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An array of cashew nuts.

6 health benefits of cashew nuts - backed by science

23 Nov 2022 • 3 min read

Before we get into the health benefits of cashew nuts, there’s something you must know. Cashew nuts are not nuts at all, they are in fact the seeds of the flowering cashew plant.

The Cashew tree, or Anacardium occidentale is a tropical evergreen tree which was discovered in Brazil in 1558.1

Today, cashew nuts grow all over the world. Like many nuts and seeds, cashew nuts are full of healthy nutrients.

They’re very popular amongst vegans and those on a plant-based diet, as a small portion of cashew nuts provides nearly as much protein2 as an equivalent portion of meat.3,4

In this article, we’ll explain why cashew nuts are so popular. We’ll discuss their various health benefits, their nutritional profile, any disadvantages, and who should avoid them.

What are cashew nuts?

Cashew nuts are the fruit of the cashew tree, an exotic tree which now inhabits many areas of the world.

The official origin of the cashew nut is thought to be Brazil, but there are also mentions in Indian and South East Asian history which states that the tree was able to grow and thrive in their tropical climates.

Today, we know them as a tasty, satisfying snack or as a versatile ingredient used in cooking for sauces or in butter.

However, it’s probably a little known fact that in their natural form, cashew nuts can be quite toxic and cannot be consumed until they’ve been roasted.5

Are cashew nuts toxic?

Cashew nuts themselves aren’t toxic, but the kidney-shaped shell surrounds it consists of a toxic oil called urushiol.

Urushiol in cashew nuts may cause contact dermatitis, this means that coming into contact urushiol can cause:6

  • Itching of the skin
  • Blisters
  • Skin rashes

The good news is that the toxins which are created by urushiol can be eliminated through roasting.

This is why raw cashews are processed in such a meticulous way.

Because raw cashews are processed in such a careful and meticulous way, it’s rare that someone will accidentally consume a contaminated nut and develop dermatitis.

This labour-intensive process is one of the reasons behind the high price of cashews. But also, why it has such a high status in the nut world!

Why are cashews so popular?

Cashew nuts are America and Europe’s favourite nut.7

Nuts are a popular snack, and cashew nuts are often sold salted, in a portion-sized bag; perfect for snacking on the go.

Cashew nuts are an essential feature of many world cuisines, including Thai food, and that has likely increased their overall popularity.7

Are cashew nuts good for you?

Yes, absolutely.

Cashews contribute to a great level of protein and are a good source of minerals such as iron and zinc, which makes them an excellent addition to your vegetarian or vegan diet.8

Cashews are also rich in magnesium, a mineral which is thought to improve recall and delay, age-related memory loss.

Not only that, but they’re great if you add a handful to a vegetarian stir-fry or use as a nut butter on crackers or bread.

Health benefits of cashews

Cashews are linked to a wide variety of health benefits, including:

  1. May improve heart health

People who eat diets high in nuts, including cashews, are less at risk of heart disease than those who don’t.9

This is thought to be because Cashew nuts are particularly high in unsaturated fats, which have been linked to lower heart disease in some studies.10 

In addition to this, cashews are also a great source of fibre and contain almost the same protein as an equivalent quantity of cooked meat.11

  1. May lower cholesterol

Cashew nuts seem to lower the amount of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body and increase the amount of ‘good’ cholesterol.12

This is very much down to the fact that cashews are low in unsaturated fat, meaning that by default they should help you lower cholesterol when used as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

  1. May lower blood sugar

For the same reason as above, those who eat cashew nuts as part of a well-balanced diet may see a reduction in blood sugar.

A 2018 study showed that people with diabetes who ate cashew nuts every day had lower blood sugar than their counterparts who didn’t.13

  1. Contains antioxidants

Like many nuts and seeds, cashew nuts are packed full of antioxidants that can help keep your body healthy by fighting off free radicals that enter the body.

This can help reduce inflammation and support your body to keep free from disease.14  

  1. May help you lose weight

As a rule, nuts are generally high in calories and fats making them a bit limited for those on a diet.

However, some research has linked nut-rich diets to weight loss and overall lower body weight than those that leave them out altogether.15,16

It is thought that your body may only digest around 84% of the calories of a cashew, it is therefore thought likely some of the fat remains in the nuts compound wall, known as the fibrous, rather than being digested.17

  1. Easy addition to the diet

Last, but by no means least.

Cashews make a really easy, versatile, healthy snack that can be eaten by themselves or as part of a stir fry, soup, salad or any dish you wish to add them.

They can be eaten raw or roasted, unshelled obviously!

But keep in mind that salted or flavoured cashews can add more salt and oils, which will see the calorie and fat contain climb significantly.

Nutritional values of cashews

Cashew nuts may be small, but their nutritional value is mighty.

An average, 40g portion of cashews contains:18

  • 98% of your daily copper, which can help blood cells form, improve growth, help the brain to develop, and protect the immune system.
  • 34% of your daily phosphorus, which helps maintain bone and teeth health.
  • 29% of your daily manganese, which helps the body perform chemical reactions, like converting food into energy.
  • 28% of your daily magnesium, which helps thyroid glands release the right hormones.19

Protein in cashew nuts

Cashews are packed full of protein.

Like many of their nutty counterparts, the cashew nut is a great source of protein, which is what makes them such a popular choice for those on a plant-based diet.

Plain cashew nuts contain 15.7g of protein per 100g. This is said to be the same as a piece of quality meat of the same portion size.20

Disadvantages of cashews

With all of cashew nuts’ promising health benefits, it’s difficult to believe there are any downsides to this delicious seed.

However, there are some aspects to cashews that frequent eaters should be aware of.

Cashew nuts contain phytates, an antinutrient which can negatively impact how your body absorbs the nutritional content of cashews.

You can get around this by soaking your cashews before eating or preparing food with them reduces the efficacy of the antinutrient.21

Side effects of eating too many cashew nuts

Unless you have a nut allergy it’s likely that cashews are safe for you to consume.

In rare cases, when eaten to excess cashew nuts can cause:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain
  • Joint swelling

But these cases are rare. The biggest advice we can give is just to remember to remove the shell!

Where to buy cashew nuts

You can shop for cashew nuts right here, at our online food shop

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 19 July 2021

donia-hilal

Donia Hilal

Author

Nutritionist

Joined Holland & Barrett: January 2018

Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist and Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition

Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018.

Donia has over 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.

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