Pecans (Carya illinoinensis) are part of the hickory tree family and are native to southern America and northern Mexico near the Mississippi River. Historically, pecans were consumed and traded by Indigenous American tribes where they were foraged and eaten as a staple part of their traditional diets. They grow in hot and humid conditions. These U.S. and Mexican regions account for 93% of world pecan production. The pecan, you guessed it, is another drupe like apricots, plums and cherries. It has an outer husk around 4mm thick, which starts green and turns brown once mature and ripe.
In the 16th century, Spanish explorers first discovered pecans in parts of America. They dubbed the pecan nuez de la arruga, which means ‘wrinkle nut’. Love it. From here pecans were introduced into various parts of Europe and were later commercially produced in America during the 1880’s.
Pecans are a part of many family dishes, both sweet and savoury. Well known Southern American recipes like pecan pie, butter pecan ice cream or pecan brittle are wonderful ways to enjoy the buttery-rich flavour and delicate texture of pecans. These days you can make or buy pecan butter to enjoy on crackers or veggie sticks. Or simply toast and toss into salads. Yum.
The benefits of pecans are not simply limited to their micronutrient, vitamin and polyphenol content. While these constituents are what makes all nuts healthy, a unique feature of the pecan is that it’s particularly high in fat compared to carbohydrates or protein. This makes them the nut of choice, closely followed by macadamias and brazil nuts, for those following a keto-style diet. Here, they are the clear winners, boasting the highest fat content of all nuts. Let’s take a look at some more of the health benefits of pecans and why you should treat yo’self to some of these delicious nuts.
Nutrient Profile of Pecans
- 72% fat
- 9% protein
- 14% carbohydrates
- B vitamins
- High in monounsaturated fats (57% oleic acid)
- High in polyunsaturated fats (30% linoleic acid)
Pecan Fact: There are 4g of carbs in a 100g serve of pecans making them the lowest-carb nut available.
Health Benefits of Pecans
- Improves cognitive performance
- Improves cholesterol profile
- Supports weight management
- Enhances insulin activity
- Anti-cancer properties
- Anti-inflammatory properties
Pecans Support Cognitive Performance
A 2021 systematic review on nut intake and cognitive performance was conducted to establish the benefits of nut intake, including pecans on brain health. This review ended up with 22 interventional or observational studies which met the necessary search criteria. Clinical outcomes such as memory, attention, executive function and general cognition were all characteristics of nut intake studies. Of these studies, all but 1 confirmed a positive association between nut intake and cognition and brain health, with particularly positive results in elderly populations.
Pecans and Diabetes Management
All nuts seem to support weight loss and diabetes symptoms, and that of course includes pecans. As diabetes and obesity go hand in hand, it’s impressive to see what foods support both of these conditions at the same time. One study addressed a group of overweight diabetic adults, using just 2 tablespoons of pecans per day. Pecan polyphenols are notoriously anti-inflammatory and as such may help protect pancreatic beta cells against inflammation. This study demonstrated improvements in insulin function, reducing insulin resistance, making pecans a viable option in the defense against diabetes.
Pecans May Lower Cholesterol and Improve Cardiovascular Health
An 8-week RCT involving pecans and a control group was recently published in Journal of human nutrition and dietetics in 2020. In this study, 19 participants with normal cholesterol profiles were randomised. The results showed the pecan group had lower total, HDL and LDL cholesterol levels at the end of the study period. Moreover, magnesium, fibre, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat levels were also higher in blood samples of the pecan group compared to the control group.
In another small study of just 23 participants, pecan consumption was assessed for improvements in cholesterol levels. For 4 weeks, one group consumed a pecan-enriched diet and saw a reduction in total and LDL cholesterol by 6.7% and 10.4%, respectively. Markers for cardiovascular disease and heart attack risk, apolipoprotein B and lipoprotein(a) were also lowered by 11.6 and 11.1%, respectively. Notably, the inclusion of pecans in this study did not affect individual weight gain. Pecans can therefore be a healthful inclusion to protect against heart disease, high cholesterol and won’t cause an increase in weight, according to these results.
