Eating foods that can help you maintain a healthy heart, lower your cholesterol, and balance your blood pressure is important to preserving a high quality of life. Nutrient-dense nuts like walnuts, chestnuts, and pecans are recognized as an important component of any heart-healthy diet. And while these three nuts may help prevent heart disease and keep low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol low, pecans may be the best. Here’s why…
Health Benefits of Pecans
As a low-calorie snack or with meals, whether whole or in halves, pecans pack a potent punch of nutrients. They deliver protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy polyunsaturated fats, and antioxidants. All of this combines to support your overall health.
Minerals like magnesium and zinc help to lower blood glucose levels and stimulate your metabolism. This keeps your blood sugar low and helps offset a high-sugar diet. These are important dietary and nutrient considerations to help address blood sugar levels and diabetes risk. The combination of nutrients also contributes to anti-inflammatory effects.
As you process sugar faster, you burn more energy, which is a key factor in weight loss. Studies have found that people who eat nuts like pecans lose weight and keep it off easier than those who don’t. French scientists have also found that antioxidants like those in pecans slow the aging process.
The polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs as researchers call them, feed your brain. These PUFAs play a key role in the health of brain cells. As you get older, you need to get enough of these fatty acids to stay mentally sharp, preserve your memory, and avoid degenerative diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. Another study by Brigham Young University showed that antioxidants also reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Although it'd be way too overzealous to call pecans a cure for cancer, it is interesting that researchers at Purdue University found gamma-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E found in pecans, interrupts the formation of prostate and lung cancer cells.
Pecans Support Cardiovascular Health
Men and women who eat nuts have fewer incidences of heart attacks and heart disease, according to the British Journal of Nutrition. On their own, pecans offer complete cardiovascular support.
- The antioxidants in pecans protect LDL cholesterol and cardiovascular tissue from free radical damage that can create blockages.
- Minerals like magnesium encourage flexibility in the arteries and make it easier for the heart to pump blood.
- Protein and fatty acids keep your heart young and strong.
- Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, supports muscle health, and contributes to building healthy red blood cells.
Fighting Cholesterol with Pecans
If you need to get your LDL cholesterol under control, pecans are a perfect addition to your diet.
In one study, participants in a treatment group ate 68 grams of pecans daily for 8 weeks. At the end of the study period, total cholesterol levels were significantly lower with noticeable increases in fiber, magnesium, and overall energy.
An additional study conducted by researchers at Loma Linda University and published in the Journal of Nutrition determined that gamma tocopherols in pecans contributed to lower LDL cholesterol a short time after consumption. At three hours after eating whole pecans, levels of oxidized (or bad) LDL fell by 33%. The effect was observed to have lasted at least eight hours.
Pecans, Nuts, and Blood Pressure
In addition to cholesterol-lowering effects, pecans (and nuts in general) help to keep blood pressure lower and more stable. A review of 21 studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found tree nuts, including pecans, encourage normal blood pressure.
Maintaining a Healthy Diet
The best diet for your heart includes nutrient-rich, raw, organic fruits and vegetables with plenty of unsaturated fats. Organic pecans deliver all of these nutrients plus, according to the USDA, they’re the most antioxidant-dense nut.
I like raw pecans as a delicious addition to salads, entrees, and desserts (try our vegan version of the Traditional Texas Pecan Pie). They also make an excellent heart-healthy snack – they’ll satisfy your hunger and they can help you lose weight and maintain a slender figure.
- O'Neil CE1, Fulgoni VL 3rd2, Nicklas TA3. Tree Nut consumption is associated with better adiposity measures and cardiovascular and metabolic syndrome health risk factors in U.S. Adults: NHANES 2005-2010. Nutr J. 2015 Jun 28;14:64. doi: 10.1186/s12937-015-0052-x.
- Assmann KE, Andreeva VA, Jeandel C, Hercberg S, Galan P, Kesse-Guyot E. Healthy Aging 5 Years After a Period of Daily Supplementation With Antioxidant Nutrients: A Post Hoc Analysis of the French Randomized Trial SU.VI.MAX. Am J Epidemiol. 2015 Sep 15. pii: kwv105.
- Brigham Young University. How Diet, Antioxidants Prevent Blindness In Aging Population. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2008.
- Purdue University. Vitamin E in plant seeds could halt prostate, lung cancer, says Purdue scientist. Purdue University.
- Blomhoff R1, Carlsen MH, Andersen LF, Jacobs DR Jr. Health benefits of nuts: potential role of antioxidants. Br J Nutr. 2006 Nov;96 Suppl 2:S52-60.
- Morgan WA1, Clayshulte BJ. Pecans lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in people with normal lipid levels. J Am Diet Assoc. 2000 Mar;100(3):312-8..
- Hudthagosol C1, Haddad EH, McCarthy K, Wang P, Oda K, Sabaté J. Pecans acutely increase plasma postprandial antioxidant capacity and catechins and decrease LDL oxidation in humans. J Nutr. 2011 Jan;141(1):56-62. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.121269.
- Mohammadifard N1, Salehi-Abargouei A1, Salas-Salvadó J1, Guasch-Ferré M1, Humphries K1, Sarrafzadegan N1. The effect of tree nut, peanut, and soy nut consumption on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 May;101(5):966-82. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.091595.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.