According to an article whfoods.org, the delicately flavored cashew nut is a favorite between meal snacks that can be readily found in your local market year round. It also makes wonderful nut butter and a special addition to salads and stir-fry dishes.
Cashew nuts are actually the kidney-shaped seeds that adhere to the bottom of the cashew apple, the fruit of the cashew tree, which is native to the coastal areas of northeastern Brazil. While cashew apples are not appreciated in the United States, they are regarded as delicacies in Brazil and the Caribbean. Cashews are always sold shelled because the interior of the shells contains a caustic resin, known as cashew balm, which must be carefully removed before the nuts are fit for consumption. This caustic resin is actually used in industry to make varnishes and insecticides.
This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Cashews provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Cashews can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Cashews, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.
Health Benefits of Cashew Nuts
Heart-Protective Monounsaturated Fats
Not only do cashews have a lower fat content than most other nuts, approximately 82% of their fat is unsaturated fatty acids, plus about 66% of this unsaturated fatty acid content are heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, similar to those found in olive oil. Studies of diabetic patients show that monounsaturated fat, when added to a low-fat diet, can help to reduce high triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a form in which fats are carried in the blood, and high triglyceride levels are associated with an increased risk for heart disease, so ensuring you have some monounsaturated fats in your diet by enjoying cashews is a good idea, especially for persons with diabetes.
Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition (Blomhoff R, Carlsen MH), which identified several nuts among plant foods with the highest total antioxidant content, suggests nut’s high antioxidant content may be key to their cardio-protective benefits.
Nuts’ high antioxidant content helps explain results seen in the Iowa Women’s Health Study in which risk of death from cardiovascular and coronary heart diseases showed strong and consistent reductions with increasing nut/peanut butter consumption. Total death rates decreased 11% and 19% for nut/peanut butter intake once per week and 1-4 times per week, respectively.
Even more impressive were the results of a review study of the evidence linking nuts and lower risk of coronary heart disease, also published in the British Journal of Nutrition. (Kelly JH, Sabate J.) In this study, researchers looked at four large prospective epidemiological studies the Adventist Health Study, Iowa Women’s Study, Nurses’ Health Study and the Physician’s Health Study. When evidence from all four studies was combined, subjects consuming nuts at least 4 times a week showed a 37% reduced risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who never or seldom ate nuts. Each additional serving of nuts per week was associated with an average 8.3% reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
Practical Tip: To lower your risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, enjoy a handful of cashews or other nuts, or a tablespoon of nut butter, at least 4 times a week.
Copper for Antioxidant Defenses, Energy Production, Bones and Blood Vessels
An essential component of many enzymes, copper plays a role in a wide range of physiological processes including iron utilization, elimination of free radicals, development of bone and connective tissue, and the production of the skin and hair pigment called melanin. For example, copper is an essential component of the enzyme, superoxide dismutase, which is important in energy production and antioxidant defenses. Copper is also necessary for the activity of lysyl oxidase, an enzyme involved in cross-linking collagen and elastin, both of which provide the ground substance and flexibility in blood vessels, bones and joints. Low dietary intake of copper may also be associated with increased fecal free radical production and fecal water alkaline phosphatase activity, risk factors for colon cancer.
Numerous health problems can develop when copper intake is inadequate, including iron deficiency anemia, ruptured blood vessels, osteoporosis, joint problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, brain disturbances, elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduced HDL (good) cholesterol levels, irregular heartbeat, and increased susceptibility to infections.
Bone Up and Relax with Cashews
Everyone knows that calcium is necessary for strong bones, but magnesium is also vital for healthy bones. About two-thirds of the magnesium in the human body is found in our bones. Some helps give bones their physical structure, while the rest is found on the surface of the bone where it is stored for the body to draw upon as needed.
Magnesium, by balancing calcium, helps regulate nerve and muscle tone. In many nerve cells, magnesium serves as Nature’s own calcium channel blocker, preventing calcium from rushing into the nerve cell and activating the nerve. By blocking calcium’s entry, magnesium keeps our nerves (and the blood vessels and muscles they ennervate) relaxed. If our diet provides us with too little magnesium, however, calcium can gain free entry, and the nerve cell can become overactivated, sending too many messages and causing excessive contraction.
Insufficient magnesium can thus contribute to high blood pressure, muscle spasms (including spasms of the heart muscle or the spasms of the airways symptomatic of asthma), and migraine headaches, as well as muscle cramps, tension, soreness and fatigue. Given these effects, it is not surprising that studies have shown magnesium helps reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, lowers blood pressure, helps prevent heart attacks, promotes normal sleep patterns in women suffering from menopausal sleep disturbances, and reduces the severity of asthma.
Help Prevent Gallstones
Twenty years of dietary data collected on 80,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study shows that women who eat least 1 ounce of nuts, peanuts or peanut butter each week have a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones. Since 1 ounce is only 28.6 nuts or about 2 tablespoons of nut butter, preventing gallbladder disease may be as easy as packing one cashew butter and jelly sandwich (be sure to use whole wheat bread for its fiber, vitamins and minerals) for lunch each week, having a handful of cashews as an afternoon pick me up, or tossing some cashews on your oatmeal or salad.
Eating Nuts Lowers Risk of Weight Gain
Although nuts are known to provide a variety of cardio-protective benefits, many avoid them for fear of weight gain. A prospective study published in the journal Obesity shows such fears are groundless. In fact, people who eat nuts at least twice a week are much less likely to gain weight than those who almost never eat nuts.
The 28-month study involving 8,865 adult men and women in Spain, found that participants who ate nuts at least two times per week were 31% less likely to gain weight than were participants who never or almost never ate nuts.
And, among the study participants who gained weight, those who never or almost never ate nuts gained more (an average of 424 g more) than those who ate nuts at least twice weekly.
Study authors concluded, “Frequent nut consumption was associated with a reduced risk of weight gain (5 kg or more). These results support the recommendation of nut consumption as an important component of a cardioprotective diet and also allay fears of possible weight gain.”
Practical Tip: Don’t let concerns about gaining weight prevent you from enjoying the delicious taste and many health benefits of nuts!
- Spread some nut butter on your morning toast or bagel.
- Remember how many great childhood lunches involved a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Upgrade that lunchbox favorite by spreading organic peanut butter and concord grape jelly on whole wheat bread.
- Fill a celery stick with nut butter for an afternoon pick-me-up.
- Sprinkle a handful of nuts over your morning cereal, lunchtime salad, dinner’s steamed vegetables.
- Or just enjoy a handful of lightly roasted nuts as a healthy snack.