Health benefits of pecan nuts

Health benefits of pecan nuts

Dr Ronette Lategan-Potgieter1 & Dr Gert J. Marais2

1Dept Nutrition and Dietetics, University of the Free State

2Dept Plant Sciences, University of the Free State

The trend worldwide is greater awareness of the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle, with the emphasis on eating less saturated fats and making healthier food choices.  Tree nuts, including pecan nuts, are associated with various health benefits such as reducing the risk for coronary heart disease, hypertension, type II diabetes and obesity.  Nuts are high in energy, unsaturated fatty acids, plant derived protein, dietary fibre, antioxidants, vitamins E and K, tocopherols, and folate.  In addition, it is packed with minerals such as magnesium, copper, selenium and potassium; important in a number of metabolic pathways in living cells.  Tree nuts also have important anti-inflammatory properties, which are regarded as the main contributors to the health benefits of tree nuts, such as pecans.

Growing evidence suggests that diets that include nuts do not negatively influence body weight, but that the unsaturated fatty acids actually have cardio-protective effects.  Epidemiological and clinical studies show that the type of fat consumed plays a more important role than the amount of fat, making pecan nuts ideal as a natural source of unsaturated fatty acids.  Pecans have the highest unsaturated fatty acid to total fat ratio at 93.1%, when compared to other nuts at an average of 86%.  Linoleic acid, a poli-unsaturated fatty acid essential to the human body, are found to be present in the highest concentrations in pecan nuts when compared to other nuts.

The pecan nut is also rich in polyphenols that have been indicated in the reduction of cardiovascular disease risks, as well as having anti-cancer properties.  The phytosterols in pecan nuts have cholesterol lowering abilities as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties.

Pecan nuts are also known to contain high levels of vitamin E, a very powerful antioxidant, strongly linked to brain health.  It is implicated in the protection of cells against the damaging effects of free radicals and may delay the progression of age related neurodegeneration.  In addition, pecan nuts are classified as one of the foods containing the highest amount of antioxidants.

Foods rich in antioxidants are important in combatting age related disorders and assists in preventing a decline in cognitive function.  In a recent study it was found that mice supplemented with pecan nuts showed delayed effects on the earliest detectable onset of motor neuron disease.  These benefits were, however accomplished when significant amounts of pecan nuts are consumed.

The recently developed MIND diet has shown to protect against neurodegeneration and to reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.  This diet recommends amongst others that nuts, such as pecans, should be consumed at least three times per week. Individuals who followed this diet meticulously showed a 53% reduction in the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Tree nuts have for long been misrepresented as favouring weight gain due to their high fat content. Recent research however has shown that including nuts in the diet may actually aid in weight-loss and assist with weight maintenance by increasing metabolic rate and enhancing satiety, playing an important role in health and weight management. The favourable fat composition, high antioxidant levels and high fiber content of nuts help to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes and prevents neurodegeneration.  It is therefore important that nuts should be consumed on a regular, if not daily basis.  Pecan nuts, among other nuts are superior when it comes to the amount of antioxidants and lipid composition, and can offer many valuable nutritional benefits to improve health and well-being.  More information can be found on the SAPPA website: www.sappa.za.org