An occasional handful of warm, toasted pecans is not only delicious and satisfying, but researchers are finding that they may be as beneficial to your health as cooking with olive oil. Pecans are an excellent source of oleic acid, a fatty acid found in abundance in olive oil. Pecans, like other nuts, are high in fat but an estimated 90% of the fat is monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats have a protective effect on the blood, lowering total blood cholesterol and preserving the HDL's that help combat heart disease. And in addition, pecans are believed to be helpful in fighting some cancers.
Loma Linda University researchers have determined that the oils in pecans are similar to olive oil widely consumed in the Mediterranean area where the population has for centuries enjoyed longevity and one of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world.
Jean Carper, health and nutrition writer and author of "The Food Pharmacy" and "Food - Your Miracle Medicine," writes "Nuts are one of the original foods of prehistoric man. Therefore, the body is attuned to nuts. It needs nuts." Carper also writes that fiber in pecans and other nuts is mostly insoluble which has been linked to reduced cholesterol levels and shown to be helpful in warding off colon cancer. Continuing, "Pecans contain high levels of zinc, believed to be beneficial to the body's immune rejuvenation system; high levels of magnesium, beneficial in fighting heart disease; and selenium, found to be an antioxidant nutrient connected to a reduction in the incidence of stomach cancer. Pecans also contain vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin that may guard against heart disease, some cancers, Parkinson's disease and cataracts."
Moderate amounts of pecans can be a good addition to a healthy diet. Pecans appear in the meat / protein section of the food pyramid guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Plan now to purchase North Carolina pecans during November.
Here comes the Science...
Pecans are a popular food item eaten either raw or toasted. They are probably even more popular as a component of other foods. A pair of kernels from one typical, improved variety pecan has about 30 calories. Typical in this case means 60 nuts per pound with a shelling percent of 55% kernel. Percentages of the different organic compounds and minerals vary among the different cultivars and within the same cultivar from year to year and place to place.
Oil is the biggest component in pecan kernels, varying from around 65% to more than 75%. Most of the oil is unsaturated (around 90% or more). The ratio of monounsaturated fat to polyunsaturated fat is about 3:1. They are fairly high in phosphorus, and a good source of vitamin A, thiamin, and riboflavin.
Carbohydrate content varies from 12% to 15%.
Protein, around 10%
Ash, about 1.6%
Water, 3 to 4.5 %
Fiber, about 2.2%
Oleic acid and linoleic acid together comprise about 95% of the total content of pecan oil.
Oleic acid 39 to 83%
Linoleic acid 10 to 49%
Stearic acid 1.1 to 2.9%
Palmitic acid 5.4 to 10.6%
Cholesterol, none to a trace.
The percent saturated fat in pecan oil thus averages about 5%. The highest reported percent saturated fat is well below many popular vegetable oils, including corn, peanut, soybean, and cottonseed. Pecan oil compares favorable with olive oil in percent monounsaturated fat.