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Can Pecans Help Lower Your Cholesterol?

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Updated September 30, 2012

Can Pecans Help Lower Your Cholesterol?

Heart healthy nuts like pecans can help lower your cholesterol.

Michael W, stock.xchg
Pecans are healthy nuts that come from the pecan tree, which is a tree indigenous to North America. In fact, the name “pecan” was bestowed on this nut by North American Indians to describe the need to use a stone to crack its shell. Although they are used extensively in many recipes, ranging from various toppings to pecan pie, pecans have also been garnering new appeal -- as a heart health helper.

Do They Really Help The Heart?

Studies looking at pecans have suggested that they have the ability to lower cholesterol, similar to other nuts such as walnuts and pistachios. These studies involved individuals with normal or high cholesterol levels following either a controlled diet or no diet specific diet at all. Although the studies involving pecans are limited, they all have suggested that pecans have the ability to lower total cholesterol levels and LDL (“bad” cholesterol) by up to 10%.

This lipid-lowering effect can be attributed to the high amounts of unsaturated fats contained in pecans. Unsaturated fats are found in many nuts and are considered heart-healthy, since they can help lower cholesterol. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recognized that some nuts, including pecans, may have the ability to reduce the risk of heart disease. Because of this, the FDA has given approval for pecans to be labeled as a heart-healthy food.

The results concerning HDL (“good” cholesterol) are conflicting. One study has suggested that pecans may raise HDL cholesterol up to 5%, whereas another study suggested that pecans may slightly lower HDL.

The fact that this lipid-lowering effect appears to be temporary means further exploration into this is needed. In a couple of the studies involving consumption of pecans, the biggest benefit was seen within one month. However, after two months, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol appeared to slightly rise. More research is needed to investigate this.

So, are pecans really heart healthy? Current studies suggest that they are good for the heart because of their ability to help lower cholesterol. Most of these studies involved consuming 1.5 ounces of pecans a day, which is roughly a handful. When substituted for other snacks -- such as crackers or chips -- pecans, or even other nuts, may be able to help lower cholesterol. Despite their high fat content, most studies found that their participants did not gain weight by consuming pecans.

Sources:

Eastman WA, Clayschulte BJ. Pecan effects on serum lipoproteins and dietary intakes of hyperlipidemic individuals consuming self-selected diets. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal. 33(3):197-207.

Morgan WA, Clayschulte BJ. Pecans lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in people with normal lipid levels. J Am Diet Assoc. 100(3):312-318.

National Pecan Shellers Association. 2007. Available at: http://ilovepecansorg.fury.uplinkearth.com/history.html. Accessed 17 August 2007.

Ohr Milo L. Nutraceuticals and functional foods. Food Technology. 58(1):55-59.

Rajaram S, Burke K, Connell B, Myint T, Sabate J. A monounsaturated fatty acid-rich pecan-enriched diet favorabley alters the serum lipid profile of healthy men and women. J Nutr . 131(9):2275-2279.

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