Cashews hold quite a popular place in the nuts family. Cashews are eaten in raw, roasted, salted and unsalted forms. In addition, cashew nuts have become a part of a long list of dishes. They add a royal touch to any dish they are added to. Now cashew nuts are also quite popularly used to prepare specific dairy alternatives like cashew milk, cashew butter, and also cashew cheese.
Where are cashews originally from?
Cashew origin is of South America. They are native to northeastern Brazil & southeastern Venezuela. The Portuguese colonists in South America spread the cashew nuts worldwide.
Are cashews a tree nut?
Cashews commonly known as cashew nuts or tree nuts, are actually a kidney-shaped seed which grows on the cashew tree.
Cashew nuts hang at the end of cashew apples. The cashew apples are an accessory fruit or false fruit & are actually the edible, swollen fruit stem.
Cashew nuts with cashew apple on tree
The cashew tree is a tropical tree native to Brazil but now cultivated in various warm climates across the world. The cashew tree can grow as high as 14 meters(46 ft), however the dwarf varieties are more preferred being more profitable.
Cashews are rich in nutrients and may offer several health benefits. Selecting the right varieties and cooking or preparing them properly can help maximize their potential effects on health.
Like most other nuts, cashews may also help to improve overall health. They are linked to benefits like weight loss, improved blood sugar control & a healthy heart.
Though cashew nuts offer numerous health benefits, traditionally they have been notoriously known for their high fat content.
One ounce/28 g serving of cashew nuts (18 medium sized cashews) provides 157 calories, 12g fat, out of which most is healthy unsaturated fat, 5-7 g protein, 8-9 gram carbohydrates & 0.9 g fiber.
- Copper: 67% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Magnesium: 20% of the DV
- Manganese: 20% of the DV
- Zinc: 15% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 13% of the DV
- Iron: 11% of the DV
- Selenium: 10% of the DV
- Thiamine: 10% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 8% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 7% of the DV
Clearly they are a nutrition package.
They’re also low in sugar, a source of fiber, and contain almost the same amount of protein as an equivalent quantity of cooked meat.
Cashews contain healthy fats
Cashew nuts are wrongly taken as a source of high fat or unhealthy fat only. They do contain saturated fat. However that is only 2g in 1 ounce, remaining is healthy unsaturated fat. Out of the saturated fat content of cashews, most is stearic acid. A good amount of research on stearic acid has well proven that it has neutral impact on raising cholesterol.
Cashews contain both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids which have a tendency to decrease LDL and triglycerides. This in turn decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Cashews are a good protein source
Talking about protein content of cashew nuts, they contain 18 amino acids and out of which 9 are essential amino acids. They contain nearly the same amount of protein as an equivalent quantity of cooked meat.
Cashews: Good Vegetarian Source of Copper
One ounce provides 622 micrograms. Daily recommended intake of copper is 900 microgram so one ounce serving provides a huge 67 % of daily intake.
Copper is a part of many physiological processes like energy production, iron metabolism & nerve impulse transmission. A deficiency of copper can lead to weakened immune system, nerve & heart issues and issues in the maintenance of healthy collagen & elastin tissue. Copper is a must for repairing damaged connective tissue.
Cashews contain a good amount of magnesium.
Magnesium is a part of around 300 enzymatic reactions in body. This involves a huge list of metabolic reactions and even of DNA synthesis. Magnesium is a must for muscle relaxation and neuromuscular transmission.
A diet deficient in magnesium which is quite common, can lead to fatigue, muscle cramps, migraine & loss of appetite.
Magnesium deficiency is common in older people & is linked to insulin resistance, coronary heart disease and osteoporosis. Magnesium is required for calcium assimilation. If calcium is taken in magnesium deficiency then calcium will have a tendency to get deposited in arteries and kidneys. Magnesium supplementation decreases arterial calcification.
Cashews are antioxidant rich like all other nuts. Antioxidants help in protecting our body from free radical damage and inflammation. This highly helps to keep our body healthy & free from disease as inflammation is the base cause of a number of conditions like type2 diabetes, heart disease & arthritis & many more.
Cashew nuts are a rich source of polyphenols & carotenoids which are the two major classes of antioxidants also found in other tree nuts
Lutein and zeaxanthin antioxidants of cashew nuts belong to the carotenoid family & they help to maintain healthy vision and regular intake helps to protect from cataract and age related macular degeneration.
