The world may never know if the proper pronunciation is PEE-can or pe-KAHN. But one thing’s for sure: Pecans are seriously nutritious.
Like other nuts, pecans are a triple threat, delivering a good dose of fiber, healthy fats, and protein. They’re also lower in carbs and higher in fat than other nuts, which means they’re a prime pick for the keto crowd.
What really makes pecans special is their micronutrients. They’re a significant source of essential vitamins and minerals and potent polyphenol compounds that fight inflammation and oxidative stress.
Plus, they’re damn tasty!
So, are pecans good for you?
The short answer: Yes!
Pecans provide fiber, healthy fats, protein, and a variety of vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols that support overall health.
As part of a nutritious diet, they may help:
- balance blood sugar + curb cravings
- reduce your risk of heart disease
- promote overall brain health
- support healthy liver function
- fuel your gut microbiome
- support a healthy immune system
- support healthy body composition
They’re also a good source of some vitamins and minerals, particularly thiamin (vitamin B1), manganese, copper, zinc, and gamma tocopherol (a type of vitamin E).
Here are the major nutrients in 1 ounce of pecans (or about 19 pecan halves):
|thiamin (vitamin B1)||0.2 mg|
|gamma tocopherol||6.9 mg|
Keep in mind: “Certain nutrients are sensitive to heat, so roasting nuts may lower levels of those nutrients, such as vitamin E, thiamin, and carotenoids,” says registered dietitian Jessica Cording.
7 health benefits of pecans
Pecans aren’t a magic bullet, and you should never try to use them to treat a health condition (that would be weird, TBH).
But pecans may provide the following health perks as part of a nutritious diet.
1. Pecans may help you balance blood sugar + curb cravings
Pecans contain 11 percent of your daily value (DV) for fiber, along with 20.4 grams of healthy fat per 1-ounce serving.
Both of these nutrients slow the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream, which helps prevent drastic spikes and dips in blood sugar. Those fluctuations might otherwise cause you to experience mega cravings or erratic energy levels shortly after eating.
Type 2 diabetes is a result of chronically elevated blood sugar. Pecans could contribute to diabetes prevention and management by helping to regulate blood sugar levels.
Insulin gives your cells the go-ahead to absorb blood sugar, and continuous spikes can mess with how your body interprets those signals.
In a 2018 study, participants who ate a pecan-rich diet showed significant improvements in insulin sensitivity when compared with people whose diet didn’t include pecans.
2. Pecans may reduce your risk of heart disease
Nuts in general are pretty great for heart health.
A 2017 research review analyzing 20+ years of dietary data concluded that eating more nuts was linked to a lower risk of developing heart disease.
And a 2016 review suggested that higher nut intake reduced the risk of heart disease and cancer and all-cause mortality. Whoa.
Pretty impressive, right? But what’s so great about pecans, specifically?
For one thing, pecans are a pretty kick-ass source of gamma-tocopherol, a specific type of vitamin E that can help prevent inflammation of the arteries.
A small 2011 study found that, after participants ate pecans, their gamma-tocopherol levels doubled and their LDL oxidation dropped by 33 percent (it’s LDL oxidation that inflames those arteries, BTW).
A pecan-enriched diet can also contribute to lower levels of LDL cholesterol (that’s the “bad” kind). This is probably due to a combo of fiber, healthy monounsaturated fats, and polyphenols.
3. Pecans promote brain health
The vitamin E in pecans may have some serious brain-boosting power too.
A 2010 study suggests that people who consume the most vitamin E from natural dietary sources have up to a 25 percent lower risk of developing dementia. Again, this is likely due to vitamin E’s ability to fight oxidative stress that can damage cells throughout the body, including in the brain.
Pecans are also a potent source of ellagic acid, a polyphenol compound that may help prevent or reduce mild age-related cognitive decline, according to some research.
Plus, pecans provide more flavonoids than any other nut. Flavonoids are another group of polyphenols that protect and improve brain function.
4. Pecans support healthy liver function
Studies suggest that the more nuts you eat, the lower your risk is for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Fat buildup in your liver can lead to significant inflammation and scarring.
Compared with other nuts, pecans may pack an extra punch in preventing this condition due to their high levels of gamma-tocopherol.
Why? Oxidation is known to be a main driver in the progression of NAFLD. But vitamin E is hella potent, and research suggests it may slow or counteract the effects of oxidation. It’s all in a day’s work for antioxidants.
5. Pecans fuel your gut microbiome
A healthy gut microbiome is home to a diverse array of “good” bacteria. These friendly microorganisms support everything from mental health to skin health to digestion.
And research suggests that fiber and polyphenols called ellagitannins (ETs) in pecans function as prebiotics. (ET. Phone. Microbiome…) This means they fuel your “good” bacteria, allowing them to multiply, thrive, and do their job better.
