Senior Health

3/29/2024 | By Lori Zanteson, Environmental Nutrition

Creamy, buttery and slightly sweet, cashews are a popular snack, a cooking ingredient, and a dairy replacement in cashew butter, milk, cheese, yogurt and more. But are they really all they are cracked up to be?

The folklore of cashews

Native to Brazil, cashew trees began their global expansion in the 16th century when Portuguese sailors brought them to India. Cashew-craving elephants are credited for eating and dispersing the seeds across the country. Hundreds of years later, cashews are a valuable export, worth billions of U.S. dollars. Cashews are never sold in their shell, which contains a harmful oil, making them expensive to process. Fortunately, cashews are rich in protein, healthy fats, and health-promoting plant compounds, making them a healthy, delicious dietary addition.

The facts

Cashews (Annacardium occidentale) are part of the same family of trees as mangoes and pistachios. Technically a seed, each cashew grows out of the bottom of a cashew apple, a pseudo fruit that resembles an apple. The ripened apple, which ranges from yellow to red, can be eaten or juiced, but only local to where it’s grown, as it is highly perishable. A single one-ounce serving (about 16-18 nuts) of cashews is plump with 10% DV (DV=Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day) protein, 10% DV iron, and 69% DV of copper.

Cashews in a rustic bowl.

The findings

A rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), cashews are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Incorporating cashews into a typical American diet decreases total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol versus a control diet. In addition, substituting cashews for a high-carbohydrate snack may help manage total and LDL cholesterol, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The finer points

Available year-round, cashews can be purchased raw or roasted. Whether bought in bulk or in smaller, packaged containers, note expiration dates and store in airtight containers out of direct light to protect against rancidity. For longest storage, refrigerate or freeze them. Always check package ingredients to avoid nuts coated in oils, sugar, salt, or other unwanted ingredients. Cashew products, like cashew butter, flour, and milk, are also available. Try cashews in trail mixes, tossed into salads and whole grain side dishes, stir fried with vegetables, or as a garnish.

Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384.

©2024 Belvoir Media Group. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Read more about healthy eating on Seniors Guide:

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Lori Zanteson, Environmental Nutrition

Lori Zanteson writes for Environmental Nutrition, an independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit