October 10, 2021
Walnuts and pecans are two of the favorite tree nuts consumed today. Because of their popularity, many people wonder what’s the difference between walnuts and pecans and is one better than the other? In this post we look at walnuts vs pecans in regards to health benefits, looks, tastes and nutritional content.
You might be hungry by the time you’ve finished reading so we gave you original SET FOR SET healthy recipes using both walnuts and pecans at the end. Enjoy!
WALNUTS VS PECANS COMPARISON – LET’S GO NUTS!
Long story short, walnuts and pecans are extremely healthy nuts that have many similarities and also some notable differences. So, let’s begin our in-depth comparison of walnuts vs pecans.
But first, let’s quickly go over what exactly each nut is…
WHAT IS A WALNUT?
The walnut is a nut from the tree that belongs to the Juglandaceae family. There are two main types of walnuts, the Persian or English walnut then the less common black walnut. The walnut is the edible seed of a drupe or stone fruit (Indehiscent fruit with an outer fleshy part surrounds a hardened shell with a seed inside).
Most people would be familiar with the walnut and shell without the husks. After the walnut is fully ripe the husk is removed, leaving a wrinkly hard shell. Then the shell is opened to reveal the meat or what we think of as a walnut. Once the shell is cracked open there are usually two segments inside. The seed has a brown coat that contains antioxidants that protect the seed from rotting.
The walnut was called the “royal nut” during the Byzantine era. The more common Persian or English walnut originated in Iran (Persia) while the black walnut comes from eastern North America. The black walnut isn’t as prominent commercially due to the hard shell and poor hulling qualities. These days there are multiple walnut types which are hybrids of the original Persian walnut. China is the largest walnut producer in world.
WHAT IS A PECAN?
Like the walnut, the pecan tree is also a member of the Juglandaceae family. The pecan is native to North America where the Native Americans frequently foraged, ate and traded them. When the first Europeans encountered them in the 16th century, they referred to the pecans as “nuez de la arruga” translating to wrinkle nut.
Similar to the walnut, the pecan is a drupe or a stone fruit with a seed that’s surrounded by hard shell which is covered by a green husk. The United States and Mexico account for over 90% of the worldwide pecan production.
What’s the difference between pecans and walnuts?
Although pecans and walnuts share many similarities there are a few differences that are covered below.
We will now compare walnuts and pecans based on the following aspects:
- Nutritional Value (for this one we will declare a winner based on various values)
- Health Benefits
Walnuts vs Pecans Types
Walnuts only come in two common varieties of the Persian/English or the black walnut. Pecans on the other hand, offer more than 500 varieties that have subtle differences regarding taste, texture, size and shape. The most common pecan types are the Desirable, Cape Fear, Moreland, Stuart and Natives. The variety of pecan is based on the growing environment and the native or wild pecans usually have thicker shells with smaller seeds.
Walnuts and pecans come from the same family, the Juglandaceae but about 44 million years ago new differentiations occurred which resulted in the pecan genus of Carya developing a different fruit and husk then that of the walnut genus Juglans.
Walnuts vs Pecans Look
Husks: Pecans and walnuts are both covered by a green husk. The walnut husk is a little more round in shape while the pecan husks is more oblong.
Shells: The hard outer shells of the pecans and walnuts are both brown.
- Walnuts: Have a light brown, rounded and bumpier than a pecan shell making it look older.
- Pecans: Have a harder, smoother and darker brown shell and are more oblong in shape. They also have a pointier top where they attach to the stem of the plant.
Meat, Seed, Nut: Both walnuts and pecans usually have two halves inside the shell and resemble the look of a brain.
- Walnuts: A lighter brown more rounded with bumps and are a brain like shape that is coated by a brown skin that’s full of antioxidants. The flesh of the walnut often will break apart when opening the shell as it is more brittle. There’s a thin skin that separates the bumps and crevices of the walnut.
