Why Pecans Are So Good For You & How They Compare To Other Nuts
Whether you prefer them sprinkled on a yogurt parfait, tossed into salads, or baked in a pie, you're probably familiar with the buttery crunch of pecans. But there's more to the story of pecans' desirability than their many culinary flexes. These nuts are rich in fiber, phytonutrients, heart-healthy fats, and more, making them a surprisingly nutritious choice for meals and snacks.
Curious about pecans' top health benefits? Read on for answers.
What are pecans?
If you associate pecans with the American South, you're not wrong. The nuts grow on trees native to the southern U.S. and Mexico—hence their frequent incorporation into Southern cuisine.
Pecans have long been known for the high-fat content and creamy texture that makes them such an excellent addition to pies, crumbles, and crusted meats, but they can easily make their way into lower-calorie options, too. (Consider oatmeal, chia pudding, or baked sweet potatoes as a few tasty jumping-off points!)
Pecan trees are quite large and can grow to up to 140 feet. They produce nuts surrounded by an outer husk, which must be removed to get at the edible gems within. And don't be surprised if you find that pecans are more expensive than some other nuts. This is partly because pecan trees can take up to about 10 years to become fully mature, and demand is higher than supply in the U.S.
- Calories: 196
- Carbs: 4 grams
- Fat: 20.4 grams
- Fiber: 2.7 grams
- Protein: 2.6 grams
- Sodium: 0 milligrams
- Zinc: 1.3 milligrams (10% DV)
- Copper: 0.3 milligram (35% DV)
- Manganese: 1.3 milligrams (60% DV)
Isn't it nice when a delicious food has health benefits, too? Pecans have the potential to boost your health in a variety of ways:
They’re great for cardiovascular health.
Pecans are widely recognized as a heart-healthy nut for their ability to lower cholesterol and inflammation.
"Pecans are brimming with heart-healthy unsaturated fats that help lower cholesterol and maintain flexible blood vessels," explains Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., nutrition consultant and bestselling author of The MIND Diet. Moon also points out that the nuts are high in cholesterol-clearing fiber at nearly 3 grams per ounce.
Stocking up on the flavorful nuts also means ramping up your intake of antioxidants. (Pecans are the most antioxidant-rich tree nut!) This may, in turn, help your heart.
"Antioxidants help squelch the free radicals produced in cells during normal metabolism but also as a result of poor diet, stress, pollution, or even intensive physical training," says performance nutritionist Desiree Nielsen, R.D., author of Eat More Plants. "Eating antioxidant-rich whole plant foods, as opposed to taking antioxidant supplements, is associated with decreased risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease."
Their micronutrients support healthy skin, bones, teeth, and more.
You may not give much daily thought to itty-bitty micronutrients like zinc, copper, manganese, and phosphorus, but each of these has its uses for health. Pecans contain over 19 vitamins and minerals that contribute to the well-being of your bones, skin, teeth, eyes, muscles, and nerves. With every pecan-topped salad, grain bowl, or oatmeal, you're adding to your daily micronutrient needs.
They could boost weight loss.
For decades, many folks steered clear of nuts like pecans for fear that their high fat content would lead to weight gain. But current research shows the opposite is actually true. Including pecans in the diet has been linked to burning more calories. In one study, people who ate pecans daily for 8 weeks had increased metabolism and fat breakdown4.
They might help with diabetes prevention.
If you know you're at risk of diabetes, choosing the right foods is key for prevention. And since pecans are a low-glycemic food, they won't dramatically raise blood sugar. A 2018 study in Nutrients found that eating a handful of pecans helped protect adults at risk for developing type 2 diabetes5 and cardiovascular disease related to age, overweight, and body fat distribution.
They're good for your brain.
Nuts are frequently included in roundups of brain health superfoods, with good reason. Several6 studies7 have linked greater nut consumption with better cognitive function. "The MIND diet [a diet focused on brain health] recommends eating nuts like pecans at least five times a week for optimal brain health and to pump the brakes on brain aging," says Moon.
Pecans could even play a role in regulating your mood. A 2019 study revealed that low intakes of zinc, copper, and manganese were associated with depression and anxiety8 in a Japanese population. Since pecans contain this trifecta of micronutrients in abundance, they're a ready-made snack for possible mood elevation.
