The Role of Pecans in the Diet
JOHN M. ELLIS, M. D.*
SIX YEARS AGO, I became intensely interested in human nutrition, and surprising as it may seem to some, pecans have lead me to some findings that must surely be of far reaching significance. Perhaps it should be mentioned, however, that most doctors of medicine find themselves in one of two opposing camps. They either believe that our people are in a state of excellent nutrition, or they believe that thousands of our people are suffering from latent and marginal degenerative diseases that arise from malnutrition. It has been my unusual fortune to observe through dietary change, improvement of signs and symptoms of diseases that have puzzled doctors and plagued the civilized world for centuries. By giving my patients in northeast Texas 12 raw pecans daily, I learned that a form of painful neuritis and arthritis of shoulders, arms and hands could be relieved in 6 weeks. I have observed patients who ate I2 raw pecans daily for as long as a year.
Eventually, I learned, through a process of elimination that I could affect these same improvements with a tremendously important, but infrequently thought of, vitamin; namely, Pyridoxine or Vitamin B₆. On the 30th anniversary of the discovery of Vitamin B₆, there was held in New York, an international symposium, at which scientists from many nations discussed for 3 days the research that has been done relative to Vitamin B₆. In pecans, man has one of his richest natural sources of Vitamin B₆, and in a form that is not only edible, but appetizing.
There is one important scientific fact that might unlock fortunes for pecan growers. Vitamin B₆ is destroyed by 245⁰ heat. This has been proved by many scientists, and it is important to realize that pecans can be eaten raw and without being cooked or heated. Other foods, such as meat, are rich in Vitamin B₆, but who can eat raw meat? The wheat kernel has Vitamin B₆, but who eats raw wheat? And then there is brewer’s yeast with its rich store of vitamins, but who finds raw yeast appetizing? Again and again we can turn to pecans because they can be eaten raw and with pleasure, and in sufficient quantity to be effective.
Now, how much Vitamin B₆ is in a pecan? Frankly, I doubt if anyone knows exactly. Scientists who have worked with the subject for years have had difficulty in assaying B₆ in foods. But enough has been learned to know that all of the tree nuts are rich in Vitamin B₆. Proper conception of this might well mean that all of the tree nuts are among our most precious foods.
It has been proved that over 300 enzymatic reactions in the human body depend on Vitamin B₆, and it is now known that Vitamin Be must be present in adequate and substantial amounts for metabolism of proteins in muscles, nerves and even the brain of the human body. There is indication that mental retardation is a result of Vitamin B₆ deficiency. Extensive animal research has shown that monkeys developed hardening of the arteries when they were placed on Vitamin B₆ deficient diets. I have seen photographs of the teeth of those monkeys and decay had progressed to the point that the teeth appeared as if they had been knocked out with hammers, whereas control monkeys did not exhibit such tooth decay.
Pecans are rich in other B vitamins; they are rich in polyunsaturated fats and calories. It would appear to me that when any product is sold, it should be sold on its longest and strongest points, after scientific investigations, and to people who need and want the product because of its merits. Obese and overly fat people do not need and should not have the high energy of pecans, but there are millions of people in this and other countries who do need, the rich store of calories in pecans, and all people need the vitamins in pecans. Since the B vitamins cannot be stored in the body, they must be eaten daily in sufflicent quantity. Polyunsaturated fats have less hydrogen in the molecules, and they are more completely metabolized by the Human body as compared with saturated or animal fats which have more hydrogen in the molecules. Many scientists in many countries have done thousands of experiments which in some way link excessive use of animal fats with hardening of the arteries and heart disease. Many scientists are in agreement that there is a natural hand in glove reaction between Vitamin B₆ and certain of the polyunsaturated fats. Pecans are rich in both Vitamin B₆ and polyunsaturated fats.
Doctors of medicine and nutritionists are aware that certain groups of our people are in need of high vitamin and high energy foods. Forty-five percent of teen-agers, for example, do not eat breakfast. By mid-morning, these same teen-agers, many of whom are basketball and football players, are known to reach for candy and sweetened carbonated drinks, completely devoid of precious vitamins and minerals. I am looking forward to the day when pecans occupy a prominent role in school lunch programs.
Elderly people often pick at their food as they experience vitamin deficiencies. Thousands of men and women in this country still perform tasks demanding strenuous physical labor that requires high energy foods. A housewife would do well to put a handful of pecans in the dinner pull of her active and vigorous husband, provided he is doing hard physical labor.
Pecans are a high energy food loaded with one of life's most essential nutrients, and pecans are a food competitive with sugars, starches, the fat of a hog or steer and even alcohol, none of which contains precious vitamins and minerals. It seems quite probable that pecan growers need only to stimulate the imagination of American housewives through proper information and advertising based on scientific research.
My work is now under careful scrutiny by some very eminent medical authorities. Because pecans have played such a preeminent role in my discoveries, I accepted with pleasure the honor of appearing before the 46th annual Convention of the Texas Pecan Growers Association.