- Pecans: Usually a tad smaller than walnuts, darker color and have a more uniform shape. There’s usually one indented ridge down the middle of each halve.
Walnuts vs Pecans Taste
Although walnuts and pecans often get mistaken for one another, their taste is rather different. You’ll see pecans used in more sweet dishes compared to walnuts.
What do walnuts taste like?
Walnuts have a more flakey buttery taste and texture. They offer a soft yet crunchy mouth feel with a slightly bitter after taste. Due to the high fat content, walnuts have an unmistaken nutty flavor.
You’re likely to see walnuts paired with recipes that use some type of sweetener like maple syrup, honey or fruit to balance out the slight bitterness. However, walnuts are also used in savory dishes and are enjoyed in the raw form as well.
What do pecans taste like?
Pecans are a bit chewier and dryer than walnuts. Pecans have a natural sweeter taste compared with walnuts. When pecans are heated, they will morph their flavor profile a bit and become a tad more savory. Some common pairings you’ll see them used with is sweet potatoes, fruits, salads. They’re also eaten raw and perhaps the most ubiquitous used in the form of pecan pie.
Walnuts vs Pecan Nutritional Values
Walnuts and pecans are some of the favorite nuts that are consumed these days and for good reason; they taste great and are a super healthy food source.
Nutritional Value Per 1 Ounce
Walnuts (~14 halves)
Pecans (~19 halves)
Linoleic Acid (Omega 6)
Linolenic Acid (Omega 3)
6 % DV
2 % DV
6 % DV
15 % DV
2 % DV
4 % DV
2 % DV
8 % DV
4 % DV
4 % DV
2 % DV
Both walnuts and pecans have similarly high total fat amounts but the breakdown of the fats is vastly different. Both nuts have the healthy polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat. These fats help to lower bad cholesterol which lowers risk of heart disease. The differences in the fat are that walnuts contain more than double the polyunsaturated fat compared with pecans. Besides being good for heart health, polyunsaturated fat also contains omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids which help with brain function and promote other health benefits. It’s important to note that the high fat content of both nuts will help you feel fuller for longer but if you overeat these nuts it could lead to weight gain.
Overall Winner: Tie both are a great source of healthy fats
These nuts offer a decent amount of fiber with about 2-3 grams per one ounce serving. This fiber helps you stay full. Both walnuts and pecans have a good nutritional make up to become a go-to for a healthy snack. The added fiber can also help ease constipation.
Overall Winner: Pecans
Both walnuts and pecans contain various vitamin content that is great for our health. A one ounce serving of pecans provides a whopping 15% DV of thiamine (B1). This helps to transform food into energy. Walnuts have roughly double the amount of B6 compared with pecans which promotes healthy metabolism and the creation of red blood cells. Overall, both nuts are a good source of B vitamins while also offering some amount of vitamin E which is an antioxidant that helps to protect cells from free radical damage.
Overall Winner: Walnuts
Both walnuts and pecans provide an impressive amount of mineral content that the body needs to function properly. Pecans have more zinc and manganese compared to walnuts. The main benefits of these minerals are zinc is beneficial for boosting the immune system while manganese is essential for maintaining bone health. Walnuts have a higher mineral count in all other areas including calcium, iron, potassium which support bone and blood health. They’re also higher in copper, magnesium and phosphorus content which help promote better overall health.
Overall Winner: Walnuts
Both walnuts and pecans are decent sources of protein. Protein is essential in helping to building and maintain muscle mass. Walnuts have around 30% higher protein content.
Overall Winner: Walnuts
Calories & Carbs:
Walnuts and pecans have comparable calorie content because they are both high in fat. Due to the calorie density of these nuts, you should be cognizant of your intake because it might be easy to over eat as they are both delicious nuts.
In terms of carb content, they both have around 4 grams of carbs per one ounce serving. Walnuts and pecans are a good low carb nut that are also keto friendly.
