Cashew nuts are rich in vitamins and minerals, making them an excellent addition to your daily diet. They are one of the best nuts to eat due to the high levels of trace minerals and healthy fats that are hard to source from other foods. They are now the number one nut eaten around the world, which is drastically different than a few decades ago. Up until pretty recently, nuts were still considered a diet faux-pas due to their high caloric and fat levels. But nutritionists and science have moved beyond this simplistic classification, and dug deeper into the nutritional contents of nuts, and the cashew is no exception.
Cashews, and nearly all nuts, are rich in protein, healthy fats, trace minerals, and flavonoids. They are a great option for people looking for a vegetarian or vegan alternative for protein, and dairy products (think cashew milks and cheeses). Also, due to the reversal in nutritional ideology, and increased consumption, the price and availability of nuts has rapidly changed for the better.
Cashews make a great snack option for the mid afternoon slump, and a little will go a long way. Nutritionists suggest eating just a handful a day, to reap the many health benefits, which only equals about 1 oz. This small amount contains only between 120 to 200 calories, and a healthy amount of important nutrients.
According to the longest running study ever on nut consumption in relation to health by researchers at Harvard University, people who ate nuts at least seven times a week, lead much longer and healthier lives than those who did not. One of the main factors researchers pointed to, that led to this difference, was the ability of nuts to prevent cardiovascular disease. Plus, many experts have since theorized that people who snack on nuts are typically better snackers all around. Basically, people who choose to eat a handful of cashews, will likely also be focused on eating whole foods and getting enough exercise as well.
But let’s get down to it, why should you go nuts over cashew nuts?
1. Healthy Fats
Good for your brain and your heart, cashews contain the healthy fats our bodies crave. Specifically, cashews are high in mono-saturated fats, which help your body absorb essential vitamins and minerals. These fats are extremely important for improving heart health, as they have been linked to lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. On top of this, the fats found in cashews promote healthy brain function. Deficiencies in both the monounsaturated fats already mentioned as well as polyunsaturated fats, have been linked to increased levels of anxiety, ADHD and other mental issues.
Antioxidants target free radicals, which if left unchecked, lead to higher risk of cancer. Thankfully, even if you only eat a few cashews a day, they contain very high levels of antioxidants, specifically compounds called phytosterols and phenolic, that can help keep these free radicals from going wild.
3. Rich in Iron and Copper
It is extremely difficult to get sufficient levels of both iron and copper in a normal diet, and particularly a vegetarian diet. Iron deficiencies can lead to anemia, lethargy and other health issues. Iron is important for allowing oxygen to smoothly move throughout the system, and maintaining a healthy immune system. Copper is important for red blood cell function, and is actually a key compound to help your body absorb more iron.
4. Improves Cholesterol Levels
Studies have shown that by consuming cashews, people have been able to reduce their levels of unhealthy cholesterol levels (LDL) while increasing the healthy cholesterol (HDL). It is suspected that cashews actually reduce plaque buildup throughout your arteries, and can inhibit cholesterol absorption because they contain something called phytosterol which strengthens cell membranes.
5. Packed Full of Goodness
Finally, let’s just break it down by the numbers. In ¼ cup of cashews you’ll find 5 grams of protein, 1 gram of fiber, 16 grams of healthy fats, 750 milligrams of copper, 89 of magnesium, and 167 of phosphorus. Don’t forget about 9 milligrams of zinc, 27 milligrams of manganese, 2 milligrams of iron and 23 of folate. You may consider these numbers pretty insignificant, but these are very significant portions of your daily requirements for trace minerals.
A word of caution….
Although you might not have known, cashew nuts are actually seeds found growing out of the bottom of a cashew fruits. While both the seed (or the nut) and the fruit are completely edible, the casing around the seed is actually quite poisonous. It takes a very labour intensive process to safely remove the shell from the seed, and it always involves heat. Due to the sharp increase in the popularity of cashews, they are being produced and thereby processed in numbers never seen before. This has led to many farmers and farm workers being exploited in sub-standard and very dangerous conditions, much like what is often associated with coffee and cacao plantations. It is not uncommon for farm workers to be exposed to these harsh poisons found in the shells because they are not given the proper protection.
Its therefore extremely important to source ethical, organic cashews to ensure that nobody was harmed in the process. If you can find fair trade cashews, even better, because that means the workers were not only paid enough money to process the nuts, but also given the proper equipment to keep them safe from the very product they are tasked with processing.