Pecan Health Studies

” Eating pecans is heart-healthy.
” Eating pecans can lower your cholesterol.
” Eating pecans can lower your risk of heart disease.
” Pecans are a good source of important nutrients.

Adding pecans to a low-fat diet can significantly improve the cholesterol-lowering properties of a heart-healthy diet. According to two new studies (Loma Linda University and Texas A&M University), a heart-healthy diet, such as American Heart Association’s Step I Diet, is more effective in lowering cholesterol when pecans are added – even though the pecans added more total fat to the diet. And study participants did not gain weight on the pecan diet. This confirms that it is the type of fat in the diet (i.e. the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat in pecans) that is more important to heart health than total fat intake. These studies showed that the addition of pecans to a heart-healthy diet decreased the levels of “bad” Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, more than the Step I diet, and helped maintain desirable levels of “good” High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

A pecan-rich diet also increased levels of dietary fiber, and essential nutrients such as thiamin, magnesium, copper and manganese (Texas A&M study). New Mexico State University researchers have also found that simply adding pecans to an average self-selected diet lowered “bad” LDL cholesterol levels by 6% in study subjects.

The April 2001 issue of Metabolism reports that a diet rich in nuts, vegetables and fruits may reduce cholesterol levels as much as medication. The National Cholesterol Education Program notes that for every 1% reduction in LDL cholesterol, there is a 1.5% reduction in incidence of coronary heart disease. Thus, the pecan diets in the Loma Linda and Texas A&M studies would correspond with a 25% decreased risk of heart disease.

Plant sterols are found naturally in pecans in concentrated amounts. Ninety percent of the sterols in pecans is in the form of beta sitosterol (Univ. of Georgia study), a food component that competes with the absorption of cholesterol in the body and thus has the ability to lower blood cholesterol.

The Vitamin E in pecans (gamma-tocopherol) may improve intestinal, prostate health. Gamma-tocopherol is an important antioxidant which has been shown to provide benefits for intestinal health and a protective effect for prostate cancer.

University of North Carolina researchers have shown that Vitamin E in the diet may also guard against heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and cataracts.

Pecan kernels contain 65 to 70% oil. Approximately 73% of fresh pecan oil consists of monounsaturated (oleic) and 17% polyunsaturated (linoleic) fatty acids. Oleic is the same fatty acid found in olives. Olive oil has been demonstrated to be effective in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.

Pecans are an excellent source of monounsaturated fatty acid – similar to olive oil.
Dr. Scott Grundy at the Southwest Medical Center in Dallas has shown that polyunsaturated fat diets lowered both plasma LDL and HDL cholesterol. However, the monounsaturated fat diet only lowered plasma “bad” LDL and left the “good” HDL intact resulting in a higher HDL/LDL ratio that reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.

In 1997 researchers at New Mexico State University found that pecan consumption significantly lowered total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol in both high and low cholesterol subjects. Pecan consumption lowered “bad” LDL-cholesterol by 10% in both high and low subjects at 4 weeks into the study. Pecan consumption had no effect on the “good” HDL-cholesterol levels. The result was a higher HDL/LDL ratio that reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.

Pecans are a great source of antioxidants – similar to red wine.

Remember, Learn and Have Fun!

David Rodriguez is the County Extension Agent-Horticulture for Bexar County. He represents Texas Cooperative Extension with the Texas A&M University System.
For any landscape or gardening information, call the Bexar County Master Gardeners Hotline@ at (210) 467-6575, email questions to, or visit our County Extension website at

Special Note: Listen “Live” with David Rodriguez every Saturday morning between
8:00-11:00 a.m. on WOAI 1200 AM, Gardening Show. Feel free to call in at 737-1200 or 1-800-383-9624.

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