Pecan, a very popular nut and an important ingredient in many desserts like ice creams, cakes, pies and cookies is a species of hickory that has its origins in Mexico and North America. Pecans that grow in the pecan tree are actually fruits (drupe) having a single pit and enclosed in a husk, although they are commonly referred to as nuts. The seeds of pecans are the edible portion that has a delicious and buttery flavor. Because of their great taste and the richness they impart to dishes, they are often used in making both sweet and savory food items. These nuts are bursting with many nutrients, minerals, vitamins that are essential for maintaining optimum health and well being.
Nutritional value of pecans
Mostly composed of fat (more than 70%), Pecans are considered to contain the highest amount of fat when compared to any other nut. They offer high amount of calories, almost 10 gram of pecan nut is equivalent to a loaf of bread in terms of calories. Majority of fats in pecans are oleic acid and linoleic acid which contribute to 40% and 20% of pecan nut weight. But pecans are not all fat. They are also a rich source of energy, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and many other nutrients. 10% of Pecans by weight are dietary fibers which are helpful. Pecans are an excellent source of fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A and contain good amounts of other vitamins like vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin K, Thiamin, Pantothenic Acid, vitamin B6, and riboflavin. Just 50 grams of pecans are sufficient to meet our daily dietary requirement of manganese, making them manganese rich food. Similarly they have high concentration of copper, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus. They also contain good amount of calcium and iron. They are high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and phytonutrients that have immense antioxidant qualities. Making pecans a part of your regular diet is therefore a great way to get adequate levels of these nutrients into your body.
Health Benefits of Pecans
Just like most of the other nuts, pecans are also nutritious and offer several health benefits.
Pecans promote digestive health
Fiber is an essential factor that promotes regular bowel movements and improves the health and functioning of your digestive system. Pecans are a good source of fiber and so eating them can help in cleansing your digestive system, ensuring optimum digestion and absorption of nutrients. Fiber adds volume to your stools and aids its easy removal out of your body. As the bowel movements become regular, you are at reduced risk of many digestive disorders like constipation, colitis, ulcers etc.
Pecans reduce blood pressure
According to the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet developed by the National Institutes of Health and The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the increased intake of minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium can help lower blood pressure. Pecans are a good source of these minerals and so the regular consumption of a handful of these nuts can reduce high blood pressure and lower your risks of medical conditions associated with hypertension.
Pecans help lower cholesterol
According to a research conducted at the New Mexico State University, the intake of pecans (as much as 2 handfuls per day) can help in lowering low density lipoprotein (LDL), which is the bad cholesterol responsible for causing many serious diseases. While a high level of LDL cholesterol in your blood can lead to its deposition in your arteries, causing heart problems, an increased level of high density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol can actually provide protection against heart attacks and heart diseases. The cholesterol lowering effect of pecans is attributed to the presence of high levels of unsaturated fats.
Pecans are heart healthy
Pecans are rich in antioxidants that can increase the health of your heart and reduce your risks of cardiovascular problems. These nuts are rich in tocopherols that are associated with reducing inflammation. The high amounts of antioxidants and unsaturated fats in pecans aid in lowering the LDL levels in the blood, thus making it a heart healthy food.
Pecans and cancer
Research shows that pecans help in preventing inflammation because of the high levels of gamma-tocopherol, which is a particular form of vitamin E. By preventing inflammation, these nuts help in preventing the development of cancer. Studies also reveal that gamma-tocopherol can also activate the process of apoptosis by which the cancer causing cells are effectively destroyed. Pecans also contain several phytonutrients like flavonoids that are well known for their anti-cancer properties. The oleic acid found in pecans is capable of suppressing the activity of a gene that is considered to cause breast cancer.
Pecans lower blood sugar levels
A healthy diet and exercise can help in managing your blood sugar levels. Nuts like pecan can help in controlling the sugar levels and hence is considered to be diabetic friendly. Although high in fat, pecans are considered to be healthy, since the fats are mostly unsaturated fats that increase your sensitivity to insulin. Studies reveal that replacing carbohydrates with nuts helped in controlling blood sugar levels in people suffering from type 2 diabetes. Read more about natural food for diabetes.
Pecans and weight loss
Contrary to the popular belief that nuts cause weight gain, recent studies reveal that eating nuts like pecans can actually help you maintain a healthy weight. Pecans are rich in protein, fiber and healthy unsaturated fats. These nutrients satiate your appetite and help you have a feeling of fullness which prevents you from frequent snacking and also overeating. Pecans are also rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that increase your energy and promote weight loss. Due to their low carb content and high nutrition profile, pecans make an ideal choice of food for people who follow a low carb weight loss diet.
Pecans boost your immune system
The strength of your immune system depends to a great extent on the foods that your eat. Your body needs the essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to attack the disease causing germs and protect your body from diseases. Pecans are good source of these nutrients together with many antioxidants that help in strengthening your immune system.
