Hailing from the U.S. and Mexico, pecans were a staple in the Native American food supply, especially in the fall and winter, and were even traded monetarily. According to The Spruce Eats, “pecan” is the Algonquin word for “nut that requires a stone to crack.”1
Native Americans introduced pecans to Spanish and French colonists, who eventually cultivated and exported pecans worldwide in the 18th and 19th centuries.2
Today, the U.S. continues to be the leading producer of pecans, harvesting between 250 and 300 million pounds annually. Pecans are grown commercially in 15 states, with the top-producers being Georgia, Texas and New Mexico.3,4
Pecans look similar to walnuts, although they have thinner, spotted brown shells that are easier to crack; they’re also smoother, more slender and longer. Pecans are harvested during autumn and are a popular ingredient for holiday dishes and snacks.5
Health Benefits of Pecans
Pecans are in the top 10 foods that contain the highest amount of antioxidants, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.6 One of those is vitamin E,7 which research shows may provide neuroprotective properties8 and help lower the risk for coronary heart disease by keeping blood lipids from oxidizing.9
Another phytochemical contributing to pecan’s antioxidant activity is ellagic acid,10 which may help inhibit cancer cell proliferation.11,12 Pecans contain beta-carotenes, lutein and zeaxanthin,13 which may help fight against free radicals and reduce your risk for certain diseases like cancer14 and age-related macular degeneration.15
Pecans are rich in minerals like manganese,16 which may help promote good heart health.17 Another mineral is copper,18 which plays a role in energy production and metabolism,19 and magnesium,20 which may help maintain optimal nerve function, heart rhythm and muscle and bone health.21
Pecans also contain zinc,22 which is necessary for optimal immune function, protein and DNA synthesis, cell division and wound healing,23 as well as thiamin, which plays a role in energy metabolism and cell function.24 Some of the other beneficial minerals in pecans include phosphorus, iron, calcium and selenium.25 For more information about the nutritional value of pecans, check out the table below:26
Pecan Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
|Calcium 70 mg
Studies Done on Pecans
One study published in the Journal of Nutrition highlighted the high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids in pecans, which may help raise good cholesterol levels and reduce triacylglycerol concentration without increasing body weight. The researchers concluded that pecans “may therefore be recommended as part of prescribed cholesterol-lowering diet.”27
Another study published in Nutrients found that pecans may help improve insulin sensitivity in adults who are overweight or slightly obese, which in turn lowers the risk for diabetes and cardiometabolic disease.28
How to Toast Pecans
Because of their intense flavor and extra crunch, toasted pecans make for a delicious snack and a tasty ingredient to salads and other recipes. Here are two ways to toast pecans:29
- Toast them in the oven — Place the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer. Set the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake them for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on them, as they can easily burn.
- Toast the pecans in a pan — Put the pecans on a skillet in an even layer. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure that they are toasted evenly. Once they’re golden brown and aromatic, remove them from the heat.
Pecan Healthy Recipes:
Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Pecans
✓ 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
✓ 1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
✓ 2 tablespoons coconut oil
✓ 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
✓ Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. On a large rimmed baking sheet, put the Brussels sprouts, pecans, oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Turn the Brussels sprouts cut-side down.
- Roast for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the Brussels sprouts are golden and tender.
(Recipe adapted from My Recipes30)
Pecans Fun Facts
Being thoroughly American in heritage, pecans were honored by having April declared National Pecan Month.31 Especially loved by Texans, the pecan tree was officially designated the state tree by Texas legislature in 1919.32
Native to America,33 pecans offer a beneficial combination of minerals, including manganese, copper, magnesium and zinc. They also provide free radical-fighting compounds, such as vitamin E, beta-carotenes, lutein and zeaxanthin.34,35,36
Being a delectable, protein-rich food, it doesn't take much to incorporate pecans into your diet. Delicious in the shell, straight from the tree or hulled for your convenience, pecans are a wonderful addition to a plethora of scrumptious and nutritious dishes.