April 21/Loma Linda, Calif./UPI -- A handful of pecans each day may boost antioxidant levels in the body and help protect the heart, California researchers suggest.

Dr. Ella Haddad, associate professor at the School of Public Health at Loma Linda University in California, says pecans contain different forms of the antioxidant vitamin E, known as tocopherols, and the nuts are especially rich in one form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherols.

This type of antioxidant has been shown to double in the human body after eating pecans and it may lead to a decrease in bad cholesterol, Haddad says.

The study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, finds testing conducted after participants had eaten pecans showed gamma-tocopherols doubled and oxidation of low-density lipoprotein, bad cholesterol, decreased by one-third.

"This study confirms previous research which shows pecans are a healthy food," Haddad says in a statement. "Our study indicates that antioxidants in pecans are absorbed in the body and provide a protective effect against the development of various diseases such as cancer and heart disease."

From the April 22, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.