With the holidays coming up, it’s hard not to think about our favorite holiday recipes, like pecan pie or pecan-topped sweet potato casserole. But pecans are just too good and too good for you to limit our intake to only a couple of months of the year. Pecans are a great source of taste and nutrition year round. They contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals, a great source of fiber, and they’re cholesterol-free. Once you know the facts about pecans, you’ll be reaching for them every day as a delicious heart healthy substitute for salty, greasy or high calorie snacks.
Q. Pecans contain fat, so why should they be included in a healthy diet?
A. 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.
Q. Are pecans a good source of protein?
A. 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.
Q. What about natural antioxidants?
A. 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 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.
Q. Can I eat pecans if I’m trying to improve my cholesterol?
A. 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.
Source: National Pecan Shellers Association