History of Cashews
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.
Not only are cashews one of the best-tasting and most versatile nuts there is, but they also come loaded with health benefits. Cashews nutrition benefits include the ability to improve heart health, support healthy brain functioning, and improve digestion and nutrient absorption. Plus, they might even be able to help you lose weight. (1)
Cashew consumption 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 and an important addition to your diet in order to prevent a wide range of chronic diseases. One of the best things about cashews is that they taste great in both sweet and savory recipes, so consuming them along with other versatile nuts like almonds or walnuts is a breeze.
Cashews Nutrition Facts
Cashews, which are actually seeds as opposed to nuts, are light-colored and kidney-shaped nuts we often see in trail mixes. They’re actually the fruit of the tropical tree called Anacardium occidentale that produces the bitter-tasting cashew apple. 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.
Due to their high nutrient density and supply of many vital minerals, cashews and other nuts are often recommended most often to improve heart health. Cashews are 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 their 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.
¼ cup serving of cashews has roughly: (3)
- 196 calories
- 5 grams of protein
- 1 gram offiber
- 16 grams of fat
- 750 milligrams copper (84 percent DV)
- 89 milligrams magnesium (33 percent DV)
- 167 milligramsphosphorus (28 percent DV)
- 9 milligramszinc (23 percent DV)
- 27 milligramsmanganese (15 percent DV)
- 11 milligrams vitamin K(12 percent DV)
- 2 milligrams iron(11 percent DV)
- 23 milligrams folate(6 percent DV)
Cashews Nutrition Health Benefits
1. Fight Heart Disease
Frequent cashew consumption can help lower your risk for many of the biggest risks associated with heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity. Cashews are believed to have beneficial effects on oxidative stress levels, inflammation and vascular/arterial activity that promote a healthy heart. (4)
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 where 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 having gallstones. Gallstones are associated with healthy cholesterol levels; they’re caused by hardened cholesterol, a result of too much cholesterol being present within the bile that circulates through the digestive tract. (5) Normally, your liver doesn’t secrete a high enough amount of cholesterol to harden and form stones, but when liver health is poor, cholesterol can essentially act like glue, hardening and binding together with other substances like calcium inside the gallbladder.
- Can Help with Weight Loss or Maintenance
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, which is a precursor of nitric oxide known to help improve vascular reactivity and circulation. Improved blood flow helps draw toxins out from the digestive system and can add to an improved metabolism, higher energy and better digestive health.
- 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.
Cashews provide over 12 percent of your daily vitamin K needs in just a ¼ cup 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, which can help protect you from bone fractures and osteoporosis.
5. May Help Prevent Colon, Prostate and Liver Cancers
Regularly eating nuts, including cashews, is associated with a lower risk for certain common cancers, especially cancers that occur in the digestive tract, including liver and colon cancers.
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) 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 and 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, particularly the healthy fats in cashews but also trace minerals like zinc, iron and copper. (6) Dietary deficiency of healthy MUFA and PUFA fatty acids has even been associated with increased risk of several mental disorders such as ADHD, anxiety or depression, dyslexia and dementia.
7. Lower the Risk for 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 is partially due to the active ingredients called hydroethanolic extract in the form of anacardic acid, which stimulates glucose transport and control. (7) Hydro-ethanolic extract of cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) nut and its principal compound, anacardic acid, stimulate glucose uptake. Cashews also help lower levels of inflammation, and 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. Nuts also provide plant-based phytosterols, which are beneficial for reducing headache duration and occurrence. Additionally, cashews fight rapid changes in blood sugar and hypoglycemia, another well-recognized trigger for migraines. (8)
- 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, which helps with the production of the skin and hair pigment called melanin, as well as the formation of collagen, which supports skin’s elasticity and defenses against aging.
How to Buy and Store Cashews
When it comes to which types of cashews to buy, look for raw cashews if possible, with plain “dry roasted” cashews being 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 (usually rancid and hydrogenated oils) or sugar and other artificial additives. This is usually the case when you buy premade trail mixes, so 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, but 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 withcoconut 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.
Cashew Allergies, Interactions and Concerns
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.