Cashews are a popular food with a mild, nutty flavor. They have a crunchy texture similar to other nuts. Although cashews are commonly referred to as tree nuts, they are seeds.
Similar to nuts, cashews are full of nutrients and are linked to several health benefits.
Keep reading to find out all you need to know about cashews.
Fun Fact:The word “Anacardium” is of Greek origin and means “inverted heart” due to the fruit shape of the cashew.
Table of Contents
- History and Facts
- Nutrition Facts
- Health Benefits
- Ways to Consume
- Potential Risks
- Frequently Asked Questions
History and Facts
Cashews are kidney-shaped seeds sourced from the cashew tree also known as Anacardium occidentale L. The cashew tree is a tropical tree native to Brazil that belongs to the Anacardiaceae family. This genus species is characterized by tropical and subtropical trees with more than sixty genera and four hundred related species (1). Cashews were first introduced to various parts of the world by Portuguese sailors in the 15th century. Shortly after, European explorers in the sixteenth century brought them to Asia and Africa.
Although they are native to Brazil, today cashews are cultivated in various warm climates across the world. Cashews can be grown on large farms in tropical climates, such as Brazil, Vietnam, and Nigeria (2). The largest producers of cashew nuts are Vietnam, Nigeria, India, and Côte d’Ivoire. The average yearly worldwide production is around 3.7 million tons.
Summary:Cashews are native to Brazil and produced in tropical regions, with an annual production of more than 3 million tons.
In general, most cashews contain similar amounts of nutrients. The suggested serving size of cashews is around 1 oz per day.
In one ounce of cashews, there are the following macronutrients (3):
- Calories: 163 calories (kcal)
- Protein: 4.3 grams (g)
- Fat: 13.2 grams (g)
- Monounsaturated fat: 7.74 grams (g)
- Polyunsaturated fat: 2.22 grams (g)
- Carbohydrates: 9.2 grams (g)
- Fiber: 0.85 grams (g)
Cashews are low in sugar, contain fiber, and are high in protein (4). Because they are nutrient-dense, they are likely to make you feel satisfied by only eating a small amount of them. Cashews are high in fat, specifically mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (5). Unsaturated fats are also known as healthy fats, a category of fats that have been linked to a variety of health benefits. Some of these benefits include a lower risk of premature death and heart disease.
Summary:Although the serving size of cashews is small, they contain a relatively high amount of calories, protein, and fiber. They are also high in healthy fats that promote health.
Vitamins and Minerals
In one serving (around one ounce) of roasted cashews, there are the following vitamins and minerals (6):
- Calcium: 12.8 milligrams (mg)
- Iron: 1.7 milligrams (mg)
- Magnesium: 73.7 milligrams (mg)
- Phosphorus: 139 milligrams (mg)
- Potassium: 160 milligrams (mg)
- Copper: 0.629 milligrams (mg)
- Folate: 19.6 micrograms (µg)
- Choline: 17.3 milligrams (mg)
- Lutein + zeaxanthin: 6.52 micrograms (µg)
- Vitamin K: 9.84 micrograms (µg)
As you can see, cashews are a rich source of nutrients, including minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Cashews are a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium (7). The mineral content varies depending on the variety of cashew nuts you choose. Raw cashew nuts contain three times more calcium than roasted cashews because roasting can remove some minerals from the nut’s shell.
Cashews are an excellent source of vitamin K and folate — two essential nutrients you need to keep your bones healthy (8). They also provide small amounts of other B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid — all essential for metabolism and energy production (9).
Summary:Cashews are jam-packed with nutrients, some of the highlighted ones including calcium, iron, potassium, folate, and choline.
Like most nuts, cashews offer many health benefits. They’ve been linked to benefits like weight loss, improved blood sugar control, and a healthier heart.
May be Beneficial for People with Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is one of the most globally challenging disorders affecting an estimated 1 in 10 adults (10). More than 37 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes, and this number is expected to rise dramatically over the next 20 years. Within the past 2 years, type 2 diabetes prevalence has risen by 16% which is an alarming rate.
Not only does type 2 diabetes affect the ability of the body to produce insulin and cause high blood sugar levels, but it also has other associated complications. Some of these include increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, neuropathy, and retinopathy (11).
Cashew nuts contain monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat, both of which are beneficial in controlling blood sugar levels. They are also rich sources of magnesium, manganese, and copper – nutrients that can help protect against diabetes complications.
Summary:Type 2 diabetes is a chronic health condition that continues to rise yearly. Consuming cashews has been noted to help control blood sugar, therefore having protective effects against diabetes.
May Improve Heart Health
One of the main areas that cashews are researched for is their ability to promote heart health. They contain a significant amount of magnesium, which helps relax blood vessels and may prevent high blood pressure (12). Some research suggests eating cashews with a meal because it may improve heart health by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.
