Little known fact about this tiny tree nut: The United States grows and supplies up to 80% of the world’s pecans (that may explain why we go right for pecan pie at Thanksgiving!). But even lesser known pecan trivia: They’re delicious, nutrient-packed powerhouses that make for an ideal snack, condiment, or ingredient in your favorite recipes.
Here’s what you should know about this homegrown delicacy:
1. A handful goes a long way.
Just a single ounce of pecans (about 19 halves) is 200 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, and 20 grams of mostly unsaturated fats, making it a hearty, satisfying snack with loads of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
2. They’re important for immunity.
Pecans provide phytonutrients, plant-based compounds that have powerful antioxidant benefits. They’re also a good source of the mineral zinc, crucial for immune-cell development and function. Diets high in zinc are linked with a lower risk of many diseases, particularly those related to age and lifestyle. What’s more, eating ellagic acid-containing foods — an antioxidant found in pecans — is associated with a reduced risk of some cancers.
3. They’re full of flavonoids.
According to the USDA, pecans have more flavonoids — a type of antioxidant found mostly in veggies and fruit — than any other tree nut. People who eat diets high in flavonoids are less likely to develop chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and cognitive decline. Plus, a 2016 study found a possible connection between flavonoids and weight maintenance. Some key flavonoid-filled foods to pair with pecans: Apples, blueberries, grapes, prunes, strawberries, and peppers are all delicious with a ½ ounce!
4. They’re crucial for heart health.
Pecans are chock-full of monounsaturated fatty acids, a type of fat linked to improving total cholesterol levels. Another benefit to these tasty tree nuts: Pecans are filled with beta carotene and vitamin E, which protect cells from damage by mitigating the effects of chronic inflammation.
5. They’re surprisingly low in sugar.
Not only do they contain very little sugar, but pecans may also help improve blood sugar levels overall by slowing down the rate of absorption from the bloodstream into peripheral tissues. This helps maintain energy levels and prevent blood sugar spikes, which ultimately lead to major crashes later on!
6. They can boost your brain.
It may not be news to you that nuts are some of the most nutritious foods, but chew on this: Diets high in vitamin E have been linked with lowering risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by up to 25%. That’s because vitamin E and other antioxidants in plant-based foods help reduce oxidative stress caused by inflammation, protecting cells and therefore tissues of vital organs like your brain.
That said: Avoid dietary supplements of vitamin E. In high doses, it can have a pro-oxidant effect, making you more at risk for oxidative stress and potentially chronic disease.
7. They’re helpful for weight loss.
While it’s true that nuts contain lots of fat, the type found in tree nuts and fruit (e.g., olives) can actually promote weight loss and maintenance. That’s because nuts are a filling source of oleic acid, a better-for-you fat that makes you feel full while also boosting heart health. Eating every three to four hours, limiting added sugars and saturated fats found in processed foods, and making more of your meals plant-based are also key to successful, long-term weight loss. As a deliciously satisfying snack, pecans are a good one to keep on hand for a nutritious nosh that won’t leave you feeling deprived.
8. They’ve got key minerals.
Pecans are excellent sources of manganese and copper, two minerals that boost overall metabolic health, may contain anti-inflammatory properties, and potentially help reduce risk of heart disease. The added benefit: These nutrients have shown promise specifically in preventing in high blood pressure.
9. They can satisfy a salty-snack craving.
Unsalted nuts are a naturally sodium-free snack, making them ideal for anyone following a lower-sodium diet or cutting back on salty foods. Diets high in sodium have been linked to increased risk of chronic disease, especially high blood pressure. Swapping in pecans as a crunchy ingredient in any recipe can help you retain flavor with powerful health benefits.