Overall Winner: Tie
Health Benefits of Walnuts:
Walnuts provide numerous health benefits, below are just a few of the benefits that you can get from consuming walnuts regularly.
Better Heart Health: Walnuts are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids with more than any other nut. The omega 3 fat from all plants is call alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Walnuts contain ALA, linoleic acid and arachidonic acids. The only way to get ALA is through diet as it is an essential fatty acid (EFAs). A single serving of walnuts meets the recommended daily intake of ALA by the Institute of Medicine.
Improved Blood Fats: Consumption of walnuts has shown the ability to lower LDL cholesterol levels and triglycerides. This study looked at daily consumption of 43 grams of walnuts over an 8-week time period led to reduced non-HDL cholesterol and ApoB (apoliprotein-B which is an indicator of how many LDL particles are in the blood, if too high then there’s high risk of heart disease). Therefore, aligning with the thought of regular walnut consumption reducing risk of coronary heart disease.
Aids Brain Function: There are multiple animal studies that link the regular consumption of walnuts to improved brain function which is ironic seeing how the walnut shape resembles a brain. It’s believed that the nutrients in walnuts help to lower the oxidative damage and inflammation in the brain. More studies need to be done in this area but it seems rather promising.
Make You Feel Fuller Longer: Walnuts may be able to help manage weight if consumed in moderate quantities. They have a decent amount of fiber and protein which can help to curb hunger. However, it’s important to note that walnuts are calorie dense and over consumption can lead to weight gain.
High In Antioxidants: Surprisingly, studies like this found that walnuts are one of the best antioxidant food sources. They offer the highest number of antioxidants found amongst any nuts. These antioxidant effects protect the body against damage from natural chemicals that cause disease.
Improve Gut Health: This study found that eating walnuts might be helpful in keeping your microbiota healthy. Having a healthy gut strongly correlates to overall good health.
Reduce Inflammation: Many diseases stem from inflammation including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Walnuts contain polyphenols that can counteract inflammation. This study shows a subgroup of polyphenols called ellagitannins that walnuts possess which might be the primary substance that fights inflammation.
Possibly Fight Cancer: The polyphenol ellagitannins mentioned above in walnuts are transformed in the gut by microbes into compounds called urolithins. These urolithins have anti-inflammatory properties which might help protect you against certain cancers. More research is needed in this area but we’re hoping that walnuts prove to be a natural way to help fight cancer.
Health Benefits of Pecans:
Pecans and walnuts are closely related so they share a number of health benefits. Below are a few more examples of how pecans can improve your overall health.
High Antioxidant Content: Pecans, similar to walnuts offer a high number of antioxidants. For example, Pecans contain manganese a powerful antioxidant which is essential for brain function and nerve conduction. Antioxidants are important to help protect cells from free radicals. By protecting your cells with antioxidants, you will increase your immune system’s ability to fight off disease and infections.
Reduce Inflammation: Just like walnuts, pecans have been shown to reduce inflammation. Pecans contain healthy omega-3 and omega-6fatty acids that can help to alleviate the pain from arthritis. Pecans also have a decent amount of calcium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin E which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Provide Vitamins and Minerals: The nutritional breakdown of pecans packs a serious punch of vitamins and minerals. Besides the high amount of vitamins and minerals, pecans also have a considerable amount of fiber at almost 10 % of daily recommended intake per 1 ounce serving and are sodium free. All in all, pecans are a healthy and delicious food choice.
Better Heart Health: Similar to walnuts, pecans are another type of tree nut that may lower LDL and triglycerides according to this study. Lowering bad cholesterol can reduce risk factors of coronary heart disease. Pecans also have high amount of monounsaturated fatty acids that have shown promise of promoting heart health.
Promote Healthier Skin: Pecans contain ellagic acid and according to this study, this micronutrient is effective in fighting free radicals. It also helps to reduce inflammation while improving collagen health which is vital in maintaining a young healthy-looking skin.
