The health benefits of cashews include a healthy heart, strong nerve and muscle function, improved bone and oral health, relief from diabetes, anemia and gallstones. By offering antioxidant defences, they also aid in the formation of red blood cells and encourage a better immune system.
Cashew nut – these super nuts belong to the family of Anacardiaceae, which also includes mangoes and pistachios, and are originally native to the coastal areas of north-eastern Brazil. They are kidney shaped seeds and are widely cultivated in places that have tropical climates. They are grown in countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Tanzania. They stick to the bottom of its fruit, known as a cashew apple, and have various diverse uses, particularly in Brazil and some parts of Asia and Africa.
Nutritional Value of Cashews
Cashews are very nutritious and a powerhouse of proteins and essential minerals including copper, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. Sodium is also present in very small quantities. Cashews also contains vitamins such as C, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B-6, folate, E (alpha-tocopherol) and vitamin K (phylloquinone). Cashews are a source of oleic acid and provide a good quantity of monounsaturated fat and low amounts of polyunsaturated fats with no harmful cholesterol, if consumed appropriately.
Monounsaturated Fats for the Heart: Cashews are a good source of healthy dietary fats, which are essential for our body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and produce fatty acids that are vital for the development of the brain and blood clotting. These healthy fats include Monounsaturated fats or MUFA and polyunsaturated fats or PUFA. They are good for the heart and help to reduce bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) if consumed in appropriate quantities, even in individuals with diabetes. LDL cholesterol can rise as a result of excessive consumption of saturated fats, posing a major threat for cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis or the hardening of arteries. Studies have demonstrated that choosing unsaturated fats over saturated fats enhances levels of HDL cholesterol, reduces triglyceride levels, and beneficially lowers the blood pressure as well. The inclusion of nuts such as cashews, fish, and vegetable oils including olive oil and canola oil in the diet can provide these healthy unsaturated fats to the body.
Healthy Muscles and Nerves: Cashews are a good source of magnesium, which is vital for the healthy development of bones, muscles, tissues, and organs of the body. Magnesium helps to maintain healthy blood pressure, sustain the immune system, maintain nerve function, and keep the bones strong. It also is involved in metabolic functions, influences the insulin activity and regulates the blood sugar levels of the body. A deficiency of magnesium alters the metabolism of calcium and the hormones responsible for its regulation.
Diabetes: The presence of very low amounts of sugar and no harmful cholesterol in cashews makes them safe for diabetic patients! It even helps in lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Chemotherapy: Research has shown that the wealth of antioxidants like anacardic acids, cardanols and cardols in cashews make them effective for people undergoing treatments for tumors and cancer. Ground cashews are a comparatively simple absorbed form of protein and are advised to be safe for such patients as well.
Red Blood Cells: Cashews are rich in copper, which helps in the metabolism of iron, aids in the formation of red blood cells and helps in keeping bones and the immune system healthy. It is also vital for the nervous and skeletal system of the body. A deficiency of copper in the body may result in osteoporosis, irregular heartbeats, and anemia.
Bone and Oral Health: Cashews also provide phosphorous, which is essential for the healthy development of teeth and bones. Phosphorous also aids in protein synthesis, absorption of carbohydrates and fats and the maintenance of cellular health.
Anemia: Cashews are a source of dietary, iron which is vital for carrying oxygen around the body and aids in the functioning of enzymes and the immune system. A deficiency of iron in the diet can lead to body fatigue, anemia, and an increased susceptibility to infections.
Gallstones: Gallstones are stone-like deposits that usually consist of cholesterol that accumulates in the gall bladder. The regular inclusion of healthy nuts like cashews can help to lower the risk of formation of gallstones.
Immune System: Cashews contain zinc, which plays a vital role in the strengthening of the immune system against microbial infections, protein synthesis and the healing of wounds. It is extremely important during pregnancy for the growth of the baby and the developmental years of childhood to maintain a stable state of the body.
Culinary Usage: Cashew nuts are tasty and highly sought-after nuts. They can be enjoyed either roasted or plain, and with or without salt. They are added to a various vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacies and a range of confectionery food items like cookies, biscuits, and ice cream.
Apart from the famous and delicious cashew nut, the cashew tree offers an immense treasure of medicinal and industrial uses as well. These applications are widely popular in Guyana and all over the Amazon.
