This tree nut deserves a little more street cred when it comes to your health.
Cashews in a bowl
Credit: Getty Images / Vladislav Nosick / 500px

Native to South America, this cream-colored, kidney-shaped tree nut is now grown in other tropical areas around the world like Asia and India. So-called "raw" cashews (which have been cooked, but not browned or roasted), as well as roasted cashews, are commonly used in Asian cooking. They're also a popular snack. Now, thanks to the growing trend of plant-based eating, you can find cashew butter, cashew milk and vegan dishes aiming to mimic dairy-based products like cashew cheese and cheese sauce (try "cheesy" cashews in our Vegan Mac & Cheese and Vegan Fettuccine Alfredo).

So how healthy is this versatile nut? We'll tell you.

Nutrition Facts: What's in a Serving of Cashews?

  • Calories: 163
  • Protein: 4g
  • Fat: 13g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Carbohydrate: 9g
  • Sugars: 1g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Sodium: 5mg

A 1-ounce portion of cashews also gives you healthy doses of vitamin K and a handful of other minerals—copper (31% of your daily target), magnesium (18%), phosphorus (14%), manganese (12%), zinc (10%) and iron (9%).

The Health Benefits of Cashews

Compared to some other nuts (we're looking at you, almonds, walnuts and pistachios), cashews don't have as much research behind them. What does exist is promising, albeit preliminary, but dig a little deeper and you'll realize that you probably won't reap those benefits from eating cashews.

For instance, there are a few published animal studies on anacardic acid—a compound in cashews. The research shows that anacardic acid stimulates muscle cells to take up more glucose (a great benefit for people with diabetes); and another newer study found that when mice fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet received anacardic acid as a supplement, the buildup of fat in their livers slowed, as did their development of insulin resistance—both of which allude to anti-diabetes benefits. But here's the catch: anacardic acid is extracted from the shell surrounding the cashew, which also has a compound in it that can give your skin a poison-ivy like rash. Anacardic acid isn't in the nut that we eat, though some may remain depending on how the nuts were processed.

One study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, did find that eating about 1 ounce of cashews each day for 12 weeks helped people with type 2 Diabetes reduce their blood pressure and increase their HDL or "good" cholesterol.

Other research shows copper is beneficial for our skin (it's also involved in energy production in our bodies). Copper can encourage collagen and elastin production (which help keeps skin looking youthful and prevent wrinkles from forming) and is essential for wound healing. But dig into those studies and it seems they're predominantly focused on the topical use, or exposure to, copper (think: wound dressings, copper-laced pillowcases and socks). Eating copper-rich foods hasn't been a research focus—at least not yet.

Still, none of this is to say that cashews aren't a healthy choice. They absolutely are! Make a vegan cashew "cheese" sauce and—no doubt—you'll eat less saturated fat. Mix cashews into your favorite trail mix or granola recipe and you'll add protein and heart-healthy fats—both of which make your recipe that much more satisfying. Or top your favorite stir-fry with cashews for some crunch.

Plus, there's plenty of research that shows people who eat nuts are healthier and live longer (really!). So, go on, crack open some cashews.