Roasted cashew nuts contain more antioxidants than raw. However, roasted cashew nuts available in market are high in calories because of heavy oils.
Research studies link antioxidants in nuts like walnuts, pecans & almonds to lower levels of oxidative cell damage.
Due to the similar antioxidant profile of cashew nuts, they can be expected to provide similar oxidation-fighting benefits. This can be particularly true of roasted cashews, which have been proven to have an increased antioxidant activity compared with the “raw” forms.
How to roast cashews?
For dry roasting in oven temperature should be 150-180 degree celsius and should be done for 5-10 minutes. For doing it in a pan, You should roast a flat layer on minimum to medium heat for 3-5 min.
What are the nutritional differences of roasted & raw cashews?
Raw cashew nuts contain a little more iron & selenium than roasted cashew nuts do. Roasted cashew nuts contain higher amount of antioxidants than the raw ones.
A major difference to notice among the two forms is that the roasted forms could have an excess of oil, salt or probably some seasonings too. So, in case you are on a restrictive diet like rigidly avoiding excess oil, salt, seasoning or any of these things, then you need to decide to opt for which from. Also, the best way out, would be to go for dry roasting at home.
Arginine for lowering blood pressure
Out of the amino acids found in cashew nuts, a 10 % amount is of arginine alone. It is good for lowering blood pressure and for erectile dysfunction. This is done by nitric oxide production by arginine and nitric oxide is a biological vasodilator.
Cashews also contain potassium, zinc & manganese
Potassium and magnesium in combination help to maintain healthy blood pressure. They also contain 15% of daily value of zinc which provides immunity and is very commonly seen to combat viral infection and has been very commonly prescribed for covid.
They also contain manganese. One ounce serving provides 20% of daily value. Manganese takes part in many enzymatic reactions of metabolism.
Good for Type 2 Diabetes
People with type 2 diabetes may benefit from eating cashews regularly.
In one study, people with type 2 diabetes ate 10% of their daily calories from cashew nuts. These people had lower insulin levels than those who ate no cashew nuts at all. Insulin is a marker of blood sugar control.
Cashews are more rich in complex carbohydrates than simple carbohydrates i.e. sugars. Foods high in simple sugars cause sharp spikes in blood sugar. Cashew nuts only contain 8 grams of net carbs per portion, of which less than 2 grams come from sugars.
Net carbohydrates are the total amount of carbohydrates in a food, minus the amount of fiber it contains. It provides a value for the net amount of carbohydrates that your body can actually absorb.
Replacing foods higher in net carbs and sugar with cashew nuts is likely to help reduce blood sugar levels.
Cashew nuts are a source of fiber, a nutrient that helps prevent blood sugar spikes & thus can offer protection against type 2 diabetes.
More research is needed to better examine the effects of cashew-rich diets in people with type 2 diabetes.
Are cashews good for you to lose weight?
Nuts in general are high in calories & fat. Hence, people on weight loss journey have traditionally been advised to limit the amount of nuts in their diet.
However, the ongoing research is highly linking nut-rich diets to greater weight loss than nut-free diets.
This could be partly explained by the fact that cashews appear to provide fewer calories than once thought.
According to the Food Data Central database of the Unites States Department of Agriculture (USDA), cashew nuts provide 157 calories per one ounce (28-gram) serving.
However, current research suggests that the human body only digests and absorbs around 84% of these 157 calories. This is because a portion of the fat remains trapped within the cashew’s fibrous wall rather than being absorbed during digestion.
Roasting or grinding the nuts may increase our body’s ability to fully digest the calories, thereby increasing the number of calories absorbed.
As a result, weight loss benefits could be stronger for whole “raw” cashews, although more research is needed to confirm this better. One might cut down the antioxidant benefits too by opting for raw cashew nuts because roasting increases the antioxidant availability.
In addition to providing lesser calories than expected, nuts are also rich in protein & fiber, which are known to reduce hunger & promote feelings of fullness, both of which can help to promote weight loss.
They have such a healthy nutrient profile that their regular intake in a certain amount has the tendency to highly increase the vitality of our body.
How to eat cashews for weight loss?
Like other nuts, regularly eating nuts as part of a healthy diet is not found to be associated with weight gain, and may even help to lose weight. This can be slightly more profound for cashew nuts in comparison to the king nut almond & walnuts.
This is because walnuts & almonds are a bit higher in calories & fat than cashew nuts.
