Cashews and other nuts used to be the bane of a "healthy" diet because of their high fat content. Now "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" recommends including them as part of your daily menu. They contain such diverse nutrients, including minerals, antioxidants and phytosterols, that eating a handful every day may lower the risk of heart disease. The only catch is that, because cashews are high in calories, enjoying more than a handful can turn a beneficial snack into the potential source of extra pounds.
Benefits and Risks of Cashews
Cashews have more iron, zinc and copper than any other tree nut. They're also the second best nut to choose for magnesium. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 1 ounce of dry-roasted cashews has 0.6 milligram of copper, or one-third of the daily value based on consuming 2,000 calories daily. The same portion supplies 18 percent of the daily value of magnesium and about 11 percent for manganese and zinc. These minerals fill a variety of roles, from energy production and iron utilization to building strong bones and supporting a healthy immune system.
Tree nuts, including cashews, are responsible for one of the most common and serious food allergies. Nut allergies usually last a lifetime. They can also cause life-threatening reactions. If you're allergic to another type of tree nut, you should avoid cashews. When you shop for cashews, you won't find them still in the shell. If you do find them in the shell, don't buy them. Cashew shells contain an oily liquid that's toxic and can cause a serious reaction if it comes in contact with skin. The nut doesn't have any of the toxic oil, but special procedures are followed to ensure the kernel is safely removed from its outer shell.
Calories in Cashew Nuts
Like all nuts, cashews are high in calories. You'll get 163 calories from eating 1 ounce of dry-roasted cashews. You might be surprised to learn that an ounce of oil-roasted cashews has about the same number of calories. When you eat cashews, portion control is essential. A 1-ounce serving is about equal to a handful. But to be more precise, pour a handful and count the number you hold. If your handful contains more than about 18 cashews, you're eating more than 1 ounce.
A daily serving of nuts may deliver significant health benefits, but you'll negate all the positives if your cashew snack adds enough extra calories to cause weight gain. Don't randomly pop handfuls of nuts in your mouth without keeping track of how much you eat. Include calories from cashews as part of your total calories rather than adding them to your normal diet. It only takes 3,500 extra calories to gain a pound. If your typical dally handful of cashews equals 2 ounces -- and calories from the nuts exceed your daily goal -- you'll gain a pound in 11 days.
Fat Calories in Cashews
Total calories are the bottom line for weight maintenance, but the number of calories from fat is another important consideration for your health. An ounce of cashews has 13 grams of total fat, which represents 117 calories. The Institute of Medicine recommends getting 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories from fats. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, a serving of cashews is about 6 percent of the recommended fat intake. That's a lot of fat for a small amount of food, so be sure to work it in to your total daily intake.
On the positive side, cashews primarily provide healthy unsaturated fats, and they don't have any cholesterol. About 60 percent of the fat consists of monounsaturated fat, and another 17 percent is polyunsaturated fat. Both fats lower total cholesterol and help reduce levels of low-density lipoproteins, which are more commonly known as bad cholesterol. But monounsaturated fats offer another benefit: They can help increase levels of high-density lipoproteins, or HDLs. HDLs are called good cholesterol because they carry unhealthy fats to the liver, where they're eliminated from the body.
Calories From Carbs in Cashews
Cashews have 9 grams of total carbohydrates in a 1-ounce serving. While this isn't a significant amount -- it's only 3 percent of the daily value for carbs -- cashews do contain more carbs than any other tree nut. Most tree nuts don't even have a glycemic index rating, which means they don't affect blood sugar. Cashews have a glycemic index score of 22, indicating they probably impact levels of blood sugar only slightly. Foods must have a glycemic index score of at least 56 to have a moderate effect.
Cashews contain a small amount of dietary fiber -- almost 1 gram per 1-ounce serving or 4 percent of the daily value -- and about 1 gram of natural sugar, which is included in the calories for total carbohydrates. The remaining carbs consist primarily of starch, which is a large, complex carbohydrate that helps prevent spikes in blood sugar because it's digested more slowly than simple sugar.
- Health.gov: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- University of Michigan Health System: Healthy Nuts Go Nuts
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Nuts, Cashew Nuts, Dry Roasted, Without Salt Added
- Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrients for Health
- Food Allergy Research and Education: Tree Nut Allergies
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Cashew-Apple Fruit Growing in the Florida Home Landscape
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Nuts, Cashew Nuts, Oil Roasted, Without Salt Added
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Colorado State University Extension: Dietary Fat and Cholesterol
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: International Table of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Values: 2002