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Cashews Nutrition: Helps Prevent Cancer, Diabetes & More
December 9, 2018
What are the health benefits of cashews? Cashews are one of the best-tasting, most versatile and healthiest nuts . In fact, benefits of cashews nutrition include the ability to improve heart health, support healthy brain functioning, and improve digestion and nutrient absorption. Eating cashews might even be able to help you lose weight. (1)
Consumption of cashew nuts has increased in recent years in most Western countries, most likely because nuts in general are repeatedly ranked as some of the healthiest foods there are. When it comes to cashews nutrition benefits, experts consider all nuts to be important additions to our diets in order to provide healthy fats, fiber and trace minerals — and to aid in prevention of a wide range of chronic diseases.
One of the best things about cashews is that they taste great in both sweet and savory recipes (think trail mixes and stir-fries), so consuming them along with other versatile nuts like almonds or walnuts is a breeze. And thanks to new products on the market like cashew milk and cashew butter, it’s easier than ever to incorporate cashews nutrition into all types of recipes.
Cashews Nutrition Facts
What are cashews, and are they actually nuts? Cashews are technically seeds, as opposed to nuts. They are light-colored, kidney-shaped and come from the fruit of the tropical tree called Anacardium occidentale that produces the bitter-tasting cashew apple.
Due to their high nutrient density and supply of many vital minerals, “cashew nuts” and other nuts are often recommended most often to improve heart health. Cashews nutrition is rich in unsaturated fatty acids and numerous other beneficial compounds, including plant-based protein; dietary fiber; minerals like copper, zinc and magnesium; plus antioxidants in the form of phytosterols and phenolic compounds. The composition of the cashew kernel is about 21 percent protein, 46 percent fat and 25 percent carbohydrates (a portion of which is indigestible fiber), making it a filling, high-protein and high-fat food choice.
One of the key factors of cashews nutrition is the healthy fat content. Cashews are primarily made up of unsaturated fats in the form of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs that contain oleic acid), plus a smaller proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAS mostly in the form of linoleic acid). Roughly 62 percent of the cashew’s fats are monounsaturated fat, 18 percent polyunsaturated fats and the rest a mix of saturated fats. (2)
Because of the positive effects of MUFAs and PUFAs on metabolism and other bioactive functions, many studies associate cashew consumption (and nut consumption in general) with a reduced risk for coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
One ounce (about 28 grams) of raw cashews contains approximately: (3)
- 155 calories
- 9.2 grams carbohydrates
- 5.1 grams protein
- 12.3 grams fat
- 0.9 gram fiber
- 0.6 milligram copper (31 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram manganese (23 percent DV)
- 81.8 milligrams magnesium (20 percent DV)
- 166 milligrams phosphorus (17 percent DV)
- 9.5 micrograms vitamin K (12 percent DV)
- 1.6 milligrams zinc (11 percent DV)
- 1.9 milligrams iron (10 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram thiamine (8 percent DV)
- 5.6 micrograms selenium (8 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (6 percent DV)
- 185 milligrams potassium (5 percent DV)
Cashews nutrition also contains some vitamin E, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid and calcium.
Related: Pili Nuts: The Keto-Friendly Nuts that Support the Heart & Bones
1. Fight Heart Disease
A 2017 review published in the journal Nutrients states, “Although nuts are high calorie foods, several studies have reported beneficial effects after nut consumption, due to fatty acid profiles, vegetable proteins, fibers, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and phytosterols with potential antioxidant action.” (4)
Frequent nut and legume consumption can help lower your risk for many of the biggest risks associated with heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity. (5) Cashews are believed to have beneficial effects on oxidative stress levels, inflammation, and vascular/arterial activity that promotes a healthy heart. (6)
Cashews can help lower LDL cholesterol (considered the dangerous kind) and improve HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind). They contain special phytosterol compounds, which play an important structural role in cell membranes. They stabilize cells and interfere with cholesterol absorption. This is responsible for their cholesterol-lowering abilities and the reason cashews may be able to help prevent the formation of plaque within artery walls. Cashews are also associated with lowered triglyceride levels and reduced levels of inflammation, all of which help protect you from heart disease, heart attacks or stroke.
