“Pecan” is a Native American word that was first used to describe nuts requiring a stone to crack. Pecans originated in central and eastern North America and the river valleys of Mexico. Pecan trees can live to be over 200 years old and only produce nuts every two years. There are over 1,000 varieties of pecans and there are two types of pecans produced within the United States: native or seedling pecans, and improved varieties. Over 80% of the world’s pecan crop comes from the United States. The entire 2014 U.S. pecan crop totaled 264.2 million pounds or 132,075 tons and the value was $517 million dollars. Over three-fourths of all U.S. pecans were produced in Georgia, New Mexico and Texas.
According to the USDA, one ounce of pecans (about 20 halves) has 3 g protein, 4 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber and 20 g fats (mostly monounsaturated), and they are cholesterol free. One ounce of pecans has as much fiber as a small apple. Pecans are a good source of copper, vitamin B1, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese and vitamin E. In fact, one ounce of pecans contains 60 percent of your recommended daily intake of manganese and 15 percent of the recommended intake of zinc. Manganese is involved in brain function, carb and fat metabolism and connective tissue strength. Copper is used by the body for energy, nervous system function and the formation of connective tissue. Zinc plays a role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates. It is also needed for your sense of smell and taste, and enhances the action of insulin.
Free radicals are involved in the development of heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Pecans rank highest among nuts in antioxidant capacity, due to their high content of polyphenolic antioxidant ellagic acid, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lutein and zea-xanthin, all of which have antioxidant effects to combat free radicals. Ellagic acid can protect DNA from certain carcinogens in food. Vitamin E protects cell walls, mucus membranes and skin integrity, and may help fight diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Lastly, lutein and zea-xanthin protect the eyes against macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of vision loss among people age 50 and older.
A few decades ago, eating pecans was discouraged because of their high fat and calorie content. However, recent research has shown the health benefits of eating pecans regularly. According to Harvard University, nut eaters are less likely to die of cancer and heart disease. Pecans are an excellent source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and they can help lower bad cholesterol, since the plant sterols in pecans have cholesterol-lowering ability. Studies have shown that regularly eating pecans helps to decrease total cholesterol including LDL or “bad cholesterol”, and increases HDL or “good cholesterol” levels in the blood.
Since pecans contain high amounts of fat and moderate amounts of fiber, they promote satiety. When combined with a healthy diet, nuts help increase metabolism. According to researchers, weight loss regimens that include nuts such as pecans result in better diet compliance and greater weight loss. Just make sure you do not eat large portions, since pecans have lots of fat and consequently, lot of calories.
Recipe of the Week: Pecan Pie (Without Corn Syrup)
250g raw pecans
1 cup pure maple syrup
¾ cup date paste
3 large eggs
¼ cup melted ghee (homemade or store-bought), plus more, unmelted, to grease the pie dish
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (store-bought or homemade)
½ tsp Himalayan salt
1 pie shell
20 - 24 pecan halves, to garnish
1.Preheat the oven to 375F.
2.Add date paste and maple syrup to a mixing bowl and stir delicately with a large whisk until well combined. Add in eggs, melted ghee, vanilla extract and salt and resume whisking, a little more vigorously, until well combined. Set aside.
3.Grease a 9" deep dish pie plate with ghee and line with bottom pastry.
4.Spread pecans on the bottom of the pie dish and then pour reserved date paste mixture over the pecans. Gently pat the sides of the pie dish and delicately tap it on the counter a few times to remove any potential air bubbles.
5.Place the pie on the bottom rack of the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is golden and the filling has set.
6.Arrange pecan halves around the perimeter and center of the pie.
7.Serve warm or chilled.
*Recipe via The Healthy Foodie
Enjoy your weekend!
Karen Alexander, MSCN, BSND