It may seem like walnuts get all the hype as the ultimate healthy nut—they’re very often featured in studies about everything from longevity to fighting inflammation. But now, a new nut is getting a moment of glory: A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating a daily serving of pecans helped to reduce cholesterol over time.
How a simple snack may lower cholesterol.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences, had people who were at risk for cardiovascular disease add pecans to their diet during an eight-week process. They found that those who ate pecans saw “significant” improvements in total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, better known as “bad” cholesterol). Overall, the average drop in total cholesterol was 5%, while the drop in LDL was between 6% and 9%.
“We had some people who actually went from having high cholesterol at the start of the study to no longer being in that category after the intervention,” explained Jamie Cooper, a professor in the FACS Department of Nutritional Sciences and one of the study’s authors. “The addition of pecans to the diet not only produced a greater and more consistent reduction in total cholesterol and LDL compared to many other lifestyle interventions, but may also be a more sustainable approach for long-term health.”
The participating members were split into three groups: one group that added 68 grams or 470 calories of pecans a day, one group that replaced a similar amount of calories with the pecans, and one control group. In addition to the changes in cholesterol, each pecan group saw other changes as well. The group that added the pecans saw a drop in post-meal triglycerides, while the group that swapped them in for other calories saw lowered post-meal glucose.
“Whether people added them or substituted other foods in the diet for them, we still saw improvements and pretty similar responses in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in particular,” added Cooper.
The link between pecans and heart disease.
While numbers like 6% and 9% might not seem significant, Cooper points out that “Some research shows that even a 1% reduction in LDL is associated with a small reduction of coronary artery disease risk,” so if simply swapping in pecans can drop LDLs by even a few percentage points, it may be a good call for overall health.
It’s not a tremendous shock that pecans have heart benefits—after all, nuts are a great source of healthy fats. Plus, “foods like nuts and seeds contain fiber, omega-3s, and antioxidants,” registered dietitian Ginger Hultin, M.S., RDN, told mindbodygreen. But nuts aren’t alone in the heart-healthy snack space: Everything from sardines to dark chocolate are worth reaching for, too.