The pecans have it! Vitamin E that is, says researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA). In fact, no matter the variety or the region of the U.S. where the pecans are grown, the vitamin E content of pecans remains abundant and constant, notes the study published in the most recent issue of the highly respectedJournal of Food Science. “This study helped to demonstrate that basically all pecans are created equal when it comes to this important antioxidant,” says Dr. Ron Eitenmiller, a food scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences who conducted the study using samples from two different years, collected from several states.
Eitenmiller’s analysis of the samples found that the vitamin E content was quite stable, regardless of the year, variety and region. He remarks, “This work shows that pecans are not only a really good source of vitamin E, they are also a consistent source.”
Pecans contain both the alpha and gamma tocopherol forms of vitamin E, notes Eitenmiller. While the alpha tocopherol form of vitamin E has been most widely studied for its health benefits, researchers are starting to pay closer attention to the gammaform of tocopherol as well, according to Sue Taylor, R.D., director of nutrition communications for the National Pecan Shellers Association.
“Vitamin E is the primary antioxidant we use,” Eitenmiller says. “It protects our bodies when chemical reactions produce oxidation in the body which can be dangerous. Antioxidants in essence serve as a tool that inhibits oxidative stress that can be detrimental to many cellular functions.”
Vitamin E comes from plant materials and isn’t produced by our bodies. “We have to get vitamin E from our diet because our bodies don’t produce it,” says
Eitenmiller. “The major sources are edible oils like those from pecans, other tree nuts, peanut products, soybeans, liquid vegetable oils and those kinds of foods.” The UGA study found pecans have total vitamin E levels similar to those in almonds, pistachios and walnuts, and higher amounts than cashews, macadamia nuts and dry roasted peanuts.
“But vitamin E isn’t the only good quality pecans possess,” notes Taylor. She adds that pecans are a good source of fiber and plant sterols and that nearly 60 percent of the fat found in pecans is monounsaturated fat and, approximately another 30 percent is polyunsaturated fat. Pecans also contain over 19 vitamins and minerals in all, including vitamins E and A, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, several B vitamins and zinc.
“Recent clinical research studies evaluating the impact of pecans on serum cholesterol have found pecans can significantly help lower blood cholesterol when consumed as part of a heart-healthy diet,” Taylor adds, ” and the latest significant study from Harvard published in the prestigious Archives of Internal Medicine found that men who ate the most nuts had the lowest risk of sudden cardiac death.”
Perhaps that is why editorial commentary in the Journal of Food Science states, “So enjoy pecans in significant quantities, and use them in food products – they are good for the heart, and taste good, too!”