All About Cashews - From History To Health

Cashew nuts are the crescent-shaped seed found hanging on the outside of the cashew apple fruit upon the Cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale). Legend has it that this edible seed was once found on the inside of the Cashew fruit.  Cashew could hear the birds chirping, the river flowing, the wind through the trees and the night insects singing in the moonlight and wished that it was able to enjoy the outside world before being harvested by humans.  A fairy of the forest heard the wish of the cashew seed and granted it. 

The Cashew tree is a tropical evergreen of the sumac family, Anacardiaceae (related to poison ivy, mangoes, and pistachios) originating from brazil and spreading across to India and Eastern Africa.  From the 21st century, commercial growers cultivated and hand-harvested cashews in warm humid climates across the globe, with Vietnam, Nigeria, India, Brazil, and Indonesia among the top producers worldwide. (1)

The hard shell of the cashew seed comprises of two layers and between them lurks the phenolic resin called Urushiol.  All cashews undergo various treatments (including being roasted) and require safety precautions during harvest to remove the seeds from the fruit, then remove the outer shell and toxic resins which can cause an itchy unpleasant reaction on your skin and potentially more severe symptoms depending on the person. (2) (3) (4)

The complexity and challenge of cashew nuts harvesting processes and commercial preparations may be why they carry a heftier price tag than some other nuts.  You are unlikely to find un-processed (or raw) cashew nuts, but to be clear - the ones we buy as "raw" have still gone through the initial processes and are considered safe to consume.  If labeled as "roasted” it means that they have been further roasted once removed from the shell. 

Cashews, with their soft, sweet and creamy consistency are versatile culinary superstars. They can be eaten as a snack or transformed into many a sweet or savory dish.  Due to their high starch levels, cashews are great thickeners and lend themselves very nicely to become cashew milk, cheeses, protein-rich spreads, raw cakes, Indian curry sauces, stir-fries or simply used as a topping or added to your daily smoothie

Cashew nuts are one of the lowest fiber and highest carbohydrate nuts (in the form of starches and sugars).  They are packed with beneficial vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plant compounds (Phytosterols), are high in protein and rich in healthful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated essential fats. 

Nutrition facts

According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), Cashew nuts have a low glycaemic load, although due to their higher carbohydrate ratio, they are slightly higher on the glycaemic index than other nuts.  They are low in cholesterol and sodium and their macronutrient ratio is 66% Fat, 11% protein and 23%.  They are a good source of Magnesium, Phosphorus, Manganese, Copper, and Zinc.  The key nutrient values below are based on a standard serving of around 28g, a handful or around 18 nuts. (5) (6)

Calories: 155 kcal

Protein: 5.1 grams

Fat: 12.3 grams

  • Saturated Fat 2g
  • Monounsaturated Fat 7g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
  • Omega-3 4mg
  • Omega-6 2179mg

Carbs: 9.2 grams (of which 6.6g is from starches)

Copper: 0.6mg (31% of the RDI)

Manganese: 0.5mg (23%)

Magnesium: 81.8mg (20%)

Phosphorus: 166mg (17%)

Zinc: 1.6mg (11%)

Iron: 1.9mg (10%)

Selenium: 5.6 mcg (8%)

Potassium: 185mg (5%)

Calcium: 10.4mg (1%)

Vitamin K: 9.5 mcg (12%)

Vitamin B1: 0.1mg (8%)

Vitamin B6: 0.1mg (6%)

Vitamin E: 0.3mg (1%)


Cashews are nutrient-dense and while other nuts (like Almonds) may be higher in fiber and protein - the healthful fats (EFA’s), quality protein and abundant vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in cashews support healthy brain functioning as well as improving digestion and nutrient absorption. (7) They have been shown to aid in the prevention of a wide range of lifestyle-related chronic health conditions like coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. (8) They can help prevent gall stones, increase red blood cells, help prevent migraine headaches and also enhance the health of your skin, hair, eyes, and teeth. (9)(10)(11)(12)

Healthy fats and your metabolism

It is a myth that fat in food equals fat on the body.  Many individuals believe that in order to lose weight they need to greatly reduce and even remove fat from the diet.  This is simply not true and in fact, can be very harmful to the proper functioning of the body and your overall health and wellbeing.  Fats or “Essential Fatty Acids” (EFA’s) are essential because we cannot make them in our body, meaning we need to get them from our diet alone.  EFA’s are vital for the proper development and functioning of your brain, hormone production, healthy cellular membrane formation, crucial for the transport and breakdown of cholesterol, proper thyroid and adrenal activity, regulation of blood pressure, liver function, immune and inflammatory responses, supports healthy hair and skin and so much more…  Your metabolism (often interchangeable with the terms metabolic rate or calorie-burning capacity) refers to the wide range of chemical reactions in your body. (13) (14)

Medium-chain fatty acids which are comprised mostly of monounsaturated fats are found predominantly in coconut (especially coconut oil, MCT oil) and help to speed up your metabolism and thus aid in weight management. (15)

Heart health

Like our other nut friends, the healthful fats in Cashews are rich in Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated essential fatty acids and are beneficial in lowering the “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  The antioxidant levels in cashews help protect the heart and prevent heart disease.

Magnesium for your bones, muscles, and nerves

Cashews are a great source of Magnesium which is a vital mineral and plays a big part in over 300 enzymatic reactions throughout our body, including the metabolism of our food and the synthesis of fats and protein.  Two-thirds of all the magnesium in our body is in our bones and helps to balance calcium levels.  Magnesium helps to regulate blood pressure also supports muscle relaxation and neuromuscular transmission.  Magnesium deficiency is common and linked to many imbalances like insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome (which can lead to diabetes), coronary heart disease and osteoporosis. (12) (16)

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace the one on one support of a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

By Linda Ross ICNT
Integrative Nutritionist
Body, Mind and Eating Coach
Wholefood Chef 





Linda is currently teaching and consulting Globally. Specializing in identifying the underlying factors of chronic stress and related conditions, using clinical and holistic techniques. Blending ancient wisdom that is backed up by the modern science of nutrition to nourish the body and support people of all ages in understanding and transforming their health and wellbeing.

Links to connect with Linda:
Instagram: @nourishing_ways