Pecans have anti-inflammatory properties
Pecans are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Studies suggest that the intake of magnesium lead to the reduction C-reactive protein, tumor necrosis factor alpha and interleukin 6, which are all indicators of inflammation in your body. According to these studies, magnesium is highly effective in lowering your risks of conditions like arthritis, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other health problems associated with inflammation.
Pecans for strong bones and teeth
Pecans are an excellent source of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, the minerals that are essential for the strength and development of your bones and teeth. It also contains manganese that is vital for bone formation.
Benefits of Pecans for skin
Pecans contain nutrients like vitamin E, vitamin A, folate, zinc, and phosphorus, all of which are important in maintaining healthy skin. Proper nutrition is extremely important for keeping your skin healthy and in preventing skin disorders. The toxins present inside and outside of your body can cause various types of skin problems like acne breakouts, infection and dullness. Pecans have a high content of fiber that helps in removing wastes and toxins from your body, which in turn aids in improving the overall appearance of your skin. The zinc in pecans is effective in protecting your skin from infections. The high levels of antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin E and ellagic acid in these nuts help in eliminating the harmful free radicals in your body. Free radicals are associated with oxidation of the cells leading to many health conditions like early aging and even cancer. By neutralizing the effects of the free radicals, the antioxidants in pecans help in preventing the signs of aging such as wrinkles, fine lines and dark spots.
Pecans benefits for your hair
Just like the skin, your hair also needs adequate nutrition for its proper growth and health. Pecans are a storehouse of many nutrients that are beneficial for the healthy growth of your hair. They contain good amounts of L-arginine, an amino acid that is found to encourage hair growth. It also improves the flow of blood to all parts of your body including your hair. Proper blood flow stimulates hair growth and ensures healthy and strong hair. Pecans also contain omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E that help in improving the overall appearance and health of your hair. Read more about natural food for hair loss.
Benefits of pecan nut shells
While majority of pecan nut is the kernel inside, recent research is active in health benefits of pecan nut shells and its extract. A study showed that phytochemical activity of pecan shells can help in treatment of liver diseases related to ethanol consumption. Strong antioxidant activity of pecan nut shells due to ellagic and gallic acids has been reported in lab reports. Activated carbon from pecan nut shells has good adsorption properties and has commercial use.
Side effects of pecans
Pecans are generally safe for all people. As with any other foods, it may cause allergic reactions in some people, leading to symptoms like vomiting, hives, swelling of the throat, dizziness and shortness of breath.
Selection and storage of pecans
When you buy pecans, make sure to choose the ones that have their shells intact and are without any blemishes. Shake the nuts and if you hear clattering inside, it is better to avoid such pecans as it indicates that they are quite old. Pecans are generally fresh during the first three weeks of harvesting, after which they start turning rancid. It is always a good idea to buy pecans that come in air tight containers. Pecans with their shell intact can stay fresh up to three months provided they are kept at room temperatures. Once shelled, pecans should be stored in a sealed container and refrigerated. This way they will keep for as long as six months. If kept in the freezer, they will remain fresh for up to a year.
The nutritional information of pecans indicates that it is very healthy and nutritious and beneficial in preventing many health conditions. If you are looking for natural ways to improve your health, then including pecans in your daily diet is one way to achieve your goal.
Here are some healthy pecan nut recipes
Pecan Cake Bars
Mix a cup of all-purpose flour with a tsp of baking powder and ½ tsp of salt.Cream about ½ cup of butter and 2 cups of sugar in a separate bowl. Now add 3 large eggs, add some vanilla extract to the eggs and beat again. Mix half of flour mixture with cream mixture and blend well. Add a tsp of ground cinnamon and grated nutmeg each. Blend well, before you add 3 cups of chopped pecan nuts, a cup of washed raisins and a cup of chopped pitted dates. Add rest of flour mixture and mix well. Spread the batter in baking pan which is coated with butter. Preheat oven to 170°C. Bake baking pan for about 40-50 minutes. Allow the pan the cool. Cut the baked pecan bars in shapes you desire.
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie
Toast the pecan halves at 1800C degree in oven for about 15 minutes, while tossing them regularly. Cut these toasted pecans into half. In a pan melt about 6 tsp of butter at low heat. Add a cup of brown sugar and ½ tsp salt. Still till everything is combined and then add about ¾ cup of corn syrup. Stir until mixture is smooth. Remove pan from heat. In a separate bowl beat about 3 eggs. Add this to the syrup little at a time off the heat. Stir mixture over low heat again. Add 1 oz of bourbon and 1 cup of chocolate chips, mix until well combined. Add half of chopped pecans. Allow this mixture to cool for 15-20 minutes. Pour your pecan bourbon mixture in pie crust. Decorate with remaining pecan half. Bake this for about less than hour. Cool the pie before serving.Image Credits: USDA - Agriculture Research Services, Open Source Food