Help Boost Brain Function: A study conducted at the University of Massachusetts Lowell found that pecans may play an important role in protecting the nervous system. The high level of antioxidants may slow the progression of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease. More research is still needed here but adding a handful of pecans to your daily diet is recommended.
Walnuts vs Pecans Dangers
While both walnuts and pecans are healthy food choices, they can also spell disaster for some people. It is estimated the .2-1% of the population in the US have some type of tree nut allergy which would include pecans and walnuts. Allergic reactions to pecans or walnuts could be from mild hives to diarrhea, abnormal breathing, severe asthma attacks up to anaphylaxis and even death.
Walnuts and pecans can also lead to vomiting and/or diarrhea if you eat too many because of their fiber content. It’s also important to note that an over consumption of these nuts can lead to weight gain due to their relatively high calorie count.
Note: If taking medications, the tannins in walnuts might interfere with the absorption rate.
Recent Study On Walnuts:
We mentioned the ability of walnuts to help reduce risk of heart disease above. Here is a recent study published in American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, that showed promising results of lowering LDL cholesterol levels in healthy older people. This is not a small short-term study but rather a multiyear study that spanned a wide range of geographical locations, this makes the findings more impressive.
Who & Where:
- 708 healthy elderly adults consumed about ½ cup of walnuts daily for two years
- Ages between 63-79
- 68% Women 32 % Men
- Barcelona, Spain and Loma Linda, California
- Independent living
This two-year randomized controlled study was conducted to determine the effect on lipoproteins on the healthy aging through the regular consumption of walnuts independent of the person’s diet and where they live.
Participants were broken up into two groups:
- Active Intervention Group: This group added about ½ cup of walnuts to their daily diet
- Control Group: This group avoided the consumption of walnuts for two years
The participants had their cholesterol levels tested and analyzed by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy which measured the concentration and size of lipoproteins.
At the end of two years there was 632 of the 708 people completed the study with full lipoprotein analyses in 628.
- LDL dropped 7.9% in men and 2.6% in women
- The active intervention group who consumed walnuts had lower LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 4.3 mg/dL and total cholesterol dropped by an average of 8.5 mg/dL
- Walnut consumption also lowered total number of LDL particle by 4.3% and small LDL particles by 6.1%. These reductions mean there’s a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Intermediate Density Lipoprotein (IDL) cholesterol also lessened. IDL is also a lipid cardiovascular risk factor.
The researchers noted even though there wasn’t a huge decrease in LDL cholesterol, the participants were healthy and that people with higher blood cholesterol levels might see a much greater reduction in LDL if eating a nut enriched diet. “Prior studies have shown that nuts in general, and walnuts in particular, are associated with lower rates of heart disease and stroke. One of the reasons is that they lower LDL-cholesterol levels, and now we have another reason: they improve the quality of LDL particles,” said study co-author Emilio Ros, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Lipid Clinic at the Endocrinology and Nutrition Service of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona in Spain.
Note: For full transparency, this study was funded by the California walnut commission.
Recent Study On Pecans:
Pecans like walnuts have been shown to improve cholesterol levels to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. This study conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia was done to show the effects on cholesterol levels from eating a pecan rich diet.
52 adults aged 30-75 with a higher risk for cardiovascular disease
Researchers divided the participants up into three groups then compared results after an eight-week time period;
- Group 1: Ate 68 grams of pecans daily along with normal diet
- Group 2: Substituted similar number of calories (~470 calories) of pecans daily from their normal diet
- Group 3: Didn’t eat pecans
After 8 weeks the participants ate a high fat meal to determine changes in blood lipids and the amount of sugar in the blood.
- Those who ate pecans saw an average 5% drop in total cholesterol and a 6-9% reduction in LDL
- Fasted blood lipids showed similar improvements in the pecan consumption groups
- Post meat triglycerides were lowered in Group 1 that added pecans
- Post meal glucose was reduced in Group 2 where pecans were substituted
The researchers believe that the fiber and healthy fatty acids in pecans were responsible for the cholesterol reduction. Overall, the participants who ate pecans saw improvements in total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL.