As previously mentioned, cashews are known for their high-fat content. The fat in cashews is mostly monounsaturated, which is called HDL, or “good” fat. HDL helps lower bad cholesterol levels which can lead to improved heart health (13).
Plasma homocysteine is a marker that is looked at for cardiovascular disease. Research from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating cashews can lower levels of plasma homocysteine by up to 18%.
Summary:Cashews contain healthy, unsaturated fats that have been found to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, which can overall help decrease the risk of heart disease.
May Improve Bone Health
Another health benefit that has been found from eating cashews is due to several of the nutrients they contain. One of which is vitamin K (14). Studies have demonstrated that vitamin K can not only increase bone mineral density in osteoporotic people but also reduce fracture rates (15).
Cashews are an excellent source of phosphorus to build strong bones and teeth (16). This mineral is necessary for the development and maintenance of bone tissue, as well as for the proper absorption of calcium. A phosphorus deficiency can lead to osteoporosis or brittle bones.
Magnesium regulates calcium levels within the body and helps prevent osteoporosis (17). Iron is another component of cashews that transports oxygen from your lungs to your tissues throughout your body, including your bones.
Summary:Cashews contain several nutrients, including vitamin K, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron, all of which help promote bone health in general.
Ways to Consume
Cashews are one of the tastiest types of nuts around, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re delicious and can be added to so many different foods and recipes.
Here are some ways to enjoy cashews:
- Eat them on their own as a snack
- Cut them up and add them to dishes like salads
- They can be mixed in with sauces
- Make pesto with them
- Incorporate into sweet treats like cookies, muffins, and cakes
- Puree them into butter
- Add to stir-fries or fried rice
- Try making a fun entrée like cashew chicken
- Mix them into trail mix with other nuts and dried fruits
- Make homemade granola and mix them into it
- Use them as a topping for yogurt, oatmeal, ice cream, and/or pudding
Fun Fact:The United States consumes more than 90% of the world’s cashew harvest.
In general, cashews are safe for the majority of people to eat. However, there are some risks to be aware of when eating them regularly.
Raw Cashews Are Not Safe to Eat
While “raw” cashews are widely sold, truly raw cashews are not safe to eat. So, they should never be eaten right from a cashew tree. Raw cashews contain urushiol, a resin that is toxic if ingested and can cause rashes or burns if it contacts the skin (18). This is why cashews are heat-treated and roasted to ensure they are safe to eat. Although cashews may be sold as “raw”, the cashew kernels are steamed to remove this toxic liquid, and the resulting product is sold as “raw”.
Because cashews are considered a type of tree nut, there is an allergy risk with eating cashews (19). This is because cashews contain similar types of proteins as tree nuts. When a person is having an allergic reaction to cashews, they can experience a variety of symptoms. Some of these can include hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and wheezing when they consume them.
In severe cases, anaphylaxis can occur. This causes symptoms such as confusion, dizziness, or difficulty breathing. If you have a known allergy to peanuts or another type of tree nut, you may be likely to be allergic to cashews. If you are experiencing mild symptoms of an allergic reaction after consuming cashews, you should contact your healthcare provider.
They May Increase the Risk of Kidney Stones
Cashews contain a significant amount of oxalates. Oxalate is naturally found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, grains, legumes, and even chocolate and tea. Oxalate increases the risk of kidney stones because it is typically the compound that they are composed of. For people who are at an increased risk of kidney stones or have a history of them, cashews may need to be avoided because of this (20).
The oxalate content of cashews is moderate compared with other nuts; however, by consuming large amounts daily, the risk of stones can increase (21). Talk to a healthcare provider if you may be at risk.
Summary:Overall, cashews are safe to eat. However, some people may have an allergic reaction to them and they should never be eaten raw right off of the cashew tree. People with a history of kidney stones should talk to a healthcare provider before consuming cashews.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are cashews pricey?
Cashews indeed are one of the most expensive types of nuts you will find. There are multiple reasons for this. The first reason is that they are an imported food from other parts of the world and have limited growing regions. Additionally, cashews can only be harvested once per year. And when a new cashew tree is planted, it can take up to eight years after planting it to yield edible nuts. Furthermore, the process of harvesting and processing them is long and tedious since they must be de-shelled and treated before eating and being able to safely consume them.
How should cashews be stored?
Cashews can be stored for up to a year or more if they are stored properly. They can be put in a sealed bag in a cool, dark, dry environment such as the freezer. It is important to store them in air-tight containers away from heat sources and sunlight.
Did You Know?: Before being roasted, cashews are usually a shade of green.
Cashews are nutrient-dense food that contains a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and healthy nutrients. They are imported from tropical climates all over the world, including Brazil, Vietnam, and Nigeria.
Adding cashews to your diet is not only a way to please your taste buds, but they can also provide health benefits. Some of the health benefits they may provide include improving heart health, bone health, and blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics. They can be consumed in a variety of ways with essentially any meal or snack.
Incorporating cashews into your diet with meals or a snack is a tasty way to give your health a boost.