Pecans are a holiday staple often featured in sweet treats like pecan pies and cookies. However, apart from their delicious flavor, these tasty tree nuts bring so much more to the table in terms of nutrition.
Not only are they high in healthy fats, protein and fiber, but pecans are also brimming with key nutrients like manganese, copper and thiamine. Plus, they’ve been tied to a number of impressive health benefits, from improved heart health to better brain function and beyond.
So are pecans good for you? This article will take a closer look at the benefits and risks of this nutritious nut, as well as some simple ways to squeeze a few extra servings into your day.
What Is A Pecan?
Pecans are a type of tree nut that grow on lush, green trees in the Southeastern/South Central regions of the U.S. as well as Mexico. This North American nut variety, Carya illinoinensis, has been cultivated for several centuries and is, surprisingly, not technically a nut at all.
One similarity between pecans vs. walnuts and other common nut varieties is that they are botanically classified as a fruit cultivar known as a “drupe,” or “stone fruit.” Drupes contain a small seed on the inside, a shell of some kind surrounding the seed and an outer “fleshy” component.
Pecans first came on the food scene in Native American history around the year 1500, its name originating from the Algonquins. The word “pecan” actually means “a nut that requires a stone to crack.”
Colonists in North America celebrated pecan tree plantings as early as the 1600s, with the first recorded pecan planting in the U.S. documented in 1772. In the beginning of the 17th century, the French recognized the financial potential of exporting this delicious treat and began sending crops to the West Indies.
Since then, pecans have been an important and common food in American culture, finding their way into recipes from everything from salads to desserts. Texans are especially fond of it, as they named the pecan tree as their state tree in 1919. Georgia pecans are also incredibly common, as Albany, Georgia is considered the pecan capital of the U.S.
In addition to supplying plenty of heart-healthy fats, pecans also offer several vitamins and minerals that can protect against nutritional deficiencies and optimize overall health.
A one-ounce serving of pecans (about 19 halves) contains about:
- 195 calories
- 4 grams carbohydrates
- 2.5 grams protein
- 20 grams fat
- 2.7 grams fiber
- 1.3 milligrams manganese (64 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligrams copper (17 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram thiamine (12 percent DV)
- 34.2 milligrams magnesium (9 percent DV)
- 1.3 milligrams zinc (9 percent DV)
- 78.2 milligrams phosphorus (8 percent DV)
- 0.7 milligrams iron (4 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams vitamin B6 (3 percent DV)
- 116 milligrams potassium (3 percent DV)
Pecans also contain a small amount of riboflavin, calcium, niacin, pantothenic acid and selenium.
1. Supports Weight Loss
Many people wonder: are pecans fattening? While it’s true that the pecans nutrition profile is high in fat, it’s full of healthy fats that can actually be beneficial for providing long-lasting energy and promoting weight loss.
These heart-healthy fats can help slow the emptying of the stomach to help keep you feeling fuller for longer. Furthermore, most of the carbs in pecans are made up of fiber, which moves through the intestinal tract undigested and reduces hunger and appetite.
According to one review published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, some studies have found that eating nuts as part of a healthy diet could be linked to a lower body weight. Another 2018 study out of France also reported that a higher intake of nuts was tied to reduced weight gain and a decreased risk of becoming overweight or obese over a five-year period.
2. Prevents Oxidative Stress
Pecans are loaded with antioxidants, which are important compounds that help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation. Some research shows that antioxidants may play a central role in overall health and could aid in the prevention of chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Interestingly enough, one study out of Loma Linda University in California found that eating pecans increased antioxidant levels in the bloodstream within 24 hours of consumption. What’s more, other research shows that nut consumption could be tied to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer as well.
3. Enhances Heart Health
Some studies have found that pecans could help reduce several risk factors for heart disease to help keep your heart healthy and strong.
For instance, a 2018 study published in Nutrients found that pecan consumption helped reduce several markers used to measure the risk of heart disease, including cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Another study out of California had similar findings, noting that a pecan-enriched diet was effective at reducing the cholesterol and triglyceride levels of participants.
4. Reduces Inflammation
Although acute inflammation is an important immune process, sustaining high levels of inflammation long-term can worsen symptoms of autoimmune disease and contribute to conditions like heart disease and cancer.