Walnuts & Pecans FAQs:
Are pecans keto friendly?
Yes, pecans are a keto friendly food. One serving of 1 ounce or about 19 pecan halves will give you 20 grams of mostly healthy fat, 3 grams of protein and only 4 grams of carbs. Due to the nutritional breakdown of pecans and the fact they can help you feel satiated. Next time you’re hungry grab a handful of pecans.
Are walnuts keto friendly?
Yes, walnuts are a keto friendly nut. One serving of ounce of walnuts or about 14 halves will give you just over 8 grams of fat, about 4 grams of protein and just about 4 grams of carbs. Walnuts are a healthy choice even on a keto diet as you get the benefits of the healthy fats and protein without going overboard on the carbs.
Which are better walnuts or pecans?
We wouldn’t say one is better than the other, both nuts offer some amazing health benefits. We suggest that you eat some pecans and walnuts to reap the benefits of both tree nuts.
How many walnuts should I eat a day?
You should eat 3-4 whole walnuts a day. This is roughly half of a one ounce serving but because we recommend you also eat pecans it should be enough to get the benefits while not over consuming calories.
How many pecans should I eat a day?
Try to eat half an ounce of pecans a day which would be about 4-5 whole pecans. Eating this amount of pecans combined with daily walnut consumption will go a long way to help you stay healthy.
Healthy Walnutty Date Energy Bites Recipe
- ½ cup Peanut Butter
- ½ cup Walnut butter
- 1 Tbsp Honey
- ¼ cup Flax seeds
- 1 ½ cup Rolled old fashioned oats
- ½ cup Chopped Dates (half need to be finely chopped, other half goes into food processor)
- ¼ cup Finely Chopped Walnuts
- Combine half of the dates, walnut butter, peanut butter, honey and chia/flax seeds in a blender or food processor.
- Blend until all ingredients come together into a smooth batter. You might need to scrape the sides down. (If batter is too thick add 1 tsp of water at a time until it becomes a little looser)
- Pour batter into large mixing bowl then stir in reserved chopped dates and chopped walnuts
- Place in fridge for up to 1 hour to cool and harden
- Roll into balls after removed from fridge
- Serve or store in refrigerator until ready to eat.
*Can keep in freezer in ziplock bags for up to 3 months. When ready to eat allow to defrost in fridge for up to 8 hours or thawed out.
Healthy Vanilla Pecan Protein Bites
- 1 cup Pecans (roasted for deeper taste)
- ½ cup Unsweetened Shredded Coconut
- ½ cup Vanilla Protein Powder (whey or vegan)
- ¼ cup Almond Butter
- 10 Soft Dates (pitted)
- Place pecans (roast first if desired), coconut, vanilla protein powder, almond butter and dates* in food processor or high-powered blender. You may have to stop and scrape down sides. If batter/dough is too thick add 1 Tbsp at a time until workable.
- Line surface with parchment paper or wax paper.
- Let dough set up in fridge for up to 1 hour
- Roll dough into 1 inch balls
- Serve, or store in fridge in air tight container up to two weeks or freezer for up to 3 months
*If dates aren’t soft let them soak in hot water for up to 15 minutes then drain (your food processor will thank us later)
We hope you have a better understanding of the health benefits of walnuts and pecans now. Remember it’s not so much of a walnuts vs pecans; they both are awesome choices for a healthy snack that will boost your energy while giving you multiple nutrients needed to sustain a healthy life. Try to include these nuts into your daily diet but remember not to over eat as they are high in calories. Shoot for half an ounce each every day, this would be about 3-4 walnuts and about 4-5 pecans.
Let us know if you try to make either of the recipes above, we’d love to get your feedback!
Related Content: Plant Protein vs Whey Protein
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