Pecans are a good source of plant-based omega-3s (specifically ALAs) in a diet. In addition to pecans, macadamia nuts and walnuts are a good source of omega-3s. Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated (“healthy”) fat that cannot be made by the body and must be obtained instead through diet.
Functions of Omega-3s in the Body - Pecans
- Omega 3s are a component of cell membranes
- The body gets energy from fats such as omega-3s
- Levels of omega-3s are especially high in certain parts of the body such as the eye and brain
The other major class of polyunsaturated fats is omega-6s. In the United States, it is common to consume omega-6 fatty acids in larger quantities than omega 3-s. A high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is considered detrimental to health and could cause health problems such as cardiovascular disease. This is why it’s so important to consume foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as pecans, on a regular basis.
The main types of omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). In addition to certain types of nuts, omega-3s can be found in foods such as fish and flaxseed. ALA is derived from plant sources such as nuts and seeds, whereas EPA and DHA are mainly found in fish. ALAs are primarily used by the body for energy; since it can only convert to EPA and DHA in very small amounts. Nevertheless, ALAs do contribute to the body’s total amounts of EPA and DHA, which have been the most studied fatty acids in regards to health benefits. Pecan nuts contain about 186 mg of ALA in a 30 g serving size.
Health Benefits of Omega-3s in Pecans
People who eat more omega-3s and have a healthy omega-3 to omega-6 ratio have been found to have lower risks of developing certain chronic diseases. Here are potential health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Omega-3s may protect you from cardiovascular disease and heart failure
- In some studies, omega-3s have shown to lower triglyceride levels and blood pressure
- Adequate amounts of omega-3s may improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Omega-3s might be anti-inflammatory and reduce the risk of certain cancers (breast and colorectal)
The bottom line is that pecans are a good source of ALA, a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. It is important to bump up your intake of omega-3s by eating foods such as pecans since they must be obtained through the diet. Remember that pecans only contain one type of fatty acid (ALA); including other sources of omega-3s in your diet, such as fish, will help you achieve a balanced diet. Overall, eating pecans several times a week can boost your intake of omega-3s to help curb potential health problems down the road.