The most patriotic, quintessentially American food on your Thanksgiving table? You might be shocked to learn it's not the bird or the mashed potatoes. The real answer lies in that perfectly gooey pecan pie.
Thanks to glacial activity on the European continent long, long ago, pecan trees are only found here in North America. An integral part of the Native American diet, the slightly sweet pecan gets its name from the Algonquin word for “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.” Once shelled, this tree nut is edible—and boasts the highest antioxidant content of all the nuts in your trail mix.
Grown in 11 states, the United States is responsible for about 90 percent of the global pecan production. Beat out by almonds and pistachios, pecans hold their own as the third most popular nut in the U.S.
Loaded with 19 vitamins and minerals, pecans are basically nature's multivitamin. Containing a whopping 245 percent of the daily recommended value of manganese and 48 percent of the amount of thiamin the body needs, the perfect topping for praline ice cream actually makes a pretty heart-healthy snack, too. Plus, pecans contain a hearty dose of fiber and magnesium, both of which help keep your digestion in tip-top shape.
In a small study by Loma Linda University, a group of patients successfully lowered triglyceride levels—without gaining any weight—by adding more pecans into their diets. This group increased its dietary fat by over 10 percent thanks to the high-fat nut, but the scales didn't budge. This is good news for dieters who are trying to lose weight to help their heart health, and a reminder that eating the right dietary fats doesn't make us fat.
As healthy as these nuts are for your insides, they've got some beauty-boosting benefits, too. Thanks to zinc and vitamin E, pecans have one of the highest healthy fat contents of all tree nuts. They're also your skin's best friend: Zinc is naturally antimicrobial, so it kills acne-causing bacteria, while vitamin E nourishes and heals a dry complexion.
Because of their mild flavor profile, the pecan is a fantastic addition to trail mix, granola, cereal, and Thanksgiving stuffing. Of course, you can also chop them, toast them, and throw them into nearly any dish for a little extra crunchy and flavor. Or eat them on their own for a filling snack. We love how the flavor of pecan truly shines in this Paleo-friendly Chocolate Pecan Pie!
Photo credit: Alicia Cho