Pecans contain fat, so why should they be included in a healthy diet?
Pecans do contain fat, but not all fats are created equal. Over 90% of the fat found in pecans is unsaturated, 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.
Are pecans a good source of protein?
Yes! Pecans are an excellent source of protein and can be substituted for meat, poultry or fish in a healthy diet, according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines. The dietary guidelines recommend that the average American should eat 5 ½ servings from the “Meat and Beans” group every day. Pecans are included in this group because they contain approximately the same amount of protein and nutrients as meat, poultry, fish, beans and seeds. Eating 1 ounce of pecans (or about 20 halves) equals two servings from the meat and bean group and 2 teaspoons of oil. That means you still have 3 servings of meat and 4 teaspoons of oil left each day.
What about natural antioxidants?
Pecans are loaded with natural antioxidants. In fact, researchers at the USDA Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center found that pecans contain the most antioxidant capacity of any other nut and are among the top category of foods (#13 overall) to contain the highest antioxidant capacity. Plus, new research, published in the August 2006 issue of Nutrition Research, shows that adding just a handful of pecans to your healthy diet each day may be 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 pecan’s significant content of vitamin E – a natural antioxidant. Antioxidants are substances found in foods that protect against cell damage and – studies have shown – can help fight diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and coronary heart disease.
Can I eat pecans if I’m trying to improve my cholesterol?
Absolutely! In fact, a 2001 study out of Loma Linda University found that adding just a handful of pecans to a traditional low-fat, cholesterol-lowering diet can have a dramatic impact on the diet’s effectiveness. Furthermore, the cholesterol lowering effect shown in the study is similar to what is often seen with cholesterol-lowering medications. When the Loma Linda study participants were on the pecan-enriched diet, they lowered their total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol twice as much as they did when they ate the American Heart Association (AHA) Step I diet. Just as importantly, the pecan-enriched diet lowered blood triglyceride levels and helped maintain desirable levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol compared to the Step I diet, which often unfavorably raises triglycerides and usually lowers HDL levels.
I usually think of pecans as “holiday” food. Are they available year round?
Yes they are. Although most people associate pecans with the holidays, it’s OK to eat these delicious tree nuts anytime of the year. Pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals, and they’re cholesterol-free. To work pecans into your diet year-round, try some of these suggestions as healthy snacks:
- Instead of chips, which are loaded with sodium, bring about 20 pecan halves to work to snack on throughout the day. Pecans are naturally sodium-free,
- Substitute pecans for a candy bar when you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up. Research has shown people who eat pecans feel fuller longer. Pecans provide that long-lasting energy because they contain heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats. Plus, a handful of pecan halves contain the same amount of fiber as a medium-sized apple.
- Sprinkle pecans on top of your yogurt and you’ll get more zinc and vitamin E – important nutrients for proper growth and strong immunity.