2. Help Prevent Gallstones
Some research has found that eating nuts weekly, including cashews, can help lower the risk for gallstones. Gallstones are associated with healthy cholesterol levels. They’re caused by hardened cholesterol, a result of too much cholesterol present within the bile that circulates through the digestive tract. (7)
Normally, your liver doesn’t secrete a high enough amount of cholesterol to harden and form stones. However, when liver health is poor, cholesterol can essentially act like glue, hardening and binding together with other substances like calcium inside the gallbladder.
3. Can Help with Weight Loss or Maintenance
Do cashew nuts make you gain weight? Studies suggest that cashews and other nuts are not tied to weight gain. In fact, they may actually promote weight loss or help with weight management. (8)
Nuts have a high total fat content — cashews are made of approximately 46 percent fat — but they’re also very nutrient-dense and provide a lot of important minerals and fatty acids that support weight loss. Cashews can help you feel fuller after a meal, which is beneficial for curbing food cravings, overeating and unhealthy snacking. Fats in general make food more satisfying and increase nutrient absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A and vitamin D.
Cashews are also a good source of plant-based protein (somewhere around 25 percent of the nut is made up of amino acids), partially in the form of beneficial amino acid L-arginine. L-arginine is a precursor of nitric oxide known to help improve vascular reactivity and circulation. The combination of fat and protein in cashews nutrition make cashews a filling food that can help control cravings.
4. Help Maintain Bone Health
Cashews nutrition benefits include bone health improvement due to the presence of calcium, magnesium and potassium, together with a low sodium intake. These are associated with protection against bone demineralization. Cashews’ bone-building benefits also come from their supply of vitamin K. (9)
Cashews provide over 12 percent of your daily vitamin K needs in just an ounce serving — working as a great source to prevent vitamin K deficiency. Vitamin K works with other essential minerals like calcium to support bone mineralization and maintain bone mineral density. This can help protect you from bone fractures and osteoporosis.
5. May Help Prevent Colon, Prostate and Liver Cancers
Why are cashews good for you if you’re looking to boost immunity and defend against disease? Regularly eating nuts, including cashews, is associated with a lower risk for certain common cancers. This is especially true for cancers that occur in the digestive tract, including liver and colon cancers. A 2016 review found that “higher nut intake is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality.” (10)
Nuts are good sources of antioxidant vitamins (for example, tocopherols and certain phenolic compounds, which are mostly stored in the shells of cashews and nuts). These are needed to protect the body from high levels of free radical damage that causes oxidative stress, potentially contributing to DNA damage, cell mutation and cancerous tumor formation.
6. Support Healthy Brain Function
The brain is made up of mostly fat and relies on a steady supply of healthy fatty acids within the diet. Nuts are one of the natural plant foods richest in fat. They support cognitive function, healthy aging and mood regulation.
Several dietary components of cashews can help support cognitive abilities and multiple brain processes by regulating neurotransmitter pathways, synaptic transmission and membrane fluidity. The healthy fats in cashews in particular are responsible for this, along with trace minerals like zinc, iron and copper. (11) Dietary deficiency of healthy MUFA and PUFA fatty acids has even been associated with increased risk of several mental disorders, such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, dyslexia and dementia.
7. Lower the Risk for Diabetes
Why are cashews healthy if you’re prone to metabolic syndrome or diabetes? Cashews are a great source of MUFA fats, which slow the rate at which blood is released into the bloodstream. The anti-diabetic properties of cashews nutrition are partially due to the active ingredient called hydroethanolic extract in the form of anacardic acid, which stimulates glucose transport and control. (12)
Hydro-ethanolic extract of cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) nut and its principal compound, anacardic acid, stimulate glucose uptake.
A 2014 analysis showed that tree nuts improve glycemic control in individuals with type 2 diabetes. (13) Cashews also help lower levels of inflammation. Studies show that a diet higher in nuts results in lower circulation of inflammatory biomarkers that can contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes formation. Additionally, cashew nutrition benefits include the ability to prevent or treat other complications of diabetes, including arterial hypertension, obesity and cardiovascular risk.
8. Help Prevent Migraine Headaches
Cashews help support healthy brain function and improve blood circulation while lowering blood pressure, which may be beneficial for fighting headaches.
Additionally, cashews fight rapid changes in blood sugar and hypoglycemia, other well-recognized triggers for migraines. (14)
9. Help Maintain Healthy Skin
Cashews nutrition supports healthy skin due to the presence of healthy essential fatty acids. Healthy sources of fat are needed to keep skin hydrated and free from irritation, flaking and premature aging.
