets cracked open," says Jason Thomas, founder of Pili Hunters, a pili nut product company. These teardrop-shaped nuts are small — ranging in size from 1 to 3 inches — but they're a powerful source of nutrients and flavor. (

Pili Nut Nutrition Facts

Underneath that black exterior is a small kernel that packs a punch of good-for-you nutrients. Specifically, pili nuts are a source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, muscle-building protein, and disease-fighting antioxidants.

Before diving into the exact pili nut health benefits, here's the nutritional profile of 1 ounce of dried pili nuts (about 15 kernels), according to the United States Department of Agriculture and other research:

  • 204 calories
  • 3 grams protein
  • 23 grams fat
  • 1 grams carbohydrate
  • < 1 gram fiber

Pili Nuts Health Benefits

Lower Cholesterol

Of the 20-plus grams of fat found in a 1-ounce serving of pili nuts, nearly half is monounsaturated — a type of fat that can help lower your LDL (aka "bad") cholesterol levels and, in turn, reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke, according to the National Library of Medicine. Like all fats, monounsaturated fat also provides calories (re: energy) for the body and helps increase the absorption of vitamins, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That said, the USDA recommends capping your daily intake of saturated fat — which can increase LDL cholesterol levels — off at 10 percent of calories. That equates to roughly 22 grams for a person following a 2,000-calorie diet. Since a 1-ounce serving of pili nuts boasts nearly 9 grams of saturated fat — roughly 41 percent of the dietary guidelines — you may want to keep an eye on the other sources of fat you may be consuming throughout the day to avoid exceeding that suggested limit.

Build and Repair Muscles

Nosh on a 1-ounce serving of pili nuts and you'll score 3 grams (about 7 percent of the recommended dietary allowance) of protein. Refresher: Protein is a macronutrient that helps build and repair cells, tissue, and muscle; ensures proper growth and development; and assists in body processes such as blood clotting, fluid balance, and more. Plus, the protein in pili nuts is complete, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, which can be obtained only from food, that are needed to make new protein in the body, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. (

Keep Your Body Running Smoothly

Along with those major macronutrients, pili nuts are rich in micronutrients that keep your body functioning, including magnesium. The do-it-all mineral helps manage muscle and nerve function, regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and transport calcium and potassium between cells, which plays a role in muscle contraction, according to the National Institutes of Health. What's more, research shows the mineral plays a role in preventing diabetes, osteoporosis, bronchial asthma, preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), migraines, and cardiovascular disease. Luckily, you can score nearly 86 milligrams of magnesium — amounting to 28 percent of the RDA — in a 1-ounce serving of pili nuts. (For the full breakdown of magnesium's health benefits, check out this guide.)

Support Bone Health and Energy Production

Just like magnesium, phosphorus is a mineral that plays a handful of key roles in your body. The nutrient is found in each cell in your body, and it helps make up your bones, teeth, and genes, according to the NIH. Plus, it's needed to create the body's main energy source, ATP, and carry out important chemical processes, such as the regulation of gene transcription and the activation of enzymes. Phosphorus deficiency is rare in the U.S., but it can occur, in which case you may experience loss of appetite, anemia, muscle weakness, coordination problems, bone pain, and other symptoms, according to the NIH. Thankfully, you can get one step closer to meeting the RDA of the mineral by noshing on an ounce of pili nuts, which provides 163 milligrams of phosphorous (23 percent of the RDA).

Prevent Disease

"This nutrient-rich nut is a nice addition to a balanced diet," says Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., a registered dietitian in New York City. "Pili nuts seem to have high polyphenol and antioxidant content due to their vitamin E and mineral content coming from manganese and copper." Translation: Like other antioxidant-rich foods, pili nuts may help protect against cancer and other health conditions, according to the National Cancer Institute. ICYDK, antioxidants are chemicals that neutralize free radicals (highly reactive chemicals that can damage components of cells, including your DNA), which, in turn, prevents them from causing cell damage that may lead to disease, such as cancer.

The Downsides of Pili Nuts

Since pili nuts are a type of tree nut, you'll want to steer clear if you're allergic to tree nuts as a whole. Luckily, like almonds, pecans, and walnuts, the FDA requires foods containing pili nuts to state they contain the "major food allergen" on the packaging.

What's more, the pili nuts industry itself isn't all rainbows and sunshine. Pili nuts are generally more expensive than other nuts because of the preparation required to get them to market. "Similar to cashews, pili nuts are labor-intensive, so they're expensive," says Thomas. "If they aren't, you're either not getting the best product or someone is getting screwed in the supply chain and, generally, it's the poor people. It's a small industry that you're going to see blow up and, unfortunately, get commoditized."

Choose pili nuts from companies that are transparent about their processes (i.e. fair trade certifications on the packaging) so you can enjoy pili nuts ethically. From there, "the pili nut is going to be huge over the next decade; it's a cool-ass plant and the sky's the limit," says Thomas.

How to Eat Pili Nuts

When choosing how to munch on pili nuts — and score those health benefits — consider its taste and texture. "The texture is soft, buttery, and melt-in-your-mouth," says Thomas. "The pili nut is considered a drupe (a fleshy fruit with thin skin and a central stone containing the seed). It's kind of a mix between all nuts: a hint of pistachio, rich like macadamia nut, etc." As such, they can be served raw, roasted, or sprouted (which increases the bioavailability of the nutrients) as a snack, added to home-cooked meals and baked goods, blended into a nut butter, or coated in delectable dark chocolate for a sweet treat.

You can find pili nuts nestled in the aisles of health food stores and larger corporations such as Whole Foods. Of course, you can also buy them online. (Thanks, internet!) Try them sprouted and sprinkled in Himalayan sea salt (Buy It, $12, or fried in avocado oil (Buy It, $12, If you're looking to avoid added fat and sodium, opt for an unsalted version that solely includes pili nuts on the ingredient label, such as Pili Hunters' Natural Unsalted Wild Pili Nuts (Buy It, $5,

Pili Nut Recipe Ideas

There's nothing wrong with eating a handful of pili nuts straight up, but if you want to get creative with your munching, try these recipe ideas:

In baked treats. To give your banana bread a crunch or fudgy brownies some texture, try mixing chopped pili nuts into the batter before baking.

In breakfast meals. Rather than walnuts or pecans, toss a handful of pili nuts into your morning oatmeal, on top of your fluffy pancakes, or into your yogurt parfait.

In salads: Skip the croutons and instead give your bowl of leafy greens some crunch with pili nuts. Pair the two with fresh fruits and veggies, cheese crumbles, and a drizzle of creamy dressing, and you've got yourself a satisfying salad that won't leave your stomach rumbling.

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