- Walnuts: 183 calories & 18 grams of fat
- Almonds: 161 calories & 14 grams of fat
- Cashews: 155 calories & 12 grams fat
The right way to eat cashew nuts or any other nut to keep pounds at bay is to exercise portion control. Public health guidelines recommend to have a one-ounce (28-gram) portion of nuts on most days of the week.
Now, if for some reason, you wish to go for a higher amount & still want weight control, then you should replace any of your unhealthy calories with the added calories of nuts. The idea is to cut on your existing calories to add on nuts. If you consume nuts in form of added calories, then of course their weight gain effects will win.
Cashews for Heart Health
Nut rich diets including cashews, have been consistently linked to a lower risk of disease, like stroke, type 2 diabetes & heart disease.
A few studies have been performed on the specific heart health benefits of cashew nuts..
One study on people with type 2 diabetes, found that people who consumed 10% of their daily calories from cashew nuts had lower LDL (bad) cholesterol to HDL (good) cholesterol ratio than those who ate no cashew nuts at all.
A low LDL to HDL ratio is typically considered as a marker of good heart health.
Two other such studies link cashew nut consumption to higher HDL cholesterol levels & lower blood pressure, as well as low total cholesterol & LDL cholesterol levels.
However, a recent review shows conflicting results. One of the included studies of this review suggests that regular intake of cashews may lower blood pressure & triglyceride levels. However, it finds no effect on total, LDL, or HDL cholesterol levels.
Researchers suggest that the inconsistent results could be due to the limited number of studies & small participant sizes. They conclude that although cashews are as likely to benefit heart health as other nuts, more & large scale research studies are needed to confirm this better.
Cashews for pain and inflammation
Proinflammatory cytokines like TNF-alpha & IL-6 are involved in the development of pathological pain. Cashew nuts are known to have a tendency to exert an anti-inflammatory & analgesic effect by inhibiting the formation of inflammatory cytokines & blocking proinflammatory cytokines.
Cashew nuts also show free radical scavenging property which can help in protecting cells from free radical induced damage. This indicates that the consumption of cashew nuts may help to reduce inflammation & pain.
More research is ongoing to better study this property of cashew nuts.
The magnesium present in cashews may help to reduce the risk of stroke. This is particularly true for hemorrhagic strokes, which are the result of a weakened vessel that spills blood into brain tissue upon rupturing.
Boost Immune system
Cashews help to boost our immune system. They are highly rich in copper and are also a source of iron & zinc. Copper plays a major role in iron metabolism.
Enhance Brain Function
Cashew nuts work in improving brain function. They protect the fragile nerves & tissues of brain. If you eat cashew nuts regularly in a certain amount, they will boost your brain strength.
Good For Skin & Hair
Cashew nuts contain iron, phosphorus, zinc, and antioxidants, they boost your skin health and work wonders for your hair. They are rich in healthy fats, thus help to improve skin quality.
How many cashews should you eat a day ?
For eating cashews as an extra part of your diet, only about 5-6 pieces should be consumed daily. If you include cashews in your basic daily calories & not as your extra calories, then you can eat one ounce or 28g daily. This can be easily done by replacing any of your unhealthy daily food item with cashews.
How to eat cashews ?
Out of nuts, cashew nuts are also notorious for their high phytic acid content which is more than both almonds and walnuts. Phytic acid decreases mineral absorption and also causes joint pain. Phytic acid can be decreased by soaking cashews for 6-7 hours. By soaking, phytase enzyme is released which breaks down phytic acid.
Are cashews poisonous ?
Though there are raw cashews commonly available in market but they are not actually totally raw. The “raw” term here is misleading. Truly raw cashews are not at all safe to eat, as they contain a substance called urushiol which is found in poison ivy. Urushiol is toxic and can trigger a skin reaction in some people.
Cashew kernels are processed to remove this toxic liquid, and the resulting product is sold as “raw”.
Quality of cashew nuts is defined in terms of numbers or grades.
There are 33 different grades of cashew nuts, but only 26 grades are available for people to purchase.
High Quality types
W-180 is the best quality of cashew nuts . They are called the king cashew nuts. These are not at all bleached. They are large in size & very expensive.
W-210 cashew nuts are popularly known as ‘ Jumbo ‘ nuts. Though they are smaller in size & cheaper than W180, but they are still quite large in size & expensive.
W-240 is also an attractive grade of cashew nuts but they are actually a mid grade & is also known as standard size cashew nuts.
