Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day 21 - Are You Going Nuts?

I know I sure am! But, not in the way you might think. I am literally talking about "nuts"....specifically pecans. I started craving pecans quite a while ago. I began buying them to add to some liquid yogurt I was having daily to make it taste better (Which by the way, the combo taste like a treat or desert to me now). But, after a while, I noticed I really started craving them. I'd be like driving and I'd start thinking, I wish I had a handful of pecans. It was kind of weird how often it would happen. So, one day not too long ago, I thought to myself, I wonder what is in pecans? Are there some kind of nutrients or vitamins in them? I had no idea.

OMG! You won't believe what I learned. Pecans are an AMAZING food! Here's some info on an article I read:

Eating about a handful of pecans each day may play a role in protecting the nervous system, according to a new animal study published in Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research. The study, conducted at the Center for Cellular Neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, suggests adding pecans to your diet may delay the progression of age-related motor neuron degeneration. This may include diseases like amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Researchers suggest vitamin E – a natural antioxidant found in pecans – may provide a key element to neurological protection shown in the study. Antioxidants are nutrients found in foods that help protect against cell damage, and studies have shown, can help fight diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and heart disease. Lead researcher Dr. Thomas Shea, Ph.D and his research team carried out a number of laboratory studies on three groups of mice specifically bred to demonstrate severe decline in motor neuron function that are commonly used in studies of ALS. Each of the three groups was fed a control diet or one of two diets containing differing amounts of pecans ground into their food. Standard testing methods were used to determine how well the mice scored relative to motor neuron functions, both before and after they were provided with one of the three diets.

Mice provided a diet supplemented with pecans displayed a significant delay in decline in motor function compared to mice receiving no pecans. Mice eating the diet with the most pecans (0.05%) fared best. Both pecan groups fared significantly better than those whose diets contained no pecans. The result was based on how the mice performed in highly specific tests, each of which compared mice on the control diet with mice consuming pecan-enriched diets.

Natural Antioxidants in Pecans

New research, published in the August 2006 issue of Nutrition Research, shows thatadding just a handful of pecans to your diet each day may help inhibit unwanted oxidation of blood lipids, thus helping prevent coronary heart disease. The researchers suggest that this positive effect was in part due to the pecans’ significant content of vitamin E – a natural antioxidant. Pecans contain different forms of vitamin E, which protects blood lipids from oxidation. Oxidation of lipids in the body - a process akin to rusting – is detrimental to health. When the "bad" (LDL) cholesterol becomes oxidized, it is more likely to build up and result in clogged arteries.

In the laboratory analysis of blood samples from the research subjects, Dr. Haddad's team found that the diets enriched with pecans significantly reduced lipid oxidation (by 7.4 percent) versus the Step I diet. Oxidation levels were evaluated using the TBARS test, which measures oxidation products. The researchers also found that blood levels of tocopherols were higher after participants were on the pecan diet. Cholesterol-adjusted plasma gamma-tocopherol in the study participants' blood samples increased by 10.1 percent (P < .001) after eating the healthy pecan diet. The researchers concluded that these data provide some evidence for potential protective effects of pecan consumption in healthy individuals.

In addition, landmark research published in theJournal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry(June 2004) found thatpecans rank highest among all nuts and are among the top category of foods to contain the highest antioxidant capacity, meaning pecans may decrease the risk of cancer, coronary heart disease, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Using a method that has proven to be a good indicator of the total antioxidant capacity (TAC) of foods called ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), researchers measured the antioxidant capacity of nuts among 100 commonly consumed healthy foods and snacks, including different types of nuts, and determined pecans have more antioxidant capacity than walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, peanuts and cashews. Numerous other studies have also shown that phytochemicals, like those found in pecans, act like natural antioxidants and may have a protective effect against certain diseases, such as various cancers and coronary heart disease.

Cholesterol-Lowering Pecans

Pecans also play a role in lowering cholesterol. Clinical research published in the Journal of Nutrition (September 2001) compared the Step I diet (28 percent fat), recommended by the American Heart Association for individuals with high cholesterol levels, to a pecan-enriched (40 percent fat) diet. The results showed the pecan-enriched diet lowered total cholesterol by 11.3 percent and LDL “bad” cholesterol levels by 16.5 percent – twice that of the Step I diet, without any associated weight gain.

Research conducted by Dr. Ronald Eitenmiller at the University of Georgia has also confirmed that pecans contain plant sterols, which are known for their cholesterol-lowering ability.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has acknowledged this and related research and approved the following qualified health claim:“Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pecans, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Weight Control and Pecans

A review of pecan and other nut research, published in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition(September 2003), suggests that nuts like pecans may aid in weight loss and maintenance. The review cited studies indicating that nut consumption may increase metabolic rates and enhance satiety. When used in conjunction with a healthy low-fat diet, nuts also offer increased flavor, palatability and texture that can lead to greater dietary compliance, according to the review.

A one-ounce serving of pecans (approximately 20 halves) contains 196 calories, 20.4 grams total fat (1.8 saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 0 grams sodium, 2.7 grams dietary fiber and over 19 vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin E, calcium, potassium and zinc.

Pecans are also a good source of oleic acid, vitamin B1, thiamin, magnesium and protein.

Heart-Healthy Pecans

Nearly 60 percent of the fats in pecans are monounsaturated and another 30 percent are polyunsaturated, leaving very little saturated fat in pecans. The unsaturated fat in pecans is heart-healthy fat meeting the new Dietary Guidelines that recommend Americans keep intake between 20 and 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from heart-healthy sources like fish, nuts and vegetable oils. In addition, pecans contain no trans fat.

Nutrient-Dense Pecans

Pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals – including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc. One ounce of pecans provides 10 percent of the recommended Daily Value for fiber. Pecans are also a natural, high-quality source of protein that contain very few carbohydrates and no cholesterol. Pecans are also naturally sodium-free, making them an excellent choice for those on a salt- or sodium-restricted diet.

Somewhere I heard that our bodies can actually crave things that we actually need. Whether that is true or not, I have no idea. But, I am jazzed about my new discovery because I have always LOVED pecans! And now, that I know that they have all these amazing health benefits and are good for my long term goal of taking my body back, I am truly a happy camper. So, now you can see why it is that I am going "NUTS"!

Giving thanks for pecans!!!

Until tomorrow ~ sweet and slender dreams!

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  1. AAAAAAAAAAAAA (that's me screaming) I so want some pecans! I'm so going to the store and getting some!

    Great post! I don't eat a lot of meat and this is a great (sodium free) way to get protein!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  2. LOL! I know Jac! To top it off, last night when I was at Wholefoods, the guy in the dept. where they sell bulk nuts, told me that pecans were VERY high in protein. I immediately thought of you and how you aren't a big meat eater and I knew you really liked pecans. Great source for some major protein, plus all the other amazing benefits!

    Such a wonderful discovery, don't ya think!