April is National Pecan Month?

Pecan Pear Salad

Pecans used alongside pear & green salad; Image courtesy of I Love Pecans.Org

April is National Pecan Month?
| Published Tuesday, April 15, 2015 |

By Maggie Nichols
Thursday Review contributor

Yes, it’s true. I love these oddball commemorations and holidays. Why? Because they can help us to easily gain awareness of the benefits of things we might not otherwise consider. In this case, the health benefits of the great American pecan.

I love to snack, and my best friends when it comes to snacking are also some of my worst enemies: potato chips (which I can eat by the entire bag), Doritos (Cool Ranch is yummy), and pretty much anything chocolate (but especially Oreo cookies, which my local grocery store recently placed on sale and displayed in an overflowing shopping cart near the registers).

The problem with all those goodies: they are loaded with fat, trans fats, sugar, carbs, salt, sodium, and basically all things bad. And the new food labelling guidelines make it impossible not to notice: the fonts on that panel are bigger and easier to read, even without my contacts.

So since I gain weight easily, I decided two years ago to take control of things by snacking smartly. I would keep my snacks, but munch instead of things that were measurably better for me, while also being tasty. Thinly sliced carrots are my current favorite, right ahead of green grapes, apples, celery with veggie or spinach dip (celery sticks can also be eaten with peanut butter, but I realize not everyone would appreciate that fact), almonds, and fig cookies (they are loaded with fiber, and are very low in fat and calories).

There are also pecans. Pecans, like almonds and blueberries, can be pricey…any time of year. But they make an exceptional snack when you are looking for something to buy some time before your next meal. Despite their relatively high cost, I have found that I can eat a small handful without the addictive process that one associates with chips or nachos.

Pecans, according to all the online data I found, are packed with antioxidants. More in fact than any other nut (even more than peanuts). Their antioxidant value places them in a special category of foods, like tomatoes, blueberries and blackberries, red beans and pinto beans, and prunes, which elevates them to that of miracle food. Antioxidants are thought to literally slow down the process of aging and physical breakdown by pushing back against the effects of oxidation, a natural process which releases free radicals, which in turn can lead to illness and even cancer. In other words, antioxidants are good. And pecans rank somewhere in the top 10 or 15 of all common foods in terms of antioxidant value. Pecans also contain the “good” unsaturated fat and HDL content which doctors believe lower cholesterol levels.

And so many studies have shown them to be effective at reducing the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure that the American Heart Association has endorsed the pecan as a heart-healthy snack.

Pecans are also sodium free and sugar free. Which means leave them that way. Don’t buy them packaged as a salty snack or as a dessert (most pecan pie recipes call for over-the-top quantities of sugar!), just eat them raw. They can be found in most major grocery stores under several brands, and if they are on sale, load up. I buy the bags with the nuts already shelled, which avoids the fuss and hassle of breaking open pecan shells. A small Ziploc bag can then be used to transport a dozen or more pecans easily to work or school, right there alongside an apple.

Pecans can also be added to green salads, pasta salads, and summer dishes as a topping or garnish, and their low-key flavor means they make a good addition to nearly any type of salad, even those made with fresh fruit.

Related Thursday Review articles:

The Joys of Carrots; by Maggie Nichols; Thursday Review; Thursday, March 20, 2014.