Surprising Health Benefits of Cashews and Nutritional Information
Written by Faye C.
on December 12, 2019
In addition to being absolutely delicious by the handful, cashews deliver a number of nutritional benefits. At the same time, you’re not going to get everything you get with other nuts in cashews. Higher in carbs and lower in fat than many other nut favorites, the cashew stands on its own.
Some of the questions we'll answer:
- So, are cashews considered healthy?
- Are cashews okay to eat on the keto diet?
- How many cashews should you eat in a day?
- Can you have too many cashews?
- Can you toast cashews?
Most people recognize that nuts like almonds and walnuts are definitely good for your health. But what about cashews? Cashews never seem to be on lists of highly nutritional snacks or named as “superfoods.” Still, most experts agree that cashews (especially raw cashews), are indeed healthy for you. For instance, if you presented a choice between a serving of potato chips or even pretzels and a serving of cashews, you should choose the cashews.
The reason you don't often see cashews recommended as a health food is because they are higher in saturated fat than other nuts such as walnuts. Still, the difference is not very significant, and we can say with confidence that the many other benefits of cashew nuts far outweigh the extra few grams of saturated fat.
Cashew Nutrition Facts
These are the nutrition facts for approximately 100 grams of cashew nuts.
Nutrition facts per 100 grams of dried cashews
- Calories: 553
- Total fat: 44 g
- Saturated fat: 7.8 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 12 mg
- Total carbs: 30.19 g
- Dietary fiber: 3.3 g
- Sugar: 5.91 g
- Protein: 18.2 g
- Calcium: 37 mg
- Iron: 6.68 mg
Cashew Background Information
Cashews are native to Brazil. However, they migrated to other suitable climates in the world during the 16th century. Today, cashews grow best in hot climates like India, Mozambique, and Vietnam. Of course, they are still a staple product in Brazil as well.
Growing cashews can look quite odd. That is, if you saw a cashew tree, you probably wouldn't know what it was! Cashew trees are a type of tropical evergreen tree that spreads and thrives quite easily — some even say “like a weed.” During the winter, between November and January, the trees bloom, and within a few months, strange pseudo-fruits called “cashew apples” begin to appear.
Like fall tree leaves, the colors of these pseudo-fruits range from deep and bright reds to yellows and golden shades. Beneath each one, if you look carefully, you’ll see a cashew-shaped structure called a drupe (the cashew is inside). But there’s some deceit here. The cashew apples are not actually the fruit of these trees. They are, again, just a “pseudo-fruit.” It’s the drupes below that are the real fruit.
During harvest, the cashew apples are picked, and the drupes are removed from beneath them. This is often still done by hand in many countries where cashews are harvested. These drupes are then dried and steamed, and the outer hard shells are removed. Finally, the inside kernels are peeled and processed further for sale all over the world. Thus, you can see how much work and effort needs to go into harvesting that one little food inside called a cashew. This leads us to our next important question:
Cashews: A Nut or a Seed?
In addition to the cashew apple not being the actual fruit of the cashew tree, the cashew fruit or drupe itself does not actually contain a cashew nut. Instead, it contains a cashew seed.
In this way, while many people refer to cashews as nuts, it’s important to note that cashews are actually seeds!
Health Benefits of Cashews
Benefit #1: Great for the skin
Cashews are excellent for the skin because they are rich in zinc, phosphorus, iron, and magnesium. In fact, they even make topical skin care products that contain cashew oil!
Benefit #2: Excellent for cardiovascular health
Many nut varieties are good for heart health, and cashews are one of them. Just a handful of cashews every day can help lower your risk for heart disease. Still, you'll want to choose those that are unoiled and unsalted whenever possible. Cashews help improve your cardiovascular health because they lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL)
Benefit #3: Weight loss
If you're trying to drop some excess weight, cashews can be a big help. Remember that they do have more carbs than most other nuts, however. So, if you are following a low-carb diet (like keto), cashews may not be on your "okay" list. For other diets, however, in moderation, cashews can be very helpful because they satiate your appetite and keep you fuller for longer.
Benefit #4: Shinier hair
In addition to benefiting your skin, cashews can also promote silky smooth, healthy hair. This is largely because of the copper that's found in the oil of cashews. This helps produce more melanin, which is essential for creating hair pigment. Topically, cashew oil itself can even improve the health of your scalp and promote shinier, smoother-looking hair as well.
