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One Major Effect of Eating Pecans, New Study Says

Your heart will love you for it.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

Would you believe us if we said a handful of pecans a day may keep the cardiologist away? Researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA) conducted an eight-week study to determine if these crunchy textured nuts play a beneficial role in heart health.

In order to do this, they gathered 56 adults between the ages of 30 and 75—who were considered at high risk for cardiovascular disease—and placed them into three separate groups. Group one was instructed to eat 68 grams (roughly 470 calories) of pecans daily. Group two was instructed to substitute pecans for a similar amount of calories in their diet, and group three (the control group) did not consume pecans during the trial.

During week eight, all of the volunteers were given a blood test before and after eating a high-fat meal so the authors could examine any changes that occurred in their blood lipids (fats) and glucose (sugar) levels in the blood. And that's when they discovered that fasted blood lipids among both pecan groups showed similar improvements. Furthermore, the amount of triglycerides (lipids) in the blood after eating went down for those in group one, while group two showed reduced glucose levels after eating.

Related: The One Breakfast Food To Eat To Lower Your Cholesterol, Says Dietitian

At the conclusion of the study, the investigators reported that adults who consumed pecans showed, on average, a 5% decrease in total cholesterol and a 6%-9% decrease in low-density lipoprotein—LDL or the "bad" cholesterol. Their findings were published in one of the latest issues of The Journal of Nutrition.

roasted pecans in bowl

"We had some people who actually went from having high cholesterol at the start of the study to no longer being in that category after the intervention," stated Jamie Cooper, a professor at UGA and study co-author, in a press release. "Some research shows that even a 1% reduction in LDL is associated with a small reduction of coronary artery disease risk, so these reductions are definitely clinically meaningful."

According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 93 million American adults, age 20 and older, have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL, which is above the healthy range. The agency also reports that approximately 29 million adults in the U.S. have total cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL.

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"I'm not surprised by these latest findings since all nuts, pecans included, contain properties that can promote health," says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU and author of "Finally Full, Finally Slim."

For starters, Young points out that these buttery-flavored nuts have "heart-healthy unsaturated fats and fiber." Plus, the UGA researchers suspect the bioactive properties—beneficial compounds found in certain plants and foods—were responsible for their results. "These properties include phenolic acids and anthocyanins, which contain antioxidants that can help fight disease," explains Young.

Since pecans are both flavorful and versatile, she suggests tossing them into a salad or, better yet, slightly toasting them to savor as a snack or use as a topping in fish and chicken dishes. "One serving is equal to about one ounce or 15 pecan halves."

However, if your grocery store is out of pecans, there's no need to drive yourself nuts looking for a can or package of these nutrient-dense delights. "It's important to realize that other nuts include similar properties and can be enjoyed, as well," adds Young. "A combination of all nuts is best."

Now, be sure to read What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Nuts, Says Expert. Then, to get healthy tips delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter!

Amy Capetta
Amy Capetta has been writing articles on healthy living for more than two decades. Read more about Amy