Tuesday, April 14, 2009

national pecan day

Today is National Pecan Day.  Pecans are one of my favorite nuts.  Although they are very hard to crack they are certainly worth the effort.  Pecans have sweet, tender nutmeats that are very tasty.

Pecans (Carya illinoinensis) are a species of hickory tree that is native to the south-central region of the United States of America. The name Pecan comes from an Algonquin word that means a nut requiring a stone to crack. Although they are native to North America they have been imported and are now grown commercially in Australia, Brazil, China, Israel, Mexico, Peru and South Africa. A pecan tree can bear fruit for up to 300 years.

There has been a lot of interest in pecans and their healthy profile; they add fiber to your diet as well as providing vitamins B and C, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorous.  Pecans are also a good source of monosaturated fats (the same kind of beneficial fat that is found in olive oil).  

According to studies from Loma Linda University and Texas A&M University, "a heart-healthy 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" LDL cholesterol...and helped maintain desirable levels of "good" HDL cholesterol."

The National Cholesterol Education program states, "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."

Of course the best way to eat them is to start with raw nuts.  Pecans are very versatile and can be added to a wide variety of baked goods, they go well in salads, can be used in pilaf-type recipes, or can be spiced and flavored to be eaten as a snack.

However you use them, just remember to store them properly.  Pecans need to be kept in dry, clean, airtight containers.  Out of the shell they will last at room temperature up to two months or refrigerated up to one year and frozen up to two years.  Because they are a low-moisture nut pecans can be refrozen several times without losing quality.

Eat well, be well. 
photo courtesy of: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2_pecan_nuts.jpg
information source: http://plantanswers.tamu.edu/recipes/pecanrecipes/healthstudies.html and http://www.royaltypecans.com/nutrition.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pecan

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