Cashews are a type of nut with a soft consistency and sweet flavor.
They are native to South America, specifically Brazil, and were introduced by colonists to Africa and India; these regions are the largest producers of cashews today. Cashews are sold both raw or roasted, and salted or unsalted.
Cashews have recently been used to make dairy alternatives, such as cashew milk, cashew-based cheese and cashew-based cream sauces and sour cream.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of cashews and an in-depth look at their possible health benefits, how to incorporate more cashews into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming cashews.
Nutritional breakdown of cashews
Cashews are soft and sweet nuts that are high in protein and certain fats.
According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, approximately 1 oz of raw cashews (28.35 g) contains:
A 1 oz serving of raw cashews will provide the following percentages of recommended daily nutrient intake:
- 31% of copper
- 23% of manganese
- 20% of magnesium
- 17% of phosphorus
- 10% of iron
- 8% of selenium
- 5% of vitamin B6.
A 1 oz serving of cashews is about 18 whole cashews. Cashews are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and a good source of protein.
Possible benefits of consuming cashews
Consuming plant-based foods of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like cashews decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy and overall lower weight.
The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids found in cashews are known to decrease LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attack.3
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that the risk of coronary heart disease is 37% lower for those consuming nuts more than four times per week compared with people who never or seldom consume nuts.6
Cashew nuts are a good source of magnesium, an important nutrient for metabolism.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved a health claim for food labels that “eating 1.5 oz per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”2
Cashews are a good source of magnesium, which plays an important role in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body including the metabolism of food and synthesis of fatty acids and proteins. Magnesium is also involved in muscle relaxation and neuromuscular transmission and activity.
People with the highest intake of magnesium were found in the Framingham Heart Study to have a 58% lower chance of having coronary artery calcification and a 34% lower chance of abdominal artery calcification.11
Limited data suggest that routine nut consumption is associated with elevated resting energy expenditure.4
In addition, in trials that compare weight loss between food regimens that include or exclude nuts, regimes that include nut consumption in moderation showed greater weight loss.4
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who reported rarely eating nuts had a greater incidence of weight gain over an 8 year period than women who consumed nuts two or more times a week.5
According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, frequent nut consumption is associated with a reduced risk of requiring a cholecystectomy – a surgical procedure to remove the gallbladder.
In over a million people documented over a time span of 20 years, women who consumed more than 5 oz of nuts a week had significantly lower risk of cholecystectomy than women who ate less than 1 oz of nuts each week.7
Cashews are one of the few food sources that are high in copper. Severe copper deficiency is associated with lower bone mineral density and an increased risk of osteoporosis. More research is needed, however, on the effects of marginal copper deficiency and the potential benefits of copper supplementation for prevention and management of osteoporosis.8
Copper also plays an important role in the maintenance of collagen and elastin, major structural components of our bodies. Without sufficient copper, the body cannot replace damaged connective tissue or the collagen that makes up the scaffolding for bone. This can lead to a range of problems, including joint dysfunction as bodily tissues begin to break down.
The magnesium in cashews is also important for bone formation as it helps with the assimilation of calcium into the bone. Manganese, another mineral in cashews, has been shown to prevent osteoporosis in combination with calcium and copper.9
How to incorporate more cashews into your diet
Cashew nuts can be added easily to stir fries and salads.
Nuts have a high fat content, and so they are prone to rancidity. Keep cashews in a cool, dark and dry place to improve their shelf life. If stored properly, cashews will keep for a few months at room temperature, a year in the refrigerator or 2 years in the freezer.1
Rancid nuts are not unsafe but have a sharp flavor most people find unpleasant.
- Make homemade trail mix with a mixture of cashews and other nuts, seeds and dried fruit
- Make your own cashew butter (like peanut butter) by blending whole, raw cashews in a food processor until smooth
- Top main dishes such as fish or chicken with a mixture of chopped cashews and herbs before baking
- Mix cashews into your next salad or stir fry.
Or, try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:
Potential health risks of consuming cashews
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Source: Cashews: Nutritional Information, Health Benefits : Medical News Today