By HAYLEY SIMS, Contributing Columnist
Pecan pie has long been the comforting smell of home for many Americans. The pecan is a staple dessert ingredient in the US and rapidly growing across the world, especially and remarkably in Asia.
Pecans are most widely grown in the southern states, which produce two-thirds of the world’s supply, with Georgia boasting the highest production.
The holiday season in the States wouldn’t be complete without a homemade pie, and pecans even today, remain a popular choice of flavor. This is a rarer find in the UK and the rest of Europe, however, healthy eating trends are abundant, and the popularity of raw nut mixes as snacks are replacing the old bags of crisps, which could see the launch of the pecan.
Pecans are part of the wider nut food group, which have been a great source of nutritional delight for people since pre-agricultural times, and remain just as important today. Of all the nuts, pecans are an emerging front runner, owing to their high content of unsaturated fat and magnesium.
Traditionally, most of the pecans produced in the US are consumed by North Americans, however, a big shift occurred in the last decade.
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, US exports to China rose from barely 1% in 2005 to a wopping 28% only 4 years later in 2009. This phenomenon has been explained by a rising middle class in China and other Asian countries, and the perception of the nutritious power of pecans.
Many believe that pecans are good for Alzheimer’s Disease and diabetes, amongst other things. Pecans have not taken off in quite the same way in Europe, however, word of their nutritional benefits are fast gaining popularity.
We have compiled a list for you of the 7 crazy good health benefits of pecans, proven by scientific studies.
1. A Pecan a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Pecans are packed with various nutrients, and while nuts in general have a high fat content, pecans are amongst the highest in the group.
According to the 2010 paper on the health benefits of nut consumption by Dr. Emilio Ros at the Endocrinology and Nutrition Service in Barcelona, per 100g, pecans contain 72g of fat, compared with only 44.4g in pistachios and 46.4g in cashews.
Before you start to panic about those pecans you snacked on earlier, be assured that this is the ‘good fat’ that we need – nearly half of the total fat content is made up of unsaturated fat.
On top of this, pecans are excellent source of magnesium, protein and also dietary fiber, with 8.4g per 100g of the latter. By adding some pecans in to your day and into that nut trail mix you can ensure you are maintaining an excellent balanced diet.
2. Lower Your Cholesterol with a Handful of Pecans!
Cholesterol is one of the most common worries when thinking about healthy living. High cholesterol levels can lead to serious heart problems and disease.
Luckily, eating the right foods can help and scientists have found that pecans can significantly lower cholesterol.
A study at New Mexico State University in 2000 led by Dr. Morgan and Dr. Clayshulte set out to test the impact of pecans on cholestoral levels in a group of 19 people with normal levels. 10 people were randomly assigned to a pecan treatment group and 9 to a control group. Those in the pecan group were given 68g pecans per day for 8 weeks alongside their own regular diets, while the control group continued with regular diets and no nuts. In total, the daily pecan intake contributed 459 calories and 44g of fat.
At the end of 8 weeks, total cholesterol in the pecan group were significantly lower than in the control group.
What’s more, dietary fat, fiber, magnesium and energy were considerably higher in the pecan group, while the BMIs and body weights remained unchanged.
3. Look After your Heart with Some Pecan Pie!
There is evidence to suggest that pecans can have a positive effect in preventing Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), the number 1 killer of Americans.
A large study published in 1992 led by Dr Fraser at the Loma Linda University in California monitored 31,208 people over the course of 18 years in the the non-Hispanic white Seventh-Day Adventist community; a community renowned for healthy eating habits.
The results found that people who ate nuts frequently (more than four times per week) experienced substantially fewer definite fatal coronary heart disease events, compared to those people who consumed nuts less than once per week.
Of course, other factors were assessed, such as eating white bread and beef, however, the scientists concluded that regular consumption of nuts can protect against a risk of coronary heart disease. The study suggested that the reason for this effect could be the fatty acid profile – the "good fats" – of nuts, of which pecans have one of the highest contents.
4. Fight Diabetes with Pecans
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 9.4% of the US population suffer from diabetes – and it is on the rise.
It has been suggested that pecans could be helpful in improving glucose and insulin homeostasis due to their high levels of unsaturated fat and other nutrients. A paper published in 2002 led by Dr Jiang analysed a clinical trial at the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, which set out to test this effect on Type-2 diabetes in women.
Over 80,000 women from 11 different states aged 34 to 59 with no history of diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer completed a dietary questionnaire in 1980 and were monitored for 16 years.
At the end of the study 3,206 new cases of Type-2 diabetes had been recorded, and overall, the findings suggested that there were benefits of higher nut (or pecan) consumption in lowering the risk of this type of diabetes in women.
5. Blast That Migraine with Some Pecans
Those who suffer from migraines have often tried anything and everything to blast the nasty affliction. Why not try introducing pecans into your diet? Pecans are rich in magnesium, and contain 121mg of magnesium per 100g, which is about a quarter of your recommended daily intake, according to the US Department for Health and Human Services. Studies have suggested that magnesium can have a positive effect on migraines.
A 2012 trial led by Dr Tarighat at the Tabriz University of Medical Sciences in Iran tested the effects of magnesium on patients with migraines. 133 people were randomly assigned into four different groups of treatment: 500mg of magnesium oxide per day, 500mg of L-carnitine per day, a 500mg combination of the two, and a control group.
The patients were monitored over a course of 12 weeks, for the amount of migraine attacks and headache severity. The results of the study concluded that magnesium supplementation had a significant effect on reducing the number of attacks and alleviating the head pain.
6. Eat Some Pecan Pie to Fight Alzheimer’s
As well as fighting migraines, the magnesium content in pecans has been linked to preventing dementia in elderly patients.
The importance should not be underestimated: Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and is also the sixth leading cause of death in the US.
A 2011 study at the University of Palermo, Italy, led by Dr Barbagallo, linked magnesium deficiency to Alzheimer’s.
A total of 101 patients over the age of 65 with mild-moderate levels of Alzheimer’s were examined for cognitive status and physical function and blood samples were analyzed, all compared to a control group without Alzheimer’s.
The team of scientists concluded that ionized magnesium levels were related to cognitive function, and that there is a link between low magnesium levels and Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, keeping your magnesium levels high with regular pecan intake could do wonders.
7. Pick Up Some Pecans to Prevent a Stroke
Finally, the magnesium in pecans have an important role in controlling blood pressure, and because of this, studies have found a link between magnesium intake and stroke risk. Strokes are usually the result of untreated hypertension and are the fourth leading cause of death in the US.
According to a 2012 paper written by Drs Larsson, Orsini and Wolk of the National Institute of Environmental Medicine, Stockholm, Sweden, studies of magnesium intake in relation to the risk of stroke had been inconsistent. Thus, the team set out to analyze the results of previous relevant studies by searching archives ranging from 1966 to 2011.
Seven studies (241,378 participants) were analyzed and a modest but significant link between magnesium and intake and risk of stroke was concluded, especially ischemic stroke.
An intake increment of 100mg of magnesium per day was associated with an 8% reduction in risk of total stroke.
That’s all folks! A wide variety of health benefits of the magnesium rich, healthy fatty humble pecan. Start introducing the nut into your diet by adding some in your morning cereal, afternoon snack when you’re lagging at the office, or start making a pecan pie for that Sunday lunch at your parents’ house – as if you needed an excuse….