Newly published research shows that the pecan, that All-American nut, contains the most antioxidant capacity of any other nut and is among the top category of foods to contain the highest antioxidant capacity. Antioxidants are substances found in foods that protect against cell damage and, studies have shown, can help fight diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and heart disease.

In the largest, most comprehensive analysis of foods to date, researchers at the USDA Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center measured the antioxidant capacity of more than 100 foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, dried fruits, spices and cereals. Using a method called ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), the researchers found that pecans ranked highest among all nuts in antioxidant capacity and were among the foods that showed high antioxidant capacity. Antioxidants help to prevent oxidation in body cells, which has been linked to many chronic and degenerative diseases, as well as the aging process.

“We think this type of measurement is a good indicator of the total amount of antioxidants in foods,” said Xianli Wu, lead researcher of the study from the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center. “Consumers should eat more foods with high antioxidant capacity. Pecans are one of them. “

Among the foods that contained the highest antioxidant capacity were beans, blueberries, apples and pecans. This research, published in the June edition of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, provides the first comprehensive set of data on antioxidant status of foods being consumed by the U.S. population. Ultimately, this will allow researchers to measure consumer’s overall intake of antioxidants and compare it to health outcomes in the population.

To include more antioxidant-rich pecans into your daily diet, try sprinkling them on pancakes or waffles, in fruit-flavored yogurt, or on top of hot or cold cereal. Try topping salads or veggies with pecans instead of cheese. Or, try coating chicken or fish with pecans before baking. And, you can always add them to your favorite brownie or cookie recipe for a treat every now and then.

Pecans are packed with nutrition including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc. It only takes about an ounce (or about 8 pecans) to get these nutritional and antioxidant benefits.