Cashews are also a high source of copper. Copper helps with the production of the skin and hair pigment called melanin, as well as the formation of collagen and maintenance of connective tissue, which supports skin’s elasticity and defends against signs of aging. (15)
Uses in Traditional Medicine
Cashews have been used in traditional medicine systems for centuries to heal various ailments, including poor heart health and diabetes. They’re native to coastal Brazil and today are popular across the globe, especially in Asian cuisine.
According to Ayurvedic medicine, nuts are an important part of a vegetarian diet since they supply fiber, protein, fat, minerals and vitamins. With the ketosis diet, commonly called the keto diet, they’re a food to limit. That being said, all nuts should be eaten in moderation, ideally after being blanched and soaked to help improve digestion. (16) Nut milks and nut butters are also encouraged, especially for “pacifying Vata” — in other words for providing grounding, warm energy. In addition to eating cashews and other nuts, nuts are used to make nourishing oils in traditional medicine that keep skin hydrated and healthy.
Unlike most other nuts, cashews actually contain a fair amount of starch. This is one reason they make a great thickening agency in “milks” or creamy sauces, especially when they’ve been soaked beforehand. This allows them to blend more easily. It’s one reason why they’re popular across the globe for thickening soups, curries, meat stews and to make desserts. In Southeast Asia and India, for example, they’re used in this way to make the type of curry dish called korma or to make the sweet treat called kaju barfi. Cashew nuts also have a long history of use in Thailand, the Philippines, Chinese and South African cuisine.
Cashews Nutrition vs. Almonds vs. Other Nuts
- Among all nuts, cashews are one of the best sources of copper, iron and zinc. They are also a bit higher in carbs than other nuts. (17)
- Compared to cashews, almonds nutrition is higher in protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin. You can see why almonds are considered a superfood by many. Almonds contain a good amount of monounsaturated fat and less polyunsaturated fat, including less omega-3s than nuts like walnuts. (18) They are the best source of calcium among all nuts. Both cashews and almonds are among the lowest-calorie nuts.
- When we compare cashews to walnuts nutrition, we find that walnuts are a better source of heart-healthy alpha linoleic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in plants.
- Macadamia nutsare one of the nuts with the most fat and highest amount of calories, more than cashews. However, they are still a healthy food because they contain lots of monounsaturated fat, just like olive oil. Both cashew butter and macadamia nut butter make great alternatives to peanut butter.
- Compared to cashews and other nuts, Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium (just one nut contains more than a day’s worth!) and contain a good mix of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.
- Pecans are a high-calorie nut with a high fat content, mostly monounsaturated fat. They contain oleic acid along with phenolic antioxidants. Pecans and macadamia nuts overall have the lowest amounts of protein and the highest amounts of fats (but these are still healthy fats).
- Pistachios and cashews are both lower in calories than many other nuts. They have similar amounts of protein and fat per ounce. Pistachios are exceptionally high in vitamin B6 and potassium.
- Peanuts are one of the highest protein and fiber nuts, containing more than cashews. They are also one of the lowest nuts in calories. However, peanuts can contain mold and are a common allergen, so take precaution when eating them.
Overall, eating a variety of nuts gives you the most benefits. Nuts and seeds benefit your hair, skin, nails, brain and heart because they all contain healthy fats and slightly different types of fats, antioxidants and minerals.
How to Buy and Store
How many cashews should you eat in a day? In general, what is a healthy amount of nuts to eat per day? A standard recommendation is to eat about one ounce of nuts per day, which is usually about 1/4 cup. How many nuts this is depends on the specific type of nut. For example, one ounce of almonds is about 23 almonds, while one ounce of cashews is about 18 cashew nuts. (19)
When it comes to which types of cashews to buy, look for raw cashews if possible, with plain, “dry roasted” cashews your second best option. Blanching cashews and other nuts, especially when their shells are removed or cracked open, can destroy most of their antioxidants more so than roasting usually does. All cashews sold to customers have their outer shells removed because they’re considered “toxic” and likely to hold bacteria.
You definitely want to avoid cashews or other nuts that are coated in vegetable oils or sugar and other artificial additives. This is usually the case when you buy premade trail mixes. Check the label carefully that no extra sugar, preservatives, hydrogenated vegetable oil, chemicals or preservatives have been added to your cashews or cashew butter.
Cashews are considered more stable than many other types of nuts because they have a high content of oleic acid. It’s still a good idea to store them in a tightly sealed container and away from heat in order to prolong their freshness. Many people even like to refrigerate or freeze their nuts, nut butters and nut flours to retain the most nutrients possible.
