Here's Why to Make Pecans Your New, Nutrient-Dense Nut of Choice

They're a heart-healthy option (no matter how you pronounce 'pecan').

Pecans (often pronounced either PEE-can or pee-KAHN) hold a special place in my heart. As a young woman from the South, these crunchy, golden-brown delicacies are one of my favorite types of nut. As a little girl, I remember cracking open dozens of pecans with my dad (I, using a nutcracker, and he, using his hands) and savoring their rich, nutty, buttery flavor.

Growing up, my mother also used to make pecans to bake one of my favorite desserts: pecan pie. And while the sugary-sweet delight may not be the healthiest of options, it doesn't take away from the fact that pecans are downright delicious. And luckily, childhood memories aside, pecans have proven to be quite nutritious and heart healthy.

Where Pecans Come From

Pecan trees are the only major tree nuts indigenous to America and are produced by a species of hickory tree. According to the University of Wyoming (UW) Extension service, pecans are "considered one of the most valuable North American nut species." Additionally, wild pecans were actually a staple in the diets of Native Americans. In fact, the name "pecan" is a Native American word of Algonquin origin used to describe "all nuts requiring a stone to crack," according to UW.

Pecan trees flourish best in warm climates with appropriate water supply, lots of sun, and well-nourished soil. And while pecan trees could be considered late bloomers (they take almost 10 years to produce nuts), once they finally produce them, pecan trees can continue to produce nuts for 100 years or more (talk about the gift that keeps on giving!).

These wonderful nuts can be tossed into nearly anything, from your favorite salad to a slice of cheesecake or banana bread—or you can simply snack on them alone. If you're looking to add a new healthy nut to your trail mix, serve up a quick cocktail hour bite, or add texture to a bowl of oatmeal, read on to learn why pecans are both a tasty and nutritious choice.

Pecan Nutritional Benefits

Packed With Vitamins and Minerals

Nuts—including pecans—are extremely high in vitamins and minerals relative to their small size. Nutritionally, they pack a punch with health benefits. "Nuts are one of the most nutrient-dense, nutritionally complete foods you can eat," says Kris Sollid, RD, senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council. "They contain a variety of nutrients including healthy fats, dietary fiber, and protein."

High in Copper, Manganese, Thiamin, and Zinc

Sollid explains that pecans are also an "excellent source of copper and manganese and a good source of thiamin and zinc." Copper is an essential mineral involved in energy production and iron metabolism. Manganese is a trace mineral that plays an important role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation. It's also necessary for normal brain and nerve function. Thiamin, often referred to as vitamin B1, is essential to the growth, development, and function of cells. And zinc helps keep your immune system and metabolism functioning normally.

Good for Your Heart

Eating nuts (including pecans) as part of a healthy diet can significantly increase your heart health. Research suggests that eating nuts may improve the health of the lining of your arteries and can help reduce the risk of developing blood clots.

"Pecans are high in monounsaturated fats (MUFA). MUFA can improve your blood cholesterol by helping to lower your LDL, (aka the bad cholesterol). Keeping your LDL level low reduces your risk for heart disease and stroke," Sollid explains. "While there is no official recommended amount of nuts to consume each day, research has shown that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, including pecans, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease," she adds.

Fiber Superstar

According to Sollid, pecans are a "good source of fiber, providing 3 grams per ounce, or about 11% of the amount of fiber recommended each day." Mayo Clinic suggests that "fiber, along with adequate fluid intake, moves quickly and relatively easily through the digestive tract and helps it function properly." A high-fiber diet may also help reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Plant Protein Powerhouse

Pecans are also an excellent source of high-quality protein. Sollid notes that pecans are a plant-based source of protein, providing three grams of protein per ounce. Bay Health explains that plant-based protein sources are easier to digest, are less inflammatory, and contain more vitamins and minerals than animal-based proteins.

How to Snack, Cook, and Bake With Pecans

"Pecans are a versatile food that can be included in a variety of meals and snacks," Sollid says. "They go well in snack and trail mixes and make a great topping for oatmeal, yogurt, and salads. They're also a classic ingredient in sweet potato casserole, a Thanksgiving favorite. And of course, pecans are delicious all by themselves year-round." Here are some of Real Simple's favorite ways to include pecans in snacks, sides, mains, and more for a healthy, nutty crunch.

BBQ-Spiced Pecans

BBQ-Spiced Pecans Recipe
Jennifer Causey

These candied pecans have a secret ingredient: barbecue sauce. A bowl of this savory-sweet treat is perfect for cocktail hour or afternoon snack.

Maple, Pear, and Pecan Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oats

Two bowls of maple, pear, and pecan steel-cut oats displayed on a table with two spoons.
Brie Passano

Pecans are a hearty (and heart-healthy) addition to this nourishing breakfast, which is sweetened with cinnamon, nutmeg, and maple syrup. Top with sliced pears (or sliced apples, if that's what you have on hand).

Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Pecans

Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Pecans
John Kernick

Toss Brussels sprouts with pecans, oil, garlic, salt, and pepper and roast for 20 minutes, and you have a fabulous side dish that's both healthy and delicious.

Maple Sweet Potatoes With Spicy Pecan Praline

Maple Sweet Potatoes With Spicy Pecan Praline Recipe
Victor Protasio

To make this unique, sweet-and-savory sweet potato dish, the pecans are candied and flecked with cayenne and lime zest.

Pecan Sandies

Pecan Sandies
Greg DuPree

And what's a roundup of pecan recipes without a sweet treat? These classic pecan sandies are buttery and toasty with a hint of vanilla. Pecans take this short-bread-adjacent cookie over the top.

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  1. UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension, Nuts about Pecans.

  2. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Copper.

  3. Mount Sinai, Manganese.

  4. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Thiamin.

  5. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Zinc.

  6. Hshieh TT, Petrone AB, Gaziano JM, et al. Nut consumption and risk of mortality in the Physicians' Health StudyAm J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(2):407-412. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.099846

  7. Barber TM, Kabisch S, Pfeiffer AFH, et al. The health benefits of dietary fibreNutrients. 2020;12(10):3209. doi:10.3390/nu12103209

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