Filling up on antioxidants is an effective strategy to help reduce inflammation and fight free radical damage. Superoxide dismutase (SOD), in particular, is an antioxidant compound that relies on the presence of manganese to operate. Therefore, eating pecans can help fulfill the manganese requirement necessary for this antioxidant to perform properly and reduce levels of inflammation.
The copper found in pecans can also help decrease inflammation, especially for pain and stiffness caused by arthritis. This is why pecans and other anti-inflammatory foods can make a great addition to an arthritis diet treatment plan.
5. May Prevent Bone Loss
In conjunction with other nutrients, manganese, copper and zinc (all found in pecans) have been used to help treat symptoms of osteoporosis, which is a condition characterized by weak, brittle bones. Early research has found these nutrients to be particularly beneficial for increasing bone mass and preventing bone loss.
6. Promotes Proper Brain Function
Many of the minerals found in pecans can promote proper brain function. Thiamine, for instance, is given to patients with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder that is common in alcoholics due to thiamine deficiency.
Copper is another nutrient necessary for good brain function, as it impacts brain pathways involving dopamine and galactose and can help prevent free radical damage to protect against neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
The brain’s synaptic processes also depend on manganese, which is abundant in pecans. A deficiency in manganese can contribute to mood problems, impaired focus, learning disabilities, mental illness and possibly epilepsy.
7. May Reduce Symptoms of PMS
Thanks to its rich content of manganese, adding pecans to your diet could reduce PMS symptoms, such as mood swings and cramps. Dietary manganese, when consumed with calcium, seems to have significant impact on these PMS symptoms and may help improve mood and reduce pain during menstruation.
8. Aids in Treatment of Diabetes
Pecans are a great source of manganese, an important mineral that acts as an antioxidant to help protect the body against free radical damage.
Some studies suggest that supplementing your diet with manganese-rich foods, including pecans, can aid in the management of diabetes. Although current research is limited, this may be because higher manganese levels are associated with improved insulin secretion and glucose tolerance.
Although nuts can definitely be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy weight loss diet, it’s important to remember that they are very energy-dense, meaning that there are a high amount of pecans calories in each serving. For this reason, it’s best to stick to a few servings per day and be sure to make adjustments to your diet to account for these extra calories if you’re trying to lose weight.
Additionally, it is possible to suffer from a pecan or tree nut allergy. The most common symptoms occur within the first hour after consuming pecans and can range anywhere from hives and swelling to vomiting and loss of consciousness.
If you suspect you or your child may have an allergy to pecans, it’s important to get tested at an allergist before trying them. Anytime you believe you may be experiencing an allergic reaction to pecans, you should immediately discontinue eating them and consult a physician.
Finally, many people wonder: Can dogs eat pecans? Although this tasty tree nut can be a great addition to the diet for humans, they’re not so great for your furry friends. This is because they contain a compound called juglone, which can be toxic to some animals, including dogs and horses. They may also cause stomach issues or an obstruction, which can have serious side effects if left untreated.
When selecting your pecans, it’s best to look for nuts that are uniform in size and feel heavy. Many people choose to purchase only deshelled pecans, reducing the amount of work involved in using them for cooking. However, if you’re looking for fresher nuts, you may be interested in buying pecans still in their shells and shelling them yourself.
The beauty of these drupes is that they don’t have to be cooked in order to eat, but they’re delicious when prepared in almost any method. Some recipes call for you to first toast pecans before adding them to your dish, which gives them a slightly richer flavor. There are many recipes and instructions for how to toast pecans, but it generally involves spreading them on a baking sheet and toasting for around five minutes.
Here are a few simple recipes you can use to take advantage of the many health benefits of pecans:
- Pecans are a type of tree nut that are botanically classified as a drupe, or stone fruit.
- Are pecans healthy? There are numerous potential pecans health benefits, including increased weight loss, reduced inflammation and oxidative stress, improved heart health, better brain function and more.
- The pecans nutrition facts also boasts a good amount of fiber, protein and heart-healthy fats along with micronutrients such as manganese, copper and thiamine.
- From candied to spiced to roasted pecans, there are tons of different ways to include this nutritious ingredient in your diet.
- However, keep in mind that they are very energy-dense, so be sure to enjoy in moderation as part of a well-rounded, healthy diet.