Here are some other types of products made from cashews that you might also want to seek out:
- Cashew “butter” — A great alternative to peanut butter, this is made by soaking and blending cashews. Salt should be the only other ingredient added.
- Cashew flour — Made by drying and grinding cashews, this can be used in similar ways to almond meal. Try combining it with coconut flour or other gluten-free flours to make muffins, pancakes or other treats.
- Cashew milk — This is a good alternative to almond milk, coconut milk or dairy milk if you avoid lactose and conventional (pasteurized) dairy. It’s a bit creamier than almond milk and is free of sugar and lactose as long as you buy an unsweetened version.
- Are cashew nuts a healthy snack? You bet. Add some to trail mix or yogurt for a filling snack.
There are countless ways to add cashews to your meals: consuming raw cashews as a healthy snack, adding them to grain-free granola or oatmeal with breakfast, having some cashew butter with fruit, throwing some into a salad, or tossing them into a healthy stir-fry. Premade (or homemade) cashew butter and cashew flour even make it possible to have cashews in smoothies, spread on homemade gluten-free baked goods, or used in place of wheat and other refined flours in many different ways.
Here are several cashew recipes to get you started with using cashews at home:
- Make this homemade Cashew Milk Recipe on grain-free granola, in smoothies, etc.
- Try some Homemade Cashew Butter on gluten-free toast, in baked goods, etc.
- Cashew Chicken with Apricot Sauce Recipe— This is a gluten-free, high-protein meal that also supplies healthy fats.
- Pumpkin Cashew Soup Recipe — This recipe is full of healthy fats, vitamin A and vitamin C.
- Cashew Chicken Lettuce Wraps Recipe — This recipe is full of flavor, healthy fats and high in protein.
One way to increase the nutrient content of cashews and reduce the presence of antinutrients — which can block some of cashews’ minerals from being absorbed once eaten — is to soak raw cashews overnight in plain water. You can also sprout raw cashews that have been soaked to further increase their mineral availability.
History and Facts
Where do cashews come from? Cashews were first cultivated in Brazil, where Portuguese inhabitants discovered them and brought them back to parts of India sometime around 1560 and 1565. From India, cashews spread throughout Southeast Asia and eventually made their way to America and Africa.
The cashew tree is now widely grown in tropical regions around the world, especially in parts of India, Nigeria, Vietnam, the Ivory Coast and Indonesia. The modern-day name cashew derives from the Portuguese word for the fruit of the cashew tree, caju, which translates in Portuguese to “nut that produces itself.”
Cashews are considered drupes that grows at the end of the cashew apple fruit. The drupe develops first on the cashew apple tree and then expands to become the cashew apple. The apple itself has a sharp taste and delicate skin, therefore it doesn’t transport well and isn’t commonly eaten. In some parts of the world, however, like Brazil and regions in Africa, cashew apples are actually considered healing delicacies and are used for their natural medicinal qualities, like fighting bacteria.
Risks and Side Effects
Are there any disadvantages of cashew nuts? For some people, cashews and other tree nuts can potentially cause complications or allergic reactions. Allergic reactions to nuts can sometimes even be life-threatening, although the majority of people with no known nut allergies experience no negative reactions to eating cashews. If you have a known nut allergy, carefully avoid cashews and other tree nuts until you’re tested for reactions to all types of nuts, since an allergy to one type usually means reactions can occur when eating other types, too.
Anyone who has an existing condition of kidney stones might also need to avoid cashews or carefully monitor their nut consumption in general because cashews naturally contain gastric and intestinal soluble oxalates that can make kidney problems worse.
- Cashew nuts are actually seeds. They come from the cashew plant called Anacardium occidentale that produces the bitter-tasting cashew apple.
- Cashews nutrition data tells us that these “nuts” are a good source of nutrients like copper, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and more. Cashews nutrition also provides healthy fats, protein, polysterols and some starch/fiber.
- Benefits of cashew nutrition include fighting heart disease, preventing gallstones, helping with weight loss, maintaining bone health, reducing risk for certain types of cancer, supporting cognitive function, fighting headaches and maintaining skin health.
- Both raw cashews and cooked/roasted cashews are available. Cashews actually contain a fair amount of starch, which is one reason they make a great thickening agency in “milks” or creamy sauces, especially when they’ve been soaked beforehand.