Pecans, like all nuts, help reduce cancer risk
A 2021 meta-analysis by Naghshi et al. noted the overall risk reduction of various cancers and total mortality due to nut intake, inclusive of pecans. Over 45 articles were compiled, and concluded that there was a significant inverse association of nut intakes and cancer risk. Specifically, 5g of nuts per day saw a 3%, 6% and 25% reduction in overall, pancreatic, colon cancers, respectively.
Have you tried Pecan Butter?
As pecans have a very high fat to carbohydrate ratio, not only are they delicious on their own, but they make a lovely buttery nut butter. Low-carb and keto-friendly, this is one nut butter worth sampling.
A tablespoon of pecan butter has:
- 2 grams of carbs
- 1.5 grams of protein
- 11.5 grams of fat
How To Use Pecan Butter
Pecan butter is smooth, delicious and runny due to its high fat content. Blend it with dark melted chocolate or mix it into porridge with fresh sliced strawberries.
Low-Carb Pecan Shortbread
2 ½ cups blanched almond flour
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
¼ cup honey
½ cup salted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- In a large bowl combine almond flour, salt, baking soda, and pecans
- In a small bowl, mix honey, butter, and vanilla
- Mix wet ingredients into dry to form a dough
- Mould into a log approximately 5cm in diameter and freeze for one hour until firm
- Remove from freezer and cut into 1 or 2cm slices
- Bake on a lined baking sheet at 180°C until lightly golden, around 7 minutes
- Cool to room temperature before serving
Bolling, B. W., Chen, C. Y., McKay, D. L., & Blumberg, J. B. (2011). Tree nut phytochemicals: composition, antioxidant capacity, bioactivity, impact factors. A systematic review of almonds, Brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. Nutrition research reviews, 24(2), 244–275. https://doi.org/10.1017/S095442241100014X
Campos, V. P., Portal, V. L., Markoski, M. M., Quadros, A. S., Bersch-Ferreira, Â. C., Garavaglia, J., & Marcadenti, A. (2020). Effects of a healthy diet enriched or not with pecan nuts or extra-virgin olive oil on the lipid profile of patients with stable coronary artery disease: a randomised clinical trial. Journal of human nutrition and dietetics : the official journal of the British Dietetic Association, 33(3), 439–450. https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12727
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Kornsteiner-Krenn, M., Wagner, K. H., & Elmadfa, I. (2013). Phytosterol content and fatty acid pattern of ten different nut types. International journal for vitamin and nutrition research. Internationale Zeitschrift fur Vitamin- und Ernahrungsforschung. Journal international de vitaminologie et de nutrition, 83(5), 263–270. https://doi.org/10.1024/0300-9831/a000168
Medina-Vera, I., Gómez-de-Regil, L., Gutiérrez-Solis, A. L., Lugo, R., Guevara-Cruz, M., Pedraza-Chaverri, J., & Avila-Nava, A. (2021). Dietary Strategies by Foods with Antioxidant Effect on Nutritional Management of Dyslipidemias: A Systematic Review. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 10(2), 225. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox10020225
McKay, D. L., Eliasziw, M., Chen, C., & Blumberg, J. B. (2018). A Pecan-Rich Diet Improves Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients, 10(3), 339. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10030339
Mohammadifard, N., Salehi-Abargouei, A., Salas-Salvadó, J., Guasch-Ferré, M., Humphries, K., & Sarrafzadegan, N. (2015). The effect of tree nut, peanut, and soy nut consumption on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 101(5), 966–982. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.091595
Morgan, W. A., & Clayshulte, B. J. (2000). Pecans lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in people with normal lipid levels. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100(3), 312–318. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-8223(00)00097-3
Naghshi, S., Sadeghian, M., Nasiri, M., Mobarak, S., Asadi, M., & Sadeghi, O. (2021). Association of Total Nut, Tree Nut, Peanut, and Peanut Butter Consumption with Cancer Incidence and Mortality: A Comprehensive Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 12(3), 793–808. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmaa152
Rajaram, S., Burke, K., Connell, B., Myint, T., & Sabaté, J. (2001). A monounsaturated fatty acid-rich pecan-enriched diet favorably alters the serum lipid profile of healthy men and women. The Journal of nutrition, 131(9), 2275–2279. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/131.9.2275
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Wikipedia Contributors. (2021, August 25). Pecan. Retrieved from Wikipedia website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pecan, viewed August 25 2021.