5 Reasons to Eat Pecans

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Pecans are the only tree nut native to North America, and they're also No. 1 in antioxidant concentration. When you're on the lookout for a healthy snack, pecans check every box

Pecans are the only major tree nut native to North America, and they have a rich history in the U.S. Wild pecans were an important part of Native Americans' diets in the U.S. and Mexico, and the word pecan comes from the Algonquin Native American word "pacane,"[i] which means "a nut requiring a stone to crack."[ii]

In the wild, pecan trees live to be 1,000 years old, reaching more than 100 feet tall.[iii] The first cultivated pecan trees were planted by Native Americans, who also created a fermented beverage called powcohicora, made by fermenting pecan powder.[iv]

Today, more than 80% of the global pecan supply still comes from the U.S. It takes close to 10 years before pecan trees are able to produce a full harvest, but, once they reach maturity, they can produce this nutritious food for a century or more.[v]

5 Health Benefits of Pecans

Pecans have a buttery, mildly sweet flavor that's perfect for snacking, baking and adding crunch to salads and vegetable dishes. They also offer an impressive nutritional profile, providing protein, fiber, healthy fats and more than 19 vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and E, B vitamins, folate, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.[vi]

Be sure to check out our pecan research database to get a comprehensive picture of why pecans are good for you. Here's just a sampling of the many reasons to add them to your diet.

1. Improve Cardiometabolic Risk Factors

Cardiometabolic risk factors such as high blood pressure, elevated fasting blood sugar, dyslipidemia, abdominal obesity and elevated triglycerides[vii] signify an increased risk of cardiometabolic disease. This refers to a group of conditions that often begin with insulin resistance and, without healthy lifestyle changes, progress to metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and Type 2 diabetes (T2DM).

Only 6.8% of U.S. adults have optimal cardiometabolic health, which means the remaining 93.2% do not, instead belonging to the majority whose cardiometabolic health has been "poor and worsening" since 2000.[viii]

Simply eating pecans is one way to improve your cardiometabolic health, even if you're overweight or obese. In a study of middle-aged and older adults who were overweight or obese, eating a pecan-rich diet for four weeks led to improvements in insulin, insulin resistance and beta cell function.[ix] Compared to a control diet, eating pecans also lowered participants' risk of cardiometabolic disease. According to the study:[x]

"[E]nhancing phytochemical intake with a handful of whole pecans daily can protect adults at risk for developing CVD and T2DM due to their age, overweight status, and body fat distribution."

2. Reduce Oxidation of LDL Cholesterol

Pecans contain compounds such as asγ-tocopherol and flavan-3-ol monomers, which have antioxidant properties. Consuming pecans in whole or blended form led to significant increases in antioxidant defenses, suggesting "bioactive constituent of pecans are absorbable."[xi]

Further, after consuming whole pecans, oxidized LDL decreased. Oxidized LDL is a marker of lipoprotein-associated oxidative stress and is considered to be a risk factor for heart disease.[xii] In fact, a U.S. Department of Agriculture study revealed that pecans rank No. 1 in antioxidants compared to eight other common tree nuts.[xiii] Pecans also ranked in the top 20 in antioxidant capacity out of 277 foods analyzed for the study.

3. Improve Heart Health

With a rich content of antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, pecans are a heart-healthy food. When adults consumed a pecan-rich diet for four weeks, they experienced decreases in total and LDL cholesterol, as well as triglycerides, while beneficial HDL cholesterol increased.[xiv] Further, the improvements to lipid profile were achieved without any weight gain.