How do they compare to other nuts?
|Nut||Pecans (1 oz)||Walnuts (1 oz)||Almonds (1 oz)|
|Carbs||4 grams||3.9 grams||6.1 grams|
|Fat||20.4 grams||18.5 grams||14.1 grams|
|Fiber||2.7 grams||1.9 grams||3.5 grams|
|Protein||2.6 grams||4.3 grams||6 grams|
All nuts are good nuts, but clearly, they don't all have the exact same nutrition profile. Between pecans, walnuts, and almonds, almonds have the fewest calories and the most protein and fiber. Not to be outdone, walnuts are noteworthy for their high level of ALA fatty acids, an important omega-3 for heart health.
And though pecans have the most fat and calories of the trio above, they're also richer in some micronutrients such as zinc, copper, and manganese.
Are they good for you?
The answer to the question "are pecans good for you"? A resounding "heck, yeah!"
Though you might initially be put off by their higher-than-average fat content, experts say you can put those concerns to rest. "I don't worry about the fat and calories in nuts like pecans. I know they're heart-healthy and that research shows eating more nuts is actually associated with better weight management in the long run," says Moon.
Nielsen agrees that pecans are A-OK in a healthy diet. "As a plant-based dietitian, I highly recommend eating nuts—including pecans—daily," she says.
Roasted or raw, cashews are a smart and oh-so-indulgent choice. (Roasting doesn't meaningfully change their nutrition profile—more on that below.)
What about their high fat content?
How to eat them
As for how many pecans to eat at a time to reap these benefits, "a great rule of thumb is ¼ (1 ounce) to ⅓ cup daily, depending on appetite and activity level," says Nielsen.
When it comes to culinary applications, there's practically no "can't" in "pecan." Crush them up for a high-protein topping on dessert bars or a fruit crumble, scatter some atop a ricotta toast or a berry oatmeal, use them to crust chicken or steak, or toss them in a trail mix. And of course, there's nothing wrong with eating them by the handful all by themselves.
For even more nutty deliciousness, try these pecan-packed recipes:
Buying & storage tips
Picking sustainably grown nuts may be a bit trickier. All pecans have high water requirements though, as a protein source, they're less resource intensive than most animal proteins.
Once you've shelled out your hard-earned cash for pecans, the last thing you want is for them to spoil. Storing them properly is a must. "Most people store nuts incorrectly; for freshness, it's actually best to store pecans in the fridge!" says Nielsen. "Pecans contain healthy fats that may go rancid when stored at room temperature for more than a couple of months."
Is it OK to eat pecans every day?
Pecans do have relatively high amounts of calories and fats, but according to Moon, you don't have to worry too much about overdoing it on them.
"It's more than OK to eat pecans every day," she says.
Which is healthier for you, walnuts or pecans?
Walnuts and pecans each have their advantages, so we won't play favorites by naming one as superior to the other. In the pecans vs. walnuts debate, it's worth noting that there's only a marginal difference between their calories and carb counts. That said, walnuts are slightly higher in protein, magnesium, and vitamin B6, while pecans boast more fiber, copper, and manganese. Something else to consider: A 1-ounce serving of walnuts is 14 halves, whereas 1 ounce of pecans is about 19 halves, allowing you to eat more individual pieces in a single serving.
Are roasted pecans good for you?
If your taste buds prefer the deeper flavor tones of roasted pecans, don't sweat it! Eating them in this form doesn't mess with their health benefits. "Roasting doesn't change the nutrition profile of pecans in significant ways," says Moon. "In general, roasting modestly increases calories, fat, vitamin A, and beta-carotene, and modestly reduces carbs, vitamin C, and B-vitamins." Still, Moon points out that roasting may add fat and calories if oil is used in the process.
Call 'em pee-kans, pi-kahns, or any other pronunciation; pecans are a healthy nut you can feel good about including in your diet. Their creamy texture makes them a go-to in desserts, but their mild flavor can lean either sweet or savory. Get your fill of these and other nuts with our tips on how to eat more of them.
Sarah Garone, NDTR is a licensed nutritionist and freelance health and wellness writer in Mesa, AZ whose work has appeared in numerous publications. After a first career as a college German teacher, health problems led her to pivot her work to the way food impacts wellness. In addition to her writing, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and three teenage kids, cooking, running, volunteering at a certified pro-women's healthcare center, and singing in a concert choir.