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The power of pecans: protect from heart attacks if you’re overweight

Pecans may help protect overweight people from heart attacks, according to  new research.

The study, from Tufts University, Massachusetts, shows how a diet in which 15 per cent of calories are obtained from the Mexican nut improved participants’ insulin sensitivity.

The scientists believe that the healthier fats found in pecans may account for be particularly effective at helping preventing cardio-metabolic diseases.

However, a small study size of just over 20 individuals means that further research is needed.

Pecans may help protect overweight people from heart attacks, according to recent research

How they conducted the study

The researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Centre at Tufts University followed 26 men and women who were either overweight or obese, but otherwise healthy.

They were given two different diets, which they followed for four weeks each. 

The diets were low in fibre, fruits and vegetables. The number of calories, fat and carbohydrates were kept the same. 

They spent four weeks on a control diet, which was followed by a second, four-week period: where 15 per cent of calories were swapped for the same number of calories in pecans. 

The results of the study found the pecan diet improved the insulin sensitivity of the participants, as well as improving other potential factors in cardio-metabolic disease, for example, it improved function of beta cells.

Scientists believe fats  in pecans may account for helping prevent cardio-metabolic disease

Scientists believe fats in pecans may account for helping prevent cardio-metabolic disease

Healthier fats

The scientist theorise that the healthier fats found in nuts may account for the participants better health.

‘Pecans are naturally high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, so replacing a portion of the saturated fat in the diet with these healthier fats can explain some of the cardioprotective effects we observed,’ lead researcher Diane McKay, Ph.D, said.

‘But, pecans also contain a number of bioactive plant compounds as well as vitamins and essential minerals that all likely contributed to this benefit.

‘What’s really interesting is that just one small change — eating a handful of pecans daily — may have a large impact on the health of these at-risk adults,’ she said.

However, the study, which was funded by the National Pecan Shellers Association (NPSA) has small study size that limits the impact of these results. 

‘Good’ fats

There has recently been a huge amount of interest in the possible health benefits of ‘good fats’. 

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in avocado and salmon, respectively, are dubbed ‘good’ fats, for example.

This is because they reduce low-density lipoprotein levels and raise high-density lipoproteins, or the ‘good’ cholesterol. 

Saturated fats can also raise high-density lipoproteins, but American Heart Association recommends limiting these fats since they also raise ‘bad’ cholesterol.

According to the American Heart Association, this form of cholesterol protects against heart attack and stroke. Experts believe it acts as a ‘scavenger’ by seeking out and carrying ‘bad’ cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver where it’s broken down. 

This is why many believe these types of fat are better for the heart. 

However, registered dietitian-nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto says that: ‘Fat is fat is fat.’

She explains that fat, whether good or bad, can be incorporated in a balanced diet.

‘There’s nothing wrong with eating fat, it’s all about proportion,’ she says.