Health Benefits of Pecans

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on January 29, 2024
6 min read

The pecan is a nut from a species of hickory trees native to northern Mexico and the southern United States. The nut is a nutrition powerhouse loaded with vitamins and minerals.

What's more, raw pecans are cholesterol-free, sodium-free, and low in carbohydrates. With their rich, buttery flavor and natural sweetness, they make a tasty and satisfying snack. 

Pecans are rich in many vitamins and minerals important for healthy skin, eyes, teeth, bones, muscles, and nerves.

Nutrients per serving

One ounce of raw pecans, or 19 halves, has:

  • Calories: 196
  • Total fat: 20.4 grams
  • Monounsaturated fat: 11.6 grams
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 6.1 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
  • Sodium: 0 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 3.9 grams
  • Dietary Fiber: 2.7 grams
  • Sugar: 1.1 grams
  • Protein: 2.6 grams

Raw pecans pack a 1-2-3 punch of protein, healthy fats, and fiber that can help keep you energized and satisfied. 

Heart health

Pecans are a good source of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which help lower blood pressure. 

Most of the fat found in pecans is a healthy type called monounsaturated fat. Eating foods with monounsaturated fat instead of foods high in saturated fats (like potato chips) can help lower levels of the bad type of cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Keeping your LDL cholesterol low cuts down your risk of having a stroke or heart attack.

Pecans may also improve markers of cardiovascular health: A randomized, controlled trial found pecan-enriched diets lowered fasting levels of LDL cholesterol and non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol compared to those who didn't eat pecans. Eating pecans also reduced postprandial (after a meal) triglycerides. For the 4-week trial, participants consumed 68 grams of pecans daily. 

Diabetes management 

Studies have shown that nuts can help prevent heart disease in people with diabetes. Snacking on an ounce of nuts when hungry helps you feel full, making it easier to avoid high-carb foods and keep blood sugars in check.

Pecans have a very low glycemic index, which means that eating them does not cause a spike in blood sugar, even in people with diabetes. Eating pecans can even offset the effects of higher glycemic index foods when eaten as part of the same meal.

Arthritis relief

Pecans also contain omega-3 fats, which can help ease the pain of arthritis by reducing inflammation. The magnesium, calcium, fiber, vitamin E, and zinc in pecans also give the nuts anti-inflammatory properties.

Disease prevention

Vitamin A, vitamin E, and zinc, which are all found in pecans, support your immune system so that your body can fight off infections and repair damage. Pecans also provide folate, which can guard against changes to your DNA that might otherwise lead to cancer. 

Antioxidants can help protect the body from the cell damage that causes Alzheimer’s diseaseParkinson’s disease, and cancers. The USDA has ranked over 100 foods by antioxidant levels, and pecans made the top 20.

Nuts, including pecans, are a known cause of food allergy. Pecans can cause an allergic reaction in people with nut allergies. If you have a nut allergy, you should avoid eating pecans. 

Because pecans are high in fiber, eating too many at one time may cause bloating, cramping, gas or constipation. To avoid these digestive issues, add any fiber, including pecans, slowly to your daily diet. Once your body gets used to digesting more fiber, eating pecans and fiber-rich foods can actually help prevent constipation

Portion sizes and processing

Pecans are a great source of healthy fats but are high in calories, so it's important to watch your portion sizes. A serving of pecans is 1 ounce, which is a little less than one-fourth cup or 19 pecan halves. 

Roasted pecans sold as prepackaged snacks are often coated in unhealthy oils and sugar, adding empty calories. Be sure to read labels and choose raw pecans when possible.

When you find yourself craving a crunchy snack, reach for a handful of pecans instead of potato chips. Prep several snack-size baggies with 19 pecan halves apiece so they are ready to go the next time you are hungry. Keep one in your backpack or purse for a healthy snack on the go.

Pecans are naturally sweet and make a good replacement for candies when sugar cravings hit. Sub raw pecan pieces in for chocolate chips, mixing them into pancakes, muffins, or cookie dough. Add some crunch and protein to salads, oatmeal, quinoa, or yogurt by topping them with raw pecan pieces. 

You can toast pecans to bring out their nutty flavor, and it also gives them more crunch. Baking experts recommend toasting pecans before adding them to any batter or dough. You can toast them two ways, but for best results, toast whole pecan halves.

Toasting pecans in your oven

To toast pecans in the oven, follow these steps:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Spread raw pecan halves evenly on a rimmed baking sheet.
  • Bake for 7 to 10 minutes total until they begin to brown. Flip the pecans over halfway through your baking time. 
  • Remove from the oven and let cool before chopping. 

Toasting pecans on the stove

To toast pecans on your stovetop, follow these steps:

  • Place pecans in a dry, stainless steel skillet over medium heat.
  • Stir frequently to prevent your pecans from burning.
  • Cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

A 1-ounce serving of pecans may have about 10 more calories than a 1-ounce serving of walnuts. Pecans are also higher in healthy monounsaturated fat. But walnuts are higher in polyunsaturated fats and protein. 

Both monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are healthy fats. Polyunsaturated fats, which include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, can help lower LDL cholesterol. 

Pecans are also sodium free. Walnuts and almonds have a negligible amount of sodium. 

Walnut nutrition

An ounce of raw walnuts--about one-fourth cup or 14 halves--has:

  • Calories: 185 

  • Total fat: 18.5 grams

  • Monounsaturated fat: 2.5 grams 

  • Polyunsaturated fat: 13.4 grams

  • Saturated fat: 1.7 grams 

  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams

  • Sodium: 0.6 milligrams

  • Carbohydrates: 3.9 grams 

  • Dietary fiber: 1.9 grams

  • Sugar: 0.7 grams 

  • Protein: 4.3 grams

Comparing a 1-ounce serving of pecans with 1-ounce of almonds, pecans have at least 30 more calories. When it comes to protein, almonds have nearly double that of pecans. Almonds have 6 grams of protein per ounce compared to 2.6 grams of protein per ounce of pecans. 

Almond nutrition

An ounce of whole almonds--one-fourth cup or 23 whole almonds--contains:

  • Calories: 164

  • Total fat:  14.1 grams

  • Monounsaturated fat: 9 grams

  • Polyunsaturated fat: 3.5 grams

  • Saturated fat: 1.1 grams

  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams

  • Sodium: 0.3 milligrams

  • Carbohydrates: 6.1 grams

  • Dietary fiber: 3.5 grams

  • Sugar: 1.3 grams

  • Protein: 6 grams

Are pecans good for your brain? 

Pecans contain polyphenols and other dietary antioxidants that may promote brain health. Pecans are the only nut on the USDA's list of top 20 foods highest in dietary antioxidants, coming in 14th place. 

Is it OK to eat pecans every day? 

You can eat pecans every day as part of a healthful diet. 

Is pecan oil good for your skin?

Some people use pecan oil on their skin as a moisturizer. But there aren't any studies to show if and how it works. Pecan oil may act as a protective barrier on the skin, locking in moisture. It's not clear yet if pecan oil can penetrate the skin's outer layer to provide any additional benefits. If you want to try pecan oil to moisturize your skin, look for cold-pressed pecan oil. Cold-pressed oils keep more of their nutrients compared to refined oils.