The delicately flavored cashew nut is a favorite between meal snacks that can be readily found in your local market year round. It also makes wonderful nut butter and a special addition to salads and stir-fry dishes.
Cashew nuts are actually the kidney-shaped seeds that adhere to the bottom of the cashew apple, the fruit of the cashew tree, which is native to the coastal areas of northeastern Brazil. Cashews are always sold shelled because the interior of the shells contains a caustic resin, known as cashew balm, which must be carefully removed before the nuts are fit for consumption. This caustic resin is actually used in industry to make varnishes and insecticides.
Not only do cashews have a lower fat content than most other nuts, approximately 82% of their fat is unsaturated fatty acids, plus about 66% of this unsaturated fatty acid content are heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, similar to those found in olive oil. Studies of diabetic patients show that monounsaturated fat, when added to a low-fat diet, can help to reduce high triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a form in which fats are carried in the blood, and high triglyceride levels are associated with an increased risk for heart disease, so ensuring you have some monounsaturated fats in your diet by enjoying cashews is a good idea, especially for persons with diabetes.
An essential component of many enzymes, copper plays a role in a wide range of physiological processes including iron utilization, elimination of free radicals, development of bone and connective tissue, and the production of the skin and hair pigment called melanin. For example, copper is an essential component of the enzyme, superoxide dismutase, which is important in energy production and antioxidant defenses. Copper is also necessary for the activity of lysyl oxidase, an enzyme involved in cross-linking collagen and elastin, both of which provide the ground substance and flexibility in blood vessels, bones and joints. Low dietary intake of copper may also be associated with increased fecal free radical production and fecal water alkaline phosphatase activity, risk factors for colon cancer.
Everyone knows that calcium is necessary for strong bones, but magnesium is also vital for healthy bones. About two-thirds of the magnesium in the human body is found in our bones. Some helps give bones their physical structure, while the rest is found on the surface of the bone where it is stored for the body to draw upon as needed.
Magnesium, by balancing calcium, helps regulate nerve and muscle tone. In many nerve cells, magnesium serves as Nature’s own calcium channel blocker, preventing calcium from rushing into the nerve cell and activating the nerve. By blocking calcium’s entry, magnesium keeps our nerves (and the blood vessels and muscles they ennervate) relaxed. If our diet provides us with too little magnesium, however, calcium can gain free entry, and the nerve cell can become overactivated, sending too many messages and causing excessive contraction.
Insufficient magnesium can thus contribute to high blood pressure, muscle spasms (including spasms of the heart muscle or the spasms of the airways symptomatic of asthma), and migraine headaches, as well as muscle cramps, tension, soreness and fatigue. Given these effects, it is not surprising that studies have shown magnesium helps reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, lowers blood pressure, helps prevent heart attacks, promotes normal sleep patterns in women suffering from menopausal sleep disturbances, and reduces the severity of asthma.
Twenty years of dietary data collected on 80,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study shows that women who eat least 1 ounce of nuts, peanuts or peanut butter each week have a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones. Since 1 ounce is only 28.6 nuts or about 2 tablespoons of nut butter, preventing gallbladder disease may be as easy as packing one cashew butter and jelly sandwich (be sure to use whole wheat bread for its fiber, vitamins and minerals) for lunch each week, having a handful of cashews as an afternoon pick me up, or tossing some cashews on your oatmeal or salad.