Pecans might be known best as the nuts you'll find in ice cream and pie, but why sugarcoat it?

Eat a pecan right from the shell and you won't just get a tasty treat--a new study finds you'll get an antioxidant boost that could lower your risk for cancer and heart disease.

And that makes pecans a snack you can go nuts over.

Researchers gave 16 volunteers one of three test meals: three ounces of whole pecans, three ounces of pecans blended with water, or a meal with similar nutritional value, but no pecans.

They found that those who ate either pecan meal had double the levels of gamma-tocopherols, a powerful form of vitamin E, eight hours later.

And those who ate the whole pecans slashed the oxidation of LDL cholesterol by up to 33 percent three hours after their meal.

That last bit is critical here--because the real damage of LDL cholesterol takes place when it oxidizes.

That process leads to inflammation as well as the formation of plaque, clogging arteries and upping your odds of heart attack and stroke.

The gamma-tocopherols, however, slow that process--robbing the LDL cholesterol of its ability to harm you.

The benefits didn't end there--the study in the Journal of Nutrition also found that pecans boosted the overall levels of antioxidants in the blood.

Those who ate whole pecans had a 12 percent increase in oxygen radical absorbance capabilities two hours after the meal. Those who had the blend saw a 10 percent jump.

That means pecans aren't just packed with antioxidants--but they exist in a form absorbed by your body and put to work, helping to lower your risk for everything from heart problems to cancer.

But wait! There's more!

An earlier study by the same researchers found pecans can lower levels of LDL cholesterol by 16.5 percent, double the "benefit" of the useless Step 1 diet pushed by the American Heart Association.

And much tastier than a statin.

The only problems with pecans are those pies and ice creams I mentioned earlier--not to mention nuts roasted in sugary coatings.

Eat those, and the only boost you'll see will be in your waistline.

If you really want the great benefits of pecans, eat them right out of the shell, sprinkle them into your salads or work them into your recipes.

Go nuts.