The cashew is a fruit that is well known and loved by many in Nigeria today. There are so many cashew plantation exiting in many parts of the country today, and the cashew tree is easily found in most vicinities as well. The cashew consists of the fleshy fruit and also the nut, both having properties that are beneficial to our health. Roasting the cashew nuts is a common practice that is enjoyable and fun among juveniles in this part of the world.
Cashew belong to the plant family Anacardiaceae, which the mangoes also fall in this group. They are native to the coastal areas of Northern Brazil. The botanical name of cashew is Anacarduim occidentale, and they have kidney shape. Cashew is widely cultivated in areas that have tropical climate, example of such countries include; Nigeria, Kenya, India, Sri Lanka, Tanzania etc.
With the popular saying that "health is wealth", it actually entails that human needs good health in order to stay alive. Good health comes from the various foods that we consume, and healthy fruits such as cashew should never be underestimated. The cashew tree, barks and leaves as well