All of this information has been provided by the National Pecan Shellers Association.

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.
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