Native to Brazil, cashews are crescent-shaped nuts with a sweet flavor and a plethora of uses in the kitchen. Considered third in consumption among all the tree nuts in the world, they’re great when mixed with raisins, dried cranberries, shredded coconut, sunflower seeds, and other nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, to make a fantastic homemade trail mix. Cashew butter is a staple in many households around the world, and they’re a crunchy, delicious addition to any stir-fry.
Cashews are the number one crop in the world (after almonds), cultivated in more than 30 countries. They require a hot, humid climate to proliferate, which is why India, Brazil, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Nigeria are the largest raw cashew producers.
Cashew plants don’t begin to bear nuts for three to five years, and then another eight to 10 weeks is needed to develop them to full maturity. The nuts themselves are hidden, however, inside an outer coating, sometimes called cashew apples – a false fruit, if you will – used for such things as brake linings, varnish, and insecticides. In light of that, it’s important to remove this outer layer carefully, because it’s toxic.
Health Benefits of Cashews
A great mineral source, cashews contain 31% of the daily recommended value for copper, along with 23% for manganese, 20% for magnesium and 17% for phosphorus, add to that 12% of the daily recommended value for vitamin K.
What does this mean for the body? Studies show that magnesium helps diminish the frequency of migraines, improve cognitive ability, and also lowers blood pressure, which can prevent heart attacks. Copper contains antioxidants that render free radicals harmless. This protects against heart disease and cancer. Enzyme components like tyrosinase convert to the pigment melanin, which provides not just our skin and hair color, but protects our skin from UV damage. Magnesium works with copper to provide bone strength, and with melanin and elastin to provide joint flexibility, giving the nerves just the right tension.
Another ingredient in cashews is proanthocyanidins, which contain flavanols that inhibit the ability of cancer cells to divide and multiply, reducing incidences of colon cancer.
Surprisingly, cashews contain zero cholesterol. All but a small amount of the fat in cashews is the good kind – oleic acid – found also in olive oil, which is the reason both are so good for you. It’s the high- or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol conversation that explains what “good fat = HDL; bad fat = LDL” actually means. It’s just another way of saying it makes a difference what fats you eat. That’s because HDL cholesterol travels through your body, picking up bad bits of LDL cholesterol along the way, leaving it off at the liver, which breaks it down and gets rid of it.
On the other hand, when you eat foods containing LDL fats (like lard, for example), the liver distributes it throughout your body, often attaching to the cells, which become clogged with plaque.
Studies Done on Cashews
Regarding some of the most important roles of magnesium in the body, one study reported that inadequate magnesium intake can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), myocardial infarction, hypertension, chronic renal failure cancer, kidney stones, premenstrual problems, and even psychiatric disorders. However, a large segment of the U.S. population may be suffering from these problems as a result.1
Along with a truly impressive list of what eating nuts can do for the body, a few of them are a reduced incidence of coronary heart disease and gallstones in both genders and diabetes in women.
Data collected on 80,718 women from the Nurses’ Health Study demonstrate that women who eat at least an ounce of nuts each week, such as cashews, have a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones.2
Research showed that roasting cashews and the thin skin between the nut meat and the shell, called testa, actually produced higher levels of beneficial nutrients than eating them raw. More specifically, the antioxidant activity of cashew nuts increased as the roasting temperature increased.3
Cashews Fun Facts
Until the discovery of America, it was unclear how long Native Americans had been using cashews, but they found that indigenous South Americans were already removing the outer coating and roasting the nuts as a part of their diets. It was the Portuguese who carried cashew trees back and planted them, spreading the cultivation and appreciation to other European countries.
On any continent, anyone owning a cashew tree in the 1500s was considered very wealthy and important.
Cashews are one of those nuts that are so desirable and delicious, you can give them as a Christmas gift and get rave reviews. On top of that, the nutritional aspects are astonishing. Healthy amounts of copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and vitamin K, along with lesser-known phytonutrients, such as antioxidants, tyrosinase, melanin, elastin, proanthocyanidins, and oleic acid, provide hard-to-ignore benefits for the body. Each nutrient plays its part in providing bone strength and joint flexibility, discouraging migraines, improving memory, lowering blood pressure, and protecting against UV damage, heart disease, and cancer.
Cashews are just plain good for you, so don’t worry about the fat – it’s the good kind.