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Health Benefits of Pecans

Posted Dec. 1, 2010

Nuts have been a part of the human diet for countless ages. The first documented evidence of nut consumption occurred around 7,000 BC during the Stone Age (King, 2007). More recently, nuts have received a large amount of media attention as an emphasis on heart-healthy diets has spread. Pecans are a well-known, favorite southern nut and widely available throughout Oklahoma and Texas. Pecans will be widely used in many recipes as families come together to celebrate during the holiday season. While many of these dishes may not necessarily be considered healthy, pecans by themselves provide many health benefits. In fact, you may be surprised to find out just how healthy pecans actually are.

During the 2006 Texas Master Gardener Conference in College Station, Texas, participants were asked to complete a survey that included questions about the nutritional properties of pecans. Surprisingly, 86.9 percent of the participants thought pecans would increase their level of LDL cholesterol. However, 54 percent of the respondents correctly indicated that pecans contained minerals (Lombardini, 2008). According to the National Pecan Shellers Association website, pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc. Even though pecans are a great source of these minerals, consumers often think that pecans are an unhealthy food choice due to their high percent of total fat. However, the majority of this fat is in the form of unsaturated fats, some of which may have a positive impact on health.

While the total fat composition may be high, many studies have shown that eating pecans is beneficial to health. 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 (Rajaram, 2001). It has also been proven that pecans can delay the decline in motor neuron function that often occurs with aging. In a study conducted at the Center for Cellular Neurobiology & Neurodegeneration 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).

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. As more research is conducted and more health benefits of pecan consumption are documented, pecans should remain a popular nut choice among consumers. As other nations like China and India begin eating pecans for the health benefits, the demand for pecans will increase. Increased demand will, in turn, encourage future pecan plantings and the need for additional pecan research. The Noble Foundation is committed to supplying needed information and research to those interested in pecan production.

References
Lombardini, L., T. Waliczek, and J. Zajicek. 2008. Consumer Knowledge of Nutritional Attributes of Pecans and Factors Affecting Purchasing Behavior. HortTechnology 18 (3) pp. 481-488.
King, J., J. Blumberg, L. Ingwesen, M. Jenab, and K. Tucker. 2007. Tree Nuts and Peanuts as Components of a Healthy Diet. The Journal of Nutrition: 2007 Nuts and Health Symposium.
Rajaram, S., K. Burke, B. Connell, T. Myint, and J. Sabate. 2001. A Monounsaturated Fatty Acid-Rich Pecan-Enriched Diet Favorably Alters the Serum Lipid Profile of Healthy Men and Women. American Society for Nutritional Science pp. 2275-2279.
Suchy, J., S. Lee, A. Ahmed, and T. Shea. 2010. Dietary Supplementation with Pecans Delays Motor Neuron Pathology in Transgenic Mice Expressing G93A Mutant Human Superoxide Dismutase-1. Current Topics In Nutraceutical Research 8 (1) pp. 45-54.

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