Looking for ways to get more cashews into your diet? Here are some of the most popular recipes that include cashews:
- Cashew Desserts
- Asian-Inspired Cashew Dishes
- Vegan Cashew Cheese Dishes
- Selection: Often, you'll see that cashews are available in bulk bins, but these should be avoided. That's because they often lose their freshness when they are out in the open without covering. Vacuum packed cashews are best at maintaining their freshness, but those sold in airtight containers are okay as well. You should also look at the outer skin of each cashew. It should be smooth and have an even coloring. If the outsides of your cashews look wrinkled or shriveled, this isn't a good sign and may mean that your cashews are rancid.
- Purchase: When selecting cashews at the grocery store, remember that you’re probably going to be buying roasted cashews as raw cashews are rather difficult to locate. You'll be able to purchase either unsalted or salted cashews, and today, there are even many varieties available that include spices and other toppings. The keto diet recommends high levels of fat, so if you're on a diet like this, oil-roasted is fine. Otherwise, you might want to opt for dry-roasted.
- Storage: Because of the high amount of oleic oil and oleic acid found in cashews, they are actually quite easy to store for long periods of time. You will definitely want to keep them in a cool, dry place. Always keep them in an airtight container, and put them in the refrigerator whenever possible. In the fridge, you can keep your cashews for up to six months. If you know you won't be using them in this amount of time or if you have extras that you want to store, pop them in the freezer where they can last for as long as a year.
Toasting: Toasting cashews is quite a simple process, and doing it at home gives you a great snack for yourself and your family or for an appetizer when guests come over. Here's how to toast cashews on the stovetop:
1. Grab a medium skillet and pop in your cashews. Make sure they are in an even layer, and don't overcrowd them.
2. Turn your skillet onto medium-high heat. There's really no reason to add oil because cashews already have oil in them. But you will want to add salt.
3. Stir frequently as you toast your cashews. You'll smell their fragrant scent and begin to see them brown. When they are golden brown (after about 4 to 6 minutes), they are ready to be removed from the skillet and cooled. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Cashew Consumption Cautions
For many people, cashews are a delicious and nutritious treat, enjoyed in a handful of mixed nuts or in a tasty dish like Cashew Chicken. However, there are some precautions that should be taken with cashews as well.
Caution #1: Allergies
Cashews, like other nuts can cause allergic reactions in some people. If you have an allergy to cashews, you must avoid them completely as reactions have the potential to be life-threatening. Sometimes, even being physically near cashews or touching something that recently contained cashews can cause a reaction. Many children have nut allergies, and an allergy to cashews is quite common these days as opposed to 50 years or a century ago.
If you suspect you have an allergy to cashews, you should see a doctor as soon as possible so that you know what to do in the event that a reaction was to occur from encountering cashews. At the same time, if you know you are allergic to other nuts but aren’t sure if you are allergic to cashews, certainly be wary of them. Oftentimes, an allergy to one type of nut means that you may have a similar reaction to other types of nuts.
Caution #2: Cashew Nut Shell Liquid Poisoning (CNSL)
Lots of nuts are sold in their shells — almonds, walnuts, pecans. But if you’ve ever wondered why cashew nuts aren’t sold in their shells, here’s why: Cashews actually belong to the same family as poison sumac and poison ivy.
As such, it probably comes as no surprise that cashews have some of the same strong chemicals as poison sumac and poison ivy. These irritants are called anacardic acids, and those found on cashews can give you the same type of itchy skin found on poison ivy leaves in the forest.
Fortunately, we can still consume the cashew nuts (seeds) inside their hard outer shell because the anacardic acids are only found on the outer portion of the shell. However, it’s important to avoid handling non-shelled cashews if you ever encounter them. Just touching the shell can give you itchy skin or other symptoms. Sadly, many of the people who handle the outer shells of cashews because of their jobs can develop cashew nut shell liquid poisoning.
Caution #3: High in Carbohydrates
Lastly, if you are on the keto diet or any diet that promotes eating high-protein, high-fat, and low-carb foods, remember to eat cashews in moderation or not at all. While having a few cashews here and there won’t completely sabotage your diet, cashews are one of the nuts with the highest percentage of carbs. This is why many keto diet plans will tell you to completely avoid them, along with other high-carb nuts like pistachios and chestnuts.
For additional information on other nuts, check out our guide to the healthiest nuts you can eat!
Author: Faye C.
|Faye is a guest contributor for SuperFat who writers professionally in the health and nutrition space.|