More human studies are necessary before we can jump to any conclusions. But preliminary data from lab studies suggests that ETs increase the growth of two species of beneficial bacteria commonly found in the gut: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
6. Pecans can support a healthy immune system
Most of your body’s immune cells are in your gut. So gut-friendly fiber and polyphenols also play a role in immune health.
Pecans are also a great source of minerals, including zinc. Zinc helps your body create new immune cells and helps protect those cells from oxidative damage. Low zinc levels can up your risk for bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.
7. Pecans can help with weight management + body composition
Tree nuts like pecans may reduce your risk of chronic diseases without increasing your risk of weight gain. Some research has shown that when nut consumption goes up, BMI and waist circumference may go down.
Researchers suspect these benefits may be due to a variety of factors, including:
- tree nuts’ ability to stabilize blood sugar
- the link between nuts and appetite control
- pecans’ gut microbiome perks
At least for the average allergy-free person who consumes pecans in moderation, there are no real side effects.
But here are two things to consider.
Skip pecans if you have a tree nut allergy
This may be a no-brainer, but if you’re allergic to tree nuts, steer clear of pecans (along with almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, and walnuts).
An allergy to one tree nut doesn’t necessarily mean you’re allergic to all tree nuts. But certain tree nuts, such as pecans and walnuts, are closely related.
Pecans are calorie-dense, so eat accordingly
Plowing through a multiserving bag of pecans at once isn’t going to kill you. But if that becomes a habit, it could lead to weight gain and some serious digestive distress.
Pecans are calorie-dense, so eating more than a couple of servings at a time on the reg may exceed your body’s caloric needs and lead to weight gain.
They also contain quite a bit of fat (~20 grams per ounce). Your body can’t absorb too much of any type of fat (including the healthy ones), and consuming too many fats can lead to diarrhea (ugh).
So, pecans cause weight gain, huh?
Pecans are high in fat — but not necessarily a one-way ticket to weight gain. Remember, too much of any macronutrient can cause an increase in body fat.
If you nosh on pecans all day long, you’ll probably gain some weight. But if you consume reasonable portions (say, 1 to 2 ounces per day) to replace less-nutritious fare like chips or cookies, they may help you lose weight.
The really good news: Most fats found in pecans are monounsaturated. These fats may help improve cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation.
Some studies have also suggested that replacing some saturated fats in your diet with MUFAs from plant sources may reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. But more research is needed before we’ll know for sure.
The best ways to eat pecans
There’s no right or wrong way to eat pecans. Even raw, unsalted pecans are pretty damn tasty.
They have a naturally smooth, buttery, subtly sweet flavor that’s delicious all on its own. But did you just wind up with a 5-pound bag of pecans and zero culinary inspo? We’ve got you covered.
1. Add to cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt
In addition to making your cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt tastier and more nutritious, pecans provide a dose of fiber and healthy fat that can keep you feeling full way longer.
Try this Protein-Packed Hemp and Maple Pecan Oatmeal recipe.
2. Make your own nut butter
Pecans’ smooth texture means they’re ideal for DIY nut butter, says Cording.
Simply follow these steps:
- Start with toasted pecans.
- Add a little bit of a neutral-tasting oil, like avocado oil, to help things get moving in the food processor.
- Sweeten the mixture with maple syrup or add a bit of sea salt.
Pro tip: Toast pecans at a lower temperature (less than 300°F/150°C) to preserve their nutrients.
3. Add pecans to baked goods
Pecans are an easy way to ramp up the flavor, texture, and health benefits of cookies, brownies, muffins, and quick breads.
4. Try a DIY healthy granola
This is easy as anything:
- Combine chopped pecans, oats, seeds, a drizzle of healthy oil, and a sweetener like maple syrup on a sheet pan.
- Bake until crunchy.
- Toss the whole shebang onto some yogurt with some fresh fruit.
This recipe from NYT Cooking is a great starter, but you can get creative with your ingredient combos.
5. Spice up your salads
Who needs croutons when you have spiced pecans?
- Toss raw pecans with a small amount of neutral-tasting oil, a combo of spices (chili powder, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne), and a sprinkle of salt. For a sweet-savory combo, add a smidge of maple syrup.
- Bake at 300°F (150°C) for about 20 minutes.
6. Boost your veggie sides
If you want to instantly make a veggie side dish more interesting, add pecans.
Pecans are tasty AF, and they’re a great source of gut-friendly fiber, anti-inflammatory fats, essential vitamins and minerals, and polyphenols.
Research also suggests that pecans promote heart health, brain health, balanced blood sugar, a healthy gut microbiome, and more.
Just keep in mind that pecans are calorie-dense — enjoy them in moderation as part of a nutritious diet.