The nutritional power of pecans

The nutritional power of pecans

No matter how you pronounce it – pee-KAHN, PEE-can, or pick-AHN, pecans should be a perennial favorite of our diet.  This nut has it all and unless you have a nut allergy, pecans can provide a plethora of important nutrients improving your health.

 Pecan nuts and scoop on gray concrete background

Pecans are a native to Mexico and the southcentral and southeastern regions of the United States.  Pecans grow on trees  with the trees reaching a height anywhere from 70 to 100 feet but some can grow as tall as 150 feet or higher.  The pecan capital of the U.S. is Albany, Georgia boasting more than 600,000 pecan trees.  Texas likewise also is in the business of raising pecan trees and adopted the tree as its state tree in 1919. 

How pecans benefit our health

As impressive as how tall a pecan tree can grow, what is even more notable is the impressive nutrient profile a pecan possesses.

Out of all tree nuts, pecans are the highest in antioxidants.  Antioxidants are healthy plant nutrients that help fight disease.  They protect our bodies from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals which many researchers believe is the factor in the development of atherosclerosis, cancer and other health conditions.

Pecans with their healthy oils contribute to heart health, promote healthy skin and also contribute to satiety leading to a feeling of fullness helping with weight management.  This delicious and nutritious food is a win-win in many areas of our health:

·      Heart health

A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that adding just a handful of pecans each day may help inhibit unwanted oxidation of blood lipids helping to prevent heart disease. 

In addition, pecans contain an abundance of “good” heart healthy fats.  Pecans are cholesterol-free with 90% of the fats in them that are unsaturated (about 60% monounsaturated and 30% polyunsaturated).  A serving of pecans provides about 25% more healthy oleic acid than a serving of olive oil.  Oleic oil has been found to help lower fasting blood glucose, reduce insulin levels, and enhance blood flow in individuals with diabetes. Due to pecans healthy unsaturated fat makeup, they can have a protective effect by lowering total blood cholesterol when eaten in moderation.

·      High in various vitamins and minerals

Pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals - including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins, and zinc.  Pecans are also fiber-rich with one-fourth cup providing 2.6 grams or 10% of the recommended Daily Value for fiber.  Pecans are also naturally sodium-free.

One vitamin that pecans contain that rises above the fray is vitamin E.  Pecans contain different forms of vitamin E which are known as tocopherols.  This nut is especially rich in one form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherols.  A 2011 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that after eating pecans, gamma-tocopherol levels in the body doubled and unhealthy oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood decreased by as much as 33%.  When LDLs are oxidized, this can contribute to inflammation in the arteries placing people at a greater risk of heart disease. 

Besides benefitting heart health, gamma-tocopherols may also benefit intestinal health and have a protective effect against prostate cancer

·      Weight control

Nuts are known to enhance satiety and pecans have this quality.  A review citing studies indicating nut consumption aided satiety and increased metabolic rates included pecans in this category.  When used in conjunction with a healthy diet, pecans can offer increased flavor, palatability, and texture leading to greater dietary compliance and weight loss.

A one ounce serving of pecans – approximately 20 halves – contains 196 calories and 20.4 grams of total fat.

·      Concentrated source of plant sterols

Plant sterols are substances that occur naturally in small amounts in pecans.  These substances have powerful cholesterol-lowering properties. Pecans are a concentrated source of plant sterols with 90% of these plant sterols found in the form of beta-sitosterol.  Beta-sitosterol is a food component in pecans that competes with the absorption of cholesterol in the body and thus has the ability to lower blood cholesterol levels.

·      Can improve love life

Bypass oysters and instead reach for a handful of pecans.  Pecans provide nearly 10 percent or 1.3 mg of zinc, a mineral necessary for producing testosterone, a key hormone in initiating sexual desire in both men and women. 

Adding pecans to your daily diet

Now that you are convinced you should be eating more pecans, the best way to do so is simply grab a handful a day.  A handful is a one-ounce serving of 15-20 pecan halves and are a perfect snack for children and adults.  Pecans can also be enjoyed and used in a variety of recipes to add flavor and nutrition.  Look for healthy pecan recipes at