Cashew nuts always have a rich flavor no matter how they are served, whether they’re plain, roasted, salted or covered decadently in chocolate. Native to Brazil, cashew nuts are actually seeds and are closely related to pistachios and mangoes. Cashews are common snacks, but they also go well with chicken, ice cream and baked goods. In moderation, cashews are good for your health because they are rich in fats, protein and certain minerals.
All nuts are relatively high in calories because they contain lots of fats, and cashews are no exception. One ounce of plain cashews contains almost 160 calories and 72 percent of those are from fat. Perhaps surprisingly, cashews contain no cholesterol despite their fat content. High-calorie foods are especially valued by people living in poorer countries where nutrients are scarce, but the average American probably needs to reduce her caloric intake, so cashews should be limited as a snack food.
Types of Fat
Cashew nuts contain about 12 grams of fat per ounce, including 2 grams of saturated fat, but it’s considered relatively “good fat” by nutritionists. Cashews have a 1-3-1 ratio of saturated to monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fats, which is a healthy mix of essential fatty acids. Monounsaturated fatty acids, for example, support healthy levels of “good” cholesterol known as HDL, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Consequently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends eating about 1.5 ounces of mixed nuts per day due to their health benefits. Compared to other nuts, such as walnuts, peanuts and pecans, cashews are significantly lower in fat.
The amount of protein in cashews is high relative to other vegetable sources and compares well to some animal sources. For example, 1 ounce of plain cashews contains a little more than 5 grams of protein, which is comparable to a medium-sized egg. However, cashews don’t contain all the essential amino acids -- the building-blocks of protein -- which meat, dairy and eggs do. Protein is needed for healthy looking skin, hair and fingernails but also for building and repairing muscles and other structures inside your body.
Cashews are also a good source of minerals, especially magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium, and they contain some iron, manganese and copper. For example, 1 ounce of plain cashews has about 82 milligrams of magnesium, which is needed for strong bones, and 190 milligrams of potassium, which turns into an electrolyte in your body. Electrolytes are necessary for electrical conductance of your heart and muscles and are important for the movement of body fluid. A lack of electrolytes can lead to heart problems and fluid buildup.
The cashew tree is related to poison ivy and poison oak, so some people who are particularly sensitive might experience contact dermatitis when they handle cashews. Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction that leads to inflamed and itchy skin. In addition, cashews contain oxalates, which can crystallize into stones within the gallbladder and kidneys if high enough concentrations are in the blood. In moderation, however, cashews lead to more health benefits than potential problems.
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.