Besides being one of the most elegant, versatile and rich-tasting nuts you can put on your plate, they offer many impressive health benefits. In fact, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend eating 4 to 5 servings of nuts each week.
The Mayo Clinic conducted a study which found that all nuts are nutrient dense and naturally cholesterol free. Not only are nuts cholesterol free but, studies have suggested that eating pecans may help reduce LDL cholesterol levels, leading to a reduction in the risk of heart attacks and coronary artery disease. The serving size for nuts is about one ounce, which equals about 15 pecan halves. Pecans are a great staple for vegetarians, because one serving of pecans can take the place of the protein found in an ounce of meat.
Pecans are also a rich source of oleic acid, the same type of fatty acid found in olive oil. Researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago recently found in laboratory tests that oleic acid has the ability to suppress the activity of a gene in cells thought to trigger breast cancer. While this area of study is still in its early stages, the researchers say it could eventually translate into a recommendation to eat more foods rich in oleic acid, like pecans and olive oil.
Researchers from Loma Linda University in California and New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico, have confirmed that when pecans are part of the daily diet, levels of bad cholesterol in the blood drop. Pecans get their cholesterol-lowering ability from both the type of fat they contain and the presence of beta-sitosterol, a natural cholesterol-lowering compound. Eating 1-2 ounces of pecans a day, when its part of a heart-healthy diet, can reduce the risk of heart disease. Moreover, a study published in the June 2004 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that pecans, hazelnuts, and walnuts contained the highest antioxidant levels of all nuts tested.
The same natural compound that gives pecans its cholesterol-lowering power, has also been shown to be effective in treating the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland in men. About two ounces of pecans provides a dose of beta-sitosterol found to be effective. In addition, a recent laboratory study from Purdue University found that gamma-tocopherol, the type of vitamin E found in pecans, has the ability to kill prostate cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. Last but not least, despite the widely held belief that nuts are fattening, several population studies have found that as nut consumption increased, body fat actually decreased.
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