Pecan nuts are the product of the hickory tree and native to Central and Southern North America. They were utilized as a food source by Native Americans for centuries before the arrival of European colonists. They were first planted in the late 1600s to early 1700 hundreds in northern Mexico and the first U.S. plantings were on Long Island, New York. But, perhaps due to glaciers, pecans died out in Europe about two million years ago.
Pecan nuts have a distinctive rich, buttery flavor which often appears in Southern desserts such as praline and pecan pie. But, they are also used in a variety of savory foods. The trees can live and produce nuts for hundreds of years, if they are in a favorably temperate climate and well cared for. Many old pecan orchards have been continuously producing nuts through several generations of cultivation. Pecan trees mostly thrive in the south central parts of North America, and they are also common in the states of Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Pecans have a heavy caloric count, around 196 calories per ounce. But, they also provide a bunch of healthy unsaturated fatty acids, protein and stomach-filling fiber. They contain vitamins and minerals that nourish several tissues, in addition to supporting proper brain function and protecting your brain from chronic disease.
Studies on Pecan
Researchers at Loma Linda University conducted a diet study to determine the effects of using pecans to alter the serum lipid profiles of individuals. The results showed that a diet enriched with pecans lowers both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. Read the study here
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.
Pecans delay the decline in motor neuron function that often occurs with aging. In a study conducted at the Center for Cellular Neurobiology and Neuro-degeneration Research at the University of Massachusetts, motor neuron function significantly increased in mice that were fed a diet with 0.05 percent pecans (Suchy, 2010).
.Contributes to postprandial antioxidant defenses
Pecan contains constituents like tocopherol and flavan-3-ol monomers that help in in inhibiting oxidation of the lipids that exist in the blood which in turn offers protection against heart diseases. Research was conducted to study the effect of pecan on postprandial antioxidant capacity and catechins and decrease LDL oxidation in humans and the findings suggest that bioactive composition may contribute to postprandial antioxidant defenses.
Based on the results of these studies, adding pecans to a balanced diet may not only improve heart health, but also slow the effects of aging.
Nutritional Benefits of Pecans
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 RDA for fiber. Pecans are also a natural, high-quality source of protein that contain very few carbohydrates and no cholesterol. They’re also naturally sodium-free, making them an excellent choice for those on a salt or sodium-restricted diet.
1. Improves Brain Function
Pecans contain copper, an essential mineral important for brain function. You need copper to make norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that your brain cells use to communicate. It also activates enzymes responsible for metabolizing neurotransmitters and regulating their levels in your brain tissue. Copper activates enzymes needed to make phospholipids, which make up the fatty myelin sheath that surrounds and protects your brain cells.
An ounce of pecans contains 340 micrograms of copper, i.e. 38 percent of the 900 micrograms you need daily, according to guidelines set by the Institute of Medicine.
2. High Zinc Content
The zinc content of pecans helps support healthy brain function. Zinc activates antioxidant enzymes that protect you from free radicals, which would otherwise damage your brain cells. Free-radical damage plays a role in neuro-degenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, so zinc’s antioxidant function might help combat these diseases.
An ounce of pecans provides 1.3 milligrams of zinc, i.e. 23 percent of the 8 milligrams recommended daily for women and 12 percent of the 11 milligrams recommended daily for men, according to IOM guidelines.
3. Good Source of Unsaturated Fat
Out of the 21 grams of fat contained in an ounce of pecans, only 2 grams are saturated. The rest of the fat content is a combination of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are great for maintaining your cardiovascular health.
4. High Source of Manganese
Manganese activates enzymes needed to regulate the levels of glutamate, a potential neurotoxin, in your brain. While moderate levels of glutamate aid in brain cell communication, too much glutamate over-excites and damages your brain cells. Manganese helps ensure that your glutamate levels don’t get too high. Consuming enough manganese also protects against brain disorders, while low manganese levels increase the risk of seizure.
Consuming an ounce of pecans provides you with 1.3 milligrams of manganese, i.e. 72 percent of the 1.8 milligrams recommended daily for women and 57 percent of the 2.3 milligrams recommended daily for men.
5. High Fiber Content
3 ½ ounces of pecans contains 10 grams of dietary fiber, making it more than 10 percent of the recommended daily value for fiber, invaluable to prevent constipation and ultimately hemorrhoids or anal fissures.
6. High in Phyto-Chemical Substances
Pecans are an excellent source of many phyto-chemical substances that may contribute to their overall antioxidant activity, including polyphenolic antioxidant ellagic acid, vitamin E, beta-carotenes, lutein and zeaxanthin. Research studies have suggested that these compounds help our bodies to remove toxic oxygen free radicals as a further form of protection from disease.
7. High in Plant Sterols
Research conducted by Dr. Ronald Eitenmiller at the University of Georgia has confirmed the presence of plant sterol in pecans which are known for their cholesterol-lowering ability.
Pecans are naturally high in plant sterols which are known to lower LDL cholesterol. Plant sterols have the ability to block your body from absorbing cholesterol and prevents heart disease.
8. Boosts Immunity
Recent studies have found out that pecans have the ability to boost your immune system and are good at fighting cancer and heart disease.
9. High in Anti-oxidants and Vitamin E
Pecans are antioxidant-rich which helps prevent plaque formation that causes hardening of the arteries. They’re rich in oleic acid, the healthy fat found in olives and avocado. They actually contain the highest amount of antioxidants of any tree nut. Antioxidants are substances that protect the cells of the body from free radical damage, which may help to prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer. One of the antioxidants contained in pecans is Vitamin E. This important nutrient helps prevent the oxidation of lipids in the body, which can aid in prevention of clogged arteries and heart disease.
