The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a health claim for pecans and other nuts regarding their role in helping to reduce heart disease. Nuts, including pecans, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macademia, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts, in addition to peanuts can now carry the following 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. (See nutrition information for fat content.)”

This is great news for pecans lovers! Although most people think of pecans around the holidays as part of a favorite dessert (such as pecan pies or in their brownies), pecans can be used all year long and can be used in a variety of dishes. From soups and appetizers to main dishes and salads, pecans add overall appeal and crunch to various recipes. And now, as confirmed by the FDA, pecans can add heart-health benefits to meals and dishes as well. Approximately 30 pecan halves will provide the 1.5 ounces recommended by the FDA.

But this is not just good news for pecan lovers -it’s also good news for “snackers.” Pecans are a great snack for several reasons. Although most people have a “fear of fat” when it comes to pecans, pecans contain mainly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat – the type of fat that is “heart healthy”. And because pecans are packed with “good fat” and protein, they can be a dieter’s “best friend.” When trying to lose weight many people report feeling hungry and unsatisfied. However, pecans not only add taste to the diet, but they also contribute to satiety – which means that dieters and those looking to control their weight will stay fuller, longer. For example, a small handful of pecans will keep you feeling fuller longer than a handful of pretzels because the fat and protein in nuts takes longer to digest. (Pretzels, on the other hand, contain very little fat and protein.) And, don’t forget about the other vitamins and nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc, etc., that pecans provide.

If you’re looking for ways to incorporate pecans into your diet, check out the following tips:

  • Sprinkle on your favorite salad, cereal or yogurt for added crunch.
  • Instead of frying, use ground pecans as a coating for fish, chicken or pork.
  • Instead of chocolate chips, use pecans in your muffin and baked bread recipes, waffle and pancake mix, etc.
  • Mix pecans with “light” popcorn for a healthy and enjoyable snack.
  • Toast pecans for a refreshing snack. For a twist, sprinkle with red pepper for a “hot” version of this snack.
  • In place of meat (such as chicken or pork) in various casserole dishes, use pecans. Nuts offer many of the same nutrients as meat, but are another alternative for those striving for a more plant-based diet.

If you’re looking to incorporate the recommended 1.5 ounces, when you think pecans, think “substitution.” In place of cheese on your salad, sprinkle pecans or instead of frying use pecans as a coating. In place of the meat in a casserole or main entrée, try pecans! Remember, when it comes to pecans, go nuts!