If there is any tree nut that deserves the title of being truly American, it would be the pecan. Pecan trees are native to the United States and since they can live and bear their fruit for nearly three hundred years, it's certain they were a favorite protein source for not only Native Americans, but early European settlers as well. Here's a great water fountain nugget of knowledge - pecans are not truly nuts, rather, they are a drupe fruit. A drupe is a fleshy fruit with a central stone which contains a seed. Walnuts, almonds, peaches, plums and cherries are also drupes. A true nut is a hard shelled pod that holds both the fruit and the seed of the plant, such as chestnuts, acorns and hazelnuts. Yet aside from peanuts, all nuts are generally referred to as tree nuts.
The Algonquian name pecan actually means "nut requiring a stone to break" and began to be commercially grown and distributed in the early 1880's. Raw pecans can be stored in the fridge for months and are a favorite in pies, cookies and ice cream, or eaten raw or roasted in a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. There are many health benefits of pecans vs. other tree nuts that make them a great addition to a healthy lifestyle.
- High in fiber and protein - pecans contribute to a healthy colon, preventing constipation and reducing the risks of colon cancer and hemorrhoids. One cup of chopped pecans holds 10g of fiber compared to 4g for cashews and 8g for walnuts. The high fiber content of pecans is instrumental in weight loss, because fiber increases metabolism and gives the stomach the sense of being full for longer periods. With 9g of protein per cup, pecans offer a great protein solution for vegans and vegetarians.
- Heart and brain health is enhanced when you eat pecans, because the healthy monounsaturated fats like oleic acid along with phenolic antioxidants help prevent strokes and coronary artery disease. A serving of pecans contains 12g of healthy fats compared to walnuts which only hold 2.5g. - healthy fats contain Omega 3 which can reduce cholesterol levels as much as medication. Pecans also beat walnuts by supplying 49% of the trace mineral manganese, which is used by the body for brain function, carbohydrate and fat metabolism and connective tissue strength.
- Anti-cancer properties of pecans stems from their rich phytochemical substances such as polyphenolic antioxidant ellagic acid, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and lutein. All of these remove toxic oxygen free radicals which promote cancer and infections, in addition to preventing the binding of certain carcinogen cells, thus protecting the body from cancer.
- Reduce hair loss and stimulate hair growth by eating pecans which are a good source of iron and an an excellent source of L-arginine, an amino acid which, when applied topically helps treat male pattern baldness as well as encourage the growth of healthy hair. Pecans also have a significant amount of gamma tocopherol (a unique form of vitamin E) that contributes to healthy hair.
- Anti-aging benefits of pecans come from the high levels of anti-oxidants such as ellagic acid, vitamin A, vitamin E. Anti-oxidants eliminate the free radicals which cause premature skin aging, such as wrinkles, fine lines and patchy skin complexion. As a matter of fact, pecans have the highest antioxidant capacity when compared to eight other common tree nuts.
- Nutrition density of pecans is better than many tree nuts because they supply a generous amount of one or more nutrients compared to the number of calories. While lower in calories (196c/oz) than macadamia (204) and higher in vitamin B6 than almonds and brazil nuts, pecans are a great option for healthy snacks and calorie conscious diets.