In addition, landmark research published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (June 2004) found that pecans rank highest among all nuts and are among the top category of foods to contain the highest antioxidant capacity, meaning pecans may decrease the risk of cancer, coronary heart disease, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
10. Fights Fatigue
Ass a good source of vitamin B3 pecans are the perfect option if you’re fighting fatigue because this vitamin helps us access the energy in our food.
11. Has Anti-Toxicity Properties
Cyclophosphamide compound is associated with life threatening effects such as cancer. Research study suggests that pecan shell with its antioxidant effects may protect the vital organs such as heart kidney, bladder of the body from Cyclophosphamide induced toxicity. Read the study here.
12. Helps with Weight Loss
Research indicates even a high calorie nut such as pecan can help with losing weight and keeping it off. It’s thought that nut consumption enhances satiety and increases metabolism. However, if you are on a weight loss diet, it’s best not to over-indulge on pecans. One ounce of pecans (about 20 halves) contains approximately 199 calories and 21 grams of fat. So if you are trying to lose some extra pounds, you should not eat more than 10 pecan halves in one sitting. The best way to satisfy your cravings without feeling guilty is by counting out 5 to 8 pieces of pecan halves.
13. Lowers Cholesterol
Pecans 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.
14. Contains Important B-complex Vitamins
Pecans are packed with many important B-complex group of vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6 and folates. These vitamins function as co-factors for enzymes during cellular substrate metabolism.
15. High in Phytosterols
Phytosterols are the best cholesterol reducing nutrient available in nature. They inhibit your synthesized cholesterol and your dietary cholesterol from entering your bloodstream. Higher intake of phytosterols can significantly reduce your plaque forming low density lipoproteins (LDL) as well as your total blood cholesterol. Studies have also proved that phytosterols can increase your serum high density lipoproteins (HDL), which are the good cholesterol that protect you against coronary heart diseases.
16. Heart-Healthy Pecans
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.
17. Rich Source of Proteins
Pecans have a rich source of energy because of their high protein content. They are packed with 9.17g of proteins for every 100g, and they also give you a total energy of 2800kJ per 100g. Besides proteins, pecans also have vitamins, antioxidants and health benefiting nutrients which are essential for the body.
18. Alternative to Meat
Pecans and other nuts count as meat servings in the Food Pyramid. That’s because pecans are high in protein and other important nutrients. Moreover, nuts contain more healthful types of fats than meat does and they are cholesterol-free, so they make excellent choices over fatty meats like steak or even chicken.
In general, ½ ounce of nuts (10 pecan halves) can take the place of 1 ounce of meat in your diet. Though the recommended number of servings you should get from the meat (and beans) group varies depending upon your age, whether you’re male or female and how active you are, the average person should aim for 5 ½ servings from this group each day.
Because of research showing that the saturated fat found in meat can increase the risk for heart disease, the Pyramid recommends that you frequently choose nuts and beans over meat. That doesn’t mean you can’t have pecans as snacks, but if you’re eating according to the Pyramid, just keep in mind that pecans and other nuts take the place of meat in your diet plan.
19. Prevents Heart Disease
New research, published in the August 2006 issue of Nutrition Research, shows that adding just a handful of pecans to your diet each day may help inhibit unwanted oxidation of blood lipids, thus helping prevent coronary heart disease. The researchers suggest that this positive effect was in part due to the pecans’ significant content of vitamin E – a natural antioxidant. Pecans contain different forms of vitamin E, which protects blood lipids from oxidation. Oxidation of lipids in the body – a process akin to rusting – is detrimental to health. When the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol becomes oxidized, it is more likely to build up and result in clogged arteries.
20. Reduces Blood Pressure
Pecans act as nature’s way of lowering blood pressure with absolutely no side effects. Just eating 4 to 5 servings of pecans in one week can significantly reduce your blood pressure.
21. Prevents Breast Cancer
Pecans have a high monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid called oleic acid. It has been shown to dissolve fatty deposits in your blood vessels, effectively preventing arterial blockage and reducing your risks for strokes and heart attacks. Research has shown that oleic acid has the ability to suppress gene activity in cells which is believed to offset breast cancer. Interestingly, a 1-ounce serving of pecan has 25% more oleic acid than the amount you would get from a tablespoon serving of olive oil. Some evidence also shows that oleic acid can help lower your blood pressure.
22. Excellent for Neural System
Pecans are also very rich in minerals such as potassium and zinc which are excellent for your neural system.
23. Rich in Linoleic Acid
Pecans are extremely rich in this omega-6 linoleic fatty acid, which have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that keep your skin, muscles and your blood vessels well-conditioned so that they are more resilient to stress. Increased intake of linoleic acid can help prevent arterial thrombosis.
24. Rich in Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA)
ALA is the vegetarian omega-3 fatty acid that occurs in pecans. It has the ability to lower cholesterol and can help control your blood pressure. Studies have also shown that ALA is a strong anti-cancerous agent, and it is especially effective against prostate cancer.
Pecans have always been included in a rich traditional dessert or pie during thanksgiving. If its rich, buttery taste wasn’t enough to convince you to take a bite it, its nutritional profile listed above should definitely re-think you to add some pecans during your special thanksgiving this year.