"Nuts such as pecans that are rich in monounsaturated fat may therefore be recommended as part of prescribed cholesterol-lowering diet of patients or habitual diet of healthy individuals," researchers wrote in The Journal of Nutrition.[xv]

4. Protect Your Brain

In an animal study of mice with a condition similar to amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, pecans provided neurological protection.[xvi] In those fed a pecan-rich diet, a significant delay was observed in declining motor function compared to mice fed a diet without pecans. This suggests eating pecans could help protect against age-related motor neuron degeneration.[xvii]

Nut consumption, in general, is also inversely associated with cognitive decline. In adults age 55 and over, those who ate more than 10 grams a day of nuts were 40% less likely to have poor cognitive function, even after adjusting for other lifestyle and behavioral factors.[xviii]

5. Cancer Protection

A systematic review and meta-analysis revealed that eating tree nuts is associated with a lower risk of cancer incidence and mortality.[xix] A dose-response relationship was found, such that the more nuts consumed, the lower cancer risk became.

Specifically, a five-gram per day increase in total nut intake was associated with a 25% lower risk of colon cancer, a 6% lower risk of pancreatic cancer and a 3% lower risk of cancer overall. For cancer mortality, higher intake of tree nuts led to an 18% lower risk. Extracts from pecan shells have also shown promise against breast cancer[xx] and colon cancer cell lines.[xxi]

Whether you're looking for quick, portable snack to fill you up on-the-go or a functional addition to your morning breakfast smoothie, pecans make a health-boosting choice. Looking for more reasons to support your nut habit? Get the lowdown on these nutty natural superfoods at GreenMedInfo.com:


[i] Natchitochespecans.com https://www.natchitochespecans.com/history-of-pecans/

[ii] Ilovepecans.org, History https://ilovepecans.org/history/

[iii] Natchitochespecans.com https://www.natchitochespecans.com/history-of-pecans/

[iv] American Pecan https://americanpecan.com/heritage/an-american-heritage/

[v] American Pecan https://americanpecan.com/heritage/an-american-heritage/

[vi] Ilovepecans.org, Nutrition in a Nutshell https://ilovepecans.org/nutrition-in-a-nutshell/

[vii] American College of Cardiology, Cardiometabolic Initiatives https://www.acc.org/tools-and-practice-support/quality-programs/cardiometabolic-health-alliance

[viii] J Am Coll Cardiol. 2022 Jul 12;80(2):138-151. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2022.04.046. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35798448/

[ix] Nutrients. 2018 Mar; 10(3): 339. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872757/

[x] Nutrients. 2018 Mar; 10(3): 339. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872757/

[xi] J Nutr. 2011 Jan;141(1):56-62. Epub 2010 Nov 24. PMID: 21106921 www.greenmedinfo.com/article/pecans-acutely-increase-plasma-postprandial-antioxidant-capacity-and-catechins

[xii] Future Lipidol. 2008 Dec; 3(6): 637-649. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2631666/

[xiii] Ilovepecans.org, USDA: Pecans Still #1 for Antioxidants Among All Nuts https://ilovepecans.org/usda-pecans-still-1-for-antioxidants-among-all-nuts/

[xiv] The Journal of Nutrition Volume 131, Issue 9, September 2001, Pages 2275-2279 https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/131/9/2275/4687699

[xv] The Journal of Nutrition Volume 131, Issue 9, September 2001, Pages 2275-2279 https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/131/9/2275/4687699

[xvi] Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research 2010, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 45-54 https://www.proquest.com/openview/8d88b4d00c158b8ad0fa241c98f18704/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=136101

[xvii] EurekAlert June 9, 2010 https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/834178

[xviii] J Nutr Health Aging. 2019;23(2):211-216. doi: 10.1007/s12603-018-1122-5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30697633/

[xix] Adv Nutr. 2021 May; 12(3): 793-808. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8166551/

[xx] J Ethnopharmacol. 2017 Aug 11. Epub 2017 Aug 11. PMID: 28807853 www.greenmedinfo.com/article/aqueous-extract-pecan-nut-shell-show-activity-against-breast-cancer-cell-line-

[xxi] J Food Sci. 2021 Dec;86(12):5409-5423. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.15950. Epub 2021 Nov 3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34730241/

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.

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