Cashew Nut Shell Liquid– This is a by-product obtained while processing cashews and is a versatile material in terms of industrial usage. It is one of the sources of naturally available phenols. It is a raw material that is used in the preparation of drugs, insecticides, paints, plastics, resins, and anti-termite treatments for timber. Due to its medicinal properties and the presence of anacardic acids, cashew nut shell liquid has an antibiotic effect and is used in the treatment of sore tooth, leprosy, ringworm, warts, scurvy, and elephantiasis.
Cashew Bark and Leaf – The bark and the leaf of the tree possess medicinal benefits and have been used as remedy for both diarrhea and colic. Cashews leaf extract is utilized to reduce blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Oils extracted from the seeds prove effective in the preparation of insecticides. The infusion of the bark of the cashew tree has astringent properties and is used as a mouthwash for treating oral ulcers and as a remedy for sore throat and influenza. Leaves of the cashew tree, when boiled with water, serve as an anti-pyretic and are used for the treatment of aches and pains throughout the body.
Cashew Fruit (Cashew Apple) – Cashew apples possess anti-bacterial properties and have been proven to be effective in treating stomach ulcers and gastritis, which is usually caused by H. pylori bacteria. Its juice is rich in vitamin C and has an anti-scurvy effect. Cashew apple juice is widely utilized in the cosmetic industry due to the presence of antioxidants and is used in the preparation of various creams and shampoos.
Cashew extract contains anarcardic acid which is an antioxidant and has been shown to limit the pigmentation effects of aging and to eradicate the cancer cells. Fruit of the cashew tree is used to treat infant’s thrush and sore mouth. In the Amazon, people use the tea prepared from the bark and the cashew apple juice for chronic dysentery and as an anti-diarrheal remedy. It is also believed to possess sudorific or sweat-inducing properties. The juice extracted from the cashew apple can also serve as an ointment for aches of rheumatism and neuralgia.
In South America, it is used to prepare sauces, jams, and curries, and it is also fermented into vinegar and liquor. It is not very popular because of its acidic taste, owing to the presence of a layer on its skin that can lead to allergic reactions on the throat or tongue, making it non-palatable. It can be consumed only after steaming or boiling for a few minutes.
Cashew Seed – Oil extracted from cashew seeds are widely used in curing cracked heels. Powdered cashew seeds have anti-venom effects and are used for treating snake bites.
Cashew Stem – Gum extracted from the cashew stem is used as a varnish for wood works and books.
A Few Words of Caution Regarding Cashews
Kidney Stones: Cashews contains oxalate salts, which interfere with the absorption of calcium in the body. The accumulated calcium can result in the formation of kidney stones. Research conducted on this topic has made it clear that people who are prone to develop kidney stones should consider eating only small to moderate amounts of cashew nuts.
Cashew Allergy: Despite a number of health benefits, the consumption of cashews can cause health hazards to those who are allergic to tree nuts. It is informative to know that along with the changing national standards in food manufacturing, handling, and processing practices, such allergies also vary for different regions or countries.
Allergic reactions caused by tree nuts such as cashews, walnuts, and pistachios can be mild or severe. They can lead to one or more of the complications explained below.
Contact Dermatitis– Contact dermatitis is an itchy skin ailment caused as a result of the skin coming in contact with the allergen. Hives and swelling can develop around the mouth or other parts that have come in contact with the nuts or their shells. The anacardic acid present in cashews, which is also the reason for the vesicative activity of the cashew nut shell liquid, can lead to acute skin rashes and allergies.
Gastrointestinal Discomfort– Some people might experience nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, coughing, and vomiting if they have an allergy to cashews.
Breathing Difficulties– Runny nose, coughing, and shortness of breath can often be felt.
More severe reactions can result in a fatal condition like glottis edehma or anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis–Anaphylaxis is a fast progressive allergic reaction that can happen to the whole body due to some substance or chemical to which the body has developed sensitivity. It is most commonly triggered by food allergies. As demonstrated by various research studies, cashew nuts can pose a high risk of anaphylaxis. It can lead to symptoms like noisy breathing, unconsciousness, pale appearance, swelling of the tongue or throat, and hoarseness in the voice. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and should be given the utmost attention. It is advisable to consult doctors if one develops any allergies after consuming cashews.
Nuts – Barring a few exceptions, they are a healthy option to be included in the diet. If consumed in appropriate quantities, they can help maintain a robust and steady state of health. Especially for vegetarians or vegans who avoid meat, nuts can stand as a good alternative to compensate for their share of essential nutrients.