February 1, 2009

By johnmac

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February is heart month, so this month’s tip is about a heart-healthy food that may surprise you: pecans. Pecans are rich in monounsaturated fat and vitamin E – two nutrients that are known to support cardiovascular health. Research conducted at Loma Linda University in California shows that eating a handful of pecans daily may prevent the oxidation of blood lipids and can dramatically lower LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, therefore reducing the risk of heart disease. In fact, the research suggested that pecans double the cholesterol lowering effect of traditional ‘heart healthy’ diets. (Nutrition Research, August 2006; Journal of Nutrition , Sept 2001; 131:p2275-2279) In addition to their heart-healthy benefits, research conducted over the past decade indicates that pecans:

  • provide an excellent source of antioxidants
  • play a role in weight control
  • are a nutrient-dense food source

Natural Antioxidants in Pecans Landmark research published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, June 2004, found that pecans rank highest among all nuts and are among the top category of foods to contain the highest antioxidant capacitymeaning pecans may decrease the risk of cancer, coronary heart disease, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Using a method that has proven to be a good indicator of the total antioxidant capacity of foods called ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), researchers measured the antioxidant capacity of nuts among 100 commonly consumed healthy foods and snacks, including different types of nuts, and determined pecans have more antioxidant capacity than walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, peanuts and cashews. Weight Control and Pecans A review of pecan and other nut research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,September 2003, suggests that nuts like pecans may aid in weight loss and maintenance. The review cited studies indicating that nut consumption may increase metabolic rates and enhance satiety. Nutrient-Dense Pecans Pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals – including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc. Pecans are also a natural, high-quality source of plant-based protein, containing very few carbohydrates and no cholesterol.   Pecans are delicious and easy to add to your diet. Snack on them as is, or add them to smoothies, salads, soups, baking, yogurt, cereals – as always, experiment! Here is a very easy way to combine a number of heart-healthy foods:

  • Bake a yam (wash the yam, do not peel. Puncture skin in several places using a fork, and put in a 350F oven for 45 – 60 minutes, or until soft)
  • When fully baked, cut the yam open and mash in about 1 tbsp of coconut oil (a heart healthy and weight-loss promoting oil!). Sprinkle with a handful of crumbled pecans, a little cinnamon and ground cloves.

You can turn this into a great side dish by baking several yams, removing the skin, then mashing them with coconut oil, cinnamon and ground cloves. Spoon the mixture into a casserole dish. Smooth it out and top with crumbled pecans. And remember, as with most other foods, to derive the maximum health benefits, it is important that pecans are eaten in their fresh/natural state – not roasted in oils and coated with salt and other flavourings. Enjoy! Anna p.s. If you’re looking for a great Valentine’s gift for that special someone, how about treating them to a relaxing Foot Reflexology session? Gift certificates are available at both my east and west end locations. References:

  • National Pecan Shellers Association (
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