These are very commonly seen in nut mixes where cashew is not the center of focus
Their price is also in the medium range. The W-240 is quite less expensive than the W-180 or W-240 type. Though they still look pretty good, but they are quite less in size than a King or Jumbo cashew nut.
Low Quality Types
W-320 is the most popular cashew nut type worldwide. It is easiest to find everywhere as it is most widely sold and distributed.
The W-320 is a perfect balance of size and cost, and they accurately cater to the price & size requirement of majority of customers. It is the right type for a middle class person.
W-450 is the cheap type and is small sized. This is also the last type among whole cashew nuts. These are the favorite of people who want to eat the nut but cant afford to spend much.
You may also come across scorched cashew nuts.
The scorched cashew nuts are those that are not creamy but a light brown in color.
The light brown cashew nut color is actually because these nuts got roasted slightly longer than the white ones, and it results in a dark brown color cashew nut.
Cashews are versatile
Cashews are very easy to add to your daily diet.
They can be eaten “raw” or roasted, & make for a very easy portable snack.
Whole or ground cashews can also be included in a variety of dishes, ranging from scrambled tofu & stir fries, to soup, salads & stews.
Cashew butter is another way to add cashews to our diet. Spread it on toast or mix it into yogurt or oatmeal. You can also process cashew butter with oats & any other of your favorite nut or dried fruit to make bake-free energy balls.
Soaked cashew nuts can be blended together with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to make dairy-free sour cream or cream cheese. Use these to add flavor or make delicious dairy-free versions of your favorite desserts.
How to make a Cashews’ Vegan Cream?
Rich fat content of cashews (mostly healthy fats) can make them a perfect substitute for heavy dairy cream. To make this, soak a cup of raw cashews in half cup of water overnight. Blend the mixture in a food processor until a complete smooth consistency is obtained. Add the required amount of chilled water to reach the desired consistency. That is all to get a rich and creamy vegan cream which is nearly indistinguishable from dairy cream, but with just a fraction of the fat & calories.
Cashew nut cream can be added to a number of sweet or savory dishes as a healthy vegan replacement for heavy whipping cream. Sweeten the cashew cream with 2 tablespoons of sugar if desired.
Enjoy this vegan cream atop a bowl of fresh strawberries. Alternatively, replace dairy cream with unsweetened cashew cream in alfredo recipe to cut calories & fat without removing the rich flavor.
People consuming cashews who are on weight loss should either opt for the raw form or should do dry roasting at home to avoid the added salt, oils or seasoning.
Cashews potential downsides
Cashews are generally considered a safe addition to most people’s diets if eaten in a certain amount.
Keep in mind that store bought roasted or salted cashews can contain high levels of added oils or salt. For this reason, it is better to opt for unsalted dry roasted or “raw” (unroasted) varieties instead.
Some research suggests that roasted cashews may contain higher levels of health-promoting antioxidants than unroasted cashews. Because roasting tends to increase the bioavailability of antioxidants. Consider roasting unroasted cashews yourself at home without extra oils.
Always soak the cashews to increase mineral absorption & digestibility.
Cashews are classified as tree nuts. People who are allergic to tree nuts like almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, or hazelnuts, may have a higher risk of having an allergic reaction to cashews.
Why are cashews so expensive?
There are a number of reasons for cashews being so expensive. The first one could be that in most countries, cashews are a foreign import.
Second is that, it takes a long two to three months for a cashew fruit to produce a cashew seed (cashew nuts) suitable for consumption.
Third is that processing cashews could be dangerous.
The cashew seed is surrounded by a shell which contains toxic oils, such as anacardic acid. This is the same acid also found in poison ivy. These toxic oils cause damage to the skin of the workers responsible for processing these seeds. Roasting the cashew nuts to destroy toxins is also a dangerous job, as the toxins are released into the air.
After the removal of toxins, the cashews must be graded & sorted. This entire process is labor-intensive & hazardous, which further explains why cashews are so expensive.
The last is that is that if there is a bigger mismatch between demand & supply, then the prices rise.
Cashew nuts are rich in fiber, protein & healthy fats. They also contain a variety of vitamins, minerals & antioxidants.
Similarly to other nuts, cashew nuts may promote weight loss, blood sugar control, and heart health. They are versatile nuts.
One should avoid the store bought cashews which are heavily salted, heavy in oils or seasonings.