Pecans: “Nutrition in a Nutshell”

Originating in North America, pecans are the only major nut indigenous to the United States. The pecan tree is native to the Southern and Central regions of the United States and the nuts are primarily cultivated in Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, and Louisiana. Pecan trees yield large, oblong-shaped nuts with a unique, rich and buttery taste. Given their delicious flavor and nutritional value, pecans are now grown in various parts of the world, but the United States remains the top global producer of pecans. Known as "nutrition in a nutshell," pecans are an excellent source of various essential nutrients, including vitamins (such as vitamin E, vitamin A, folate, and niacin) and minerals (such as magnesium, potassium, zinc, and phosphorus). These nutrients play important roles in maintaining overall health.

For centuries, pecans played a vital role in the diets of Native American populations. Archaeological findings have led experts to conclude that people have been consuming pecans in North America since around 6,750 BCE. Native American tribes have been known to eat and trade pecans, long before European influence. Interestingly, the word "pecan" originates from the Algonquin language term "pakani," which translates to "a nut too hard to crack by hand."

Interestingly, pecans increasingly became a vital food source for Native Americans  as animals that lured the original settlers to North America eventually died out. This was due to a warming trend that began approximately 16,000 years ago. The Native American tribes adapted by establishing more stable, semi-nomadic cultures, leading to significant agricultural changes. As glaciers receded, indigenous tribes in the Lower Mississippi region began to incorporate more plant foods into their diets. 

Pecans were among the readily available plant foods, and the tribes started gathering them haphazardly during their hunting and gathering expeditions. Native American tribes that lived in the southern region of the United States carried pecans throughout their travels. These tribes often traded pecans with other tribes, primarily those outside the local region where pecans were not native. Additionally, pecan trading with early explorers was also common. For Native American tribes, pecans provided significantly more calories than other foods, such as fruit or corn. With a fat content of approximately 72%, pecans filled a dietary need for fat that was scarce in many Native American diets.

The pecan nut contains one of the highest fat percentages of any vegetable product, with a caloric value comparable to butter. Over 90% of the fat in pecans is unsaturated. They are a great source of monounsaturated fats, which are beneficial for heart health. These fats can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels, also known as bad cholesterol, and increase HDL cholesterol levels, also known as good cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, consuming nuts can help to lower cholesterol, maintain healthy blood pressure, and promote better blood flow to tissues. This, in turn, helps to maintain the health of blood vessels and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.

Among tree nuts, pecans, walnuts, and chestnuts have the highest levels of antioxidants. Pecans contain high levels of phenolic acid, a potent antioxidant. The presence of phenolic compounds in pecans can help minimize the risk of chronic diseases and inflammation by neutralizing free radicals in the body. Recent research reveals that pecans may possess neuroprotective properties due to the presence of vitamin E and antioxidants. Studies suggest that consuming nuts, such as pecans, on a regular basis may help reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline. These antioxidants also help protect against various diseases such as cancer, and can lower the risk of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. 

Pecans also have a surprising amount of protein, containing 9% of this nutrient in each serving. In addition, for those looking to increase their fiber intake, eating just one ounce of these tasty nuts is enough to meet 10% of the daily recommended value. Despite being calorie-dense, studies suggest that including nuts like pecans in your diet may not lead to weight gain. The combination of fiber, protein, and healthy fats in pecans can help promote a feeling of fullness, potentially preventing overeating.

Pecans are a versatile choice for any palate. They can be consumed raw, sweetened, or salted. If you prefer the simplicity of raw nuts, Nussli118°’s  Organic Sprouted Pecans are a great snacking option to reap the benefits of this nutritional powerhouse. For those with a bit of a sweet tooth, our Chocolate Pecan Squares are the perfect treat; and for a savory, salty snack, pecans are one of the nuts in our Smoked Paprika Nut Clusters.

The history of pecan consumption by Native American tribes in the United States can teach us a lot in our current times of challenges posed by the overconsumption of meat and climate change. High in fat and fiber, and offering a range of 19 essential vitamins and minerals, the embrace of pecans not only contributes to our overall health, but through the choice of consuming more plant foods, can contribute to the overall health and well-being of the planet.


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