Research conducted over the past decade has confirmed that pecans can be a healthy addition to your diet. Below are summaries of landmark research studies confirming the health benefits associated with eating a diet rich in pecans.
A one-ounce serving of pecans (approximately 20 halves) contains 196 calories, 20.4 grams total fat (1.8 saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 0 grams sodium, 2.7 grams dietary fiber and over 19 vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin E, calcium, potassium and zinc.
The Health Nut
Pecans May Protect the Mind
Eating about a handful of pecans each day may play a role in protecting the nervous system, according to a new animal study published in Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research. The study, conducted at the Center for Cellular Neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, suggests adding pecans to your diet may delay the progression of age-related motor neuron degeneration. This may include diseases like amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Natural Antioxidants in Pecans
Naturally-occurring antioxidants in pecans may help contribute to heart health and disease prevention, according to a study at Loma Linda University. The results were published in the January 2011 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.
Pecans contain different forms of the antioxidant vitamin E known as tocopherols, plus numerous phenolic substances, many of them with antioxidant abilities. The nuts are especially rich in one form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherols. The findings illustrate 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 percent. Oxidized LDLs may further contribute to inflammation in the arteries and place people at greater risk of cardiovascular problems.
Pecans also play a role in lowering cholesterol. Clinical research published in the Journal of Nutrition (September 2001) compared the Step I diet (28 percent fat), recommended by the American Heart Association for individuals with high cholesterol levels, to a pecan-enriched (40 percent fat) diet. The results showed the pecan-enriched diet lowered total cholesterol by 11.3 percent and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by 16.5 percent, twice that of the Step I diet, without any associated weight gain.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has acknowledged this and related research and approved the following qualified health claim:
“Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pecans, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Weight Control and Pecans
A review of pecan and other nut research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (September 2003), suggests that nuts like pecans may aid in weight loss and maintenance. The review cited studies indicating that nut consumption may increase metabolic rates and enhance satiety. When used in conjunction with a healthy low-fat diet, nuts also offer increased flavor, palatability and texture that can lead to greater dietary compliance, according to the review.
Nearly 60 percent of the fats in pecans are monounsaturated and another 30 percent are polyunsaturated, leaving very little saturated fat in pecans. The unsaturated fat in pecans is heart-healthy fat meeting the new Dietary Guidelines that recommend Americans keep intake between 20 and 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from heart-healthy sources like fish, nuts and vegetable oils. In addition, pecans contain no trans fat.
Pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc. One ounce of pecans provides 10 percent of the recommended Daily Value for fiber. Pecans are also a natural, high-quality source of protein that contain very few carbohydrates and no cholesterol. Pecans are also naturally sodium-free, making them an excellent choice for those on a salt- or sodium-restricted diet.
Information from the National Pecan Shellers Association