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Pecans vs. Walnuts: Taste, Nutrition & Uses For These Popular Nuts

Bowl of Walnuts and a Nut Cracker
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If you're nuts about nuts, chances are, your taste buds are constantly happy. The rich, smoky-meets-creamy flavors of a delicious nut add depth to nearly any dish, while also operating as the perfect stand-alone snack. You may have cooked with or munched on popular nuts like pecans and walnuts interchangeably, but they each possess unique qualities that are worth taking a look at before your next meal. 

Pecan vs walnuts: How do they taste?

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If you were to close your eyes and take a bite of both pecans and walnuts, you'll notice a stark difference. "Pecans are a little bit sweeter, and walnuts have a characteristic taste that can be bitter," says Enette Larson-Meyer, Ph.D., R.D., professor and director of the master in nutrition and dietetics program at Virginia Tech. Roasting adds a whole other dimension to both nuts, so she likes to lightly roast her pecans and walnuts to bring out their distinct flavors. 

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Pecan nutrition

According to the USDA, an ounce of pecans (or approximately 19 halves) contains the following:

  • Calories: 196
  • Fat: 20 g
  • Saturated fat: 1.8 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 g
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Potassium: 116 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3.9 g
  • Dietary fiber: 2.7 g
  • Sugar: 1.1 g
  • Protein: 2.6 g

"Compared to other nuts, pecans are especially high in antioxidants," says Krista Linares, R.D., owner of Nutrition con Sabor. "A diet high in antioxidants can help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease, as well as help prevent and repair cellular damage that can lead to signs of aging." What's more is that research from the Journal of Nutrition found that a serving of pecans a day can do wonders in lowering cholesterol levels, which can ultimately help prevent heart disease. 

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Walnut nutrition

According to the USDA, an ounce of walnuts (or approximately 14 halves) contains the following:

  • Calories: 185
  • Fat: 18 g
  • Saturated fat: 1.7 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 g
  • Sodium: 0.6 mg
  • Potassium: 125 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3.9 g
  • Dietary fiber: 1.9 g
  • Sugar: 0.7 g
  • Protein: 4.3 g

Walnuts are a good source of alpha-linolenic acid, which is a type of omega-3 polyunsaturated fat, says Linares. "Omega-3 fats are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and cognitive decline. This makes walnuts a great choice for heart and brain health," she says. 

While consuming a serving of walnuts a day, or five per week, won't automatically tack on an extra decade, it may help you live longer, according to researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Just how much longer? Approximately 1.3 years in addition to reducing your risk of death from any cause by 14%. 

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How do they compare? Is one superior to the other?

It would be quite difficult to choose if you *had* to go with one nut over the other, but walnuts do have a serious leg up in the omega-3 department. While omega-3 fatty acids are harder to come by in plant-based foods (they're most notorious in fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, and herring), Larson-Meyer says it's not enough of a reason to forget about other nuts.

Overall, she says they're both excellent sources of essential polyunsaturated fats, and contain magnesium, iron, and small amounts of calcium. They also contain some protein (3 grams and 4 grams for pecans and walnuts, respectively).

Linares points out that both have unique nutrition advantages over the other. "Pecans are relatively lower in carbs and higher in fiber than other nuts, so they may be an especially good choice for anyone who needs to manage their blood sugar," she says. "Walnuts, on the other hand, would be an especially good choice for anyone watching their heart health because of the omega-3 content."

When to use pecans vs. walnuts.

The beauty of cooking is that there are no rules—let your taste and texture preferences guide you, Linares advises. "If you have a strong preference for one over the other, you can feel confident choosing that one because both pecans and walnuts offer fiber and healthy unsaturated fats," she says. "Pecans go especially well in desserts or other sweet foods due to their flavor, whereas walnuts are a bit more versatile and do well in both sweet and savory contexts."

If you're seriously stuck, follow Larson-Meyer's lead: "Pecans often go with chocolate, dried fruits, and cheeses; and walnuts might pair with salads, greens, certain cheeses, and go really well in roasted squash, with rice, quinoa, and cheese." Her favorite trick is throwing pecans and walnuts in the oven for about 10 minutes and stirring about halfway in. Store them in a tight container, and you'll be left with a slightly caramelized nut that's super crunchy on the outside with a softer, melt-in-your-mouth interior.

Here are some other tasty ways to use pecans and walnuts:

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The takeaway.

Whether you're (wal)nuts for nuts, or (pe)can't go a day without them, you're bound to get a slew of crucial vitamins and minerals from both of these nuts. They each have their standout strengths. Walnuts contain heart-healthy omega-3s, fewer calories, more protein, more potassium, and less overall fat. While pecans contain more dietary fiber, a touch less sodium, and boast a lovely sweet flavor that makes for a healthy dessert or pairs nicely with vegetables. Whichever nut you choose to nosh on, you're sure to reap some solid health benefits.

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