Published on 04/15/96

Georgia Pecans Hard to Fool (or Beat)

It's not easy to fool a pecan tree. And if pecan lovers will be equally hard to mislead, Georgia growers could be headed for a big year.

"We didn't have any cold damage at all," said Tom Crocker, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

Late-winter freezes almost never hurt pecan trees. That's because they're so slow to act when the weather warms.

"The old adage is that when the pecan trees start budding out, spring is here for sure," Crocker said.

That slow response to warm days serves the trees well. "The last year we suffered real cold damage was 1955," he said.

So unlike the state's peaches, which the late freezes hit hard, Georgia pecans are off to a strong start. "We're looking to have a big year," Crocker said.

A big year for Georgia pecans is truly a big year. Trees here produce more pecans than in any other state -- about a third of the nation's total.

That leaves the state's growers to tend to their trees and hope the people who buy their crop aren't fooled by a few detractors.

The new food labels' focus on fat has led some people to pan pecans. But these nuts are healthy.

Pecans may actually help lower your risk of heart disease, said Holly Alley, a food, nutrition and health specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

"It's true that pecans are high-calorie foods," Alley said. "And they get nearly all of their calories from fats. But pecans are low in saturated fats and high in monounsaturated fats."

It's the mono fat that may make pecans a good-for-your-heart food.

"Monounsaturated fats may have a useful role in the dietary prevention of heart disease," Alley said.

She cited studies in which people who ate nuts one to four times a week had three-fourths the heart-attack risk of people who almost never ate them. People who ate them five or more times a week had half the risk.

The mono fats may help reduce high blood triglycerides, a risk factor for heart disease.

People with diabetes often have high triglycerides, Alley said. For them, the mono fats in pecans can be helpful.

A one-ounce serving of pecans, she said, contains 190 calories. Of 19 grams of fat, 12 are monounsaturated. Less than two are saturated. Five are polyunsaturated.

One cup of pecans is about 3.5 ounces. Five pounds of unshelled pecans yield about three pounds shelled. Each shelled pound is about 4.5 cups.

"Pecans are fairly high in dietary fiber, too: 1.8 grams per ounce," Alley said. "That may be another reason people who eat them have lower risk of heart disease. We're not really sure why the risk is lower."

The best way to put pecans in your diet, she said, is to replace foods high in other fats.

"Pecans can be more satisfying than low-fat foods," she said. "And they're better for you than foods high in saturated fats."

Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.