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Pecans Declared 'Heart Healthy'; Expectant Mothers Should Eat Nuts

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One of our daughters is pregnant again; she has an eight-year-old. She’s concerned about diet, fearing an allergic reaction to nuts in general may cause an allergic baby.

Now researchers have published a report online in JAMA Pediatrics which may dispel this notion and gives impetus for non-allergic expectant mothers to increase their nut intake. Researchers studied over 8,000 non-allergic mothers and after the birth of their babies found only 140 cases of peanut or tree nut allergies. (Peanut and treenut allergy rates have tripled among youth between 1997 and 2010. Now about 1.4 percent of children have a peanut allergy.)

They adjusted for factors such as smoking, age, race, consumption of fruits and vegetables, and found that the mothers who ate nuts at least five times a month were about 70 percent less likely to have nut allergic babies. Nothing totally conclusive, but it suggests eating nuts during pregnancy can be done without fear, and that early exposure to nuts could increase babies' tolerance to the allergens.

My family always tries to eat a heart healthy diet that provides phytonutrients that prevent and repair damaged cells. Whole grains, beans and legumes, fish and nuts all offer heart protection. 

Pecans have now been designated "heart healthy" by the American Heart Association. Pecans are credited with further reduction of blood cholesterol. One ounce or a handful a day is recommended to benefit health.

The name pecan comes from the Cree, who called them pakan, as was noted in 1773.

Pecans are very popular for their taste and versatility. Eaten raw, roasted or made into a nut butter, they make a wholesome addition to your diet. Native pecan trees once had a limited range in the wild. Now, they are planted commercially all over the Southwest, namely Texas, Arizona and California. 

In Texas, the Traditional Kickapoo Tribe owns a large pecan farm, which is part of their larger economic development program.

After fifteen years, the California pecan industry is restoring itself to become financially viable again, thanks to technological advances and improved crop management. It is predicted that pecans will soon become as prolific and available as walnuts and hazelnuts.

Growing up, and to this day, our family always bought at least one bag of mixed nuts for the holidays. As the Mama Bear, I got to open it first and went straight for the pecans. The best way to eat them is raw or roasted by the handful.

They also work well in many recipes, especially baked sweets, but I add them to mixed green salad with goat cheese and dried cranberries. 

Crushed fine, they are great in meringues or tortes, which are like heavy cakes and very rich. 

Pecan Torte

preheat the oven to 325
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
¾ cup of confectioners’ sugar
¾ cup of chopped pecans
½ grated unsweetened chocolate
¾ cup of very fine cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder

Grease a spring form pan with removable bottom.

Beat the four egg whites until stiff. Beat the ¼ cup of confectioners’ sugar into them and set aside.

Use the same beater to beat the yolks until creamy and add the rest of the confectioners’ sugar to the yolks. Then add the pecans, chocolate, cracker crumbs, then the baking powder. Fold in the egg whites and spoon mixture into the pan and bake for about 30-40 minutes. Serve with whipped cream.

(Oh my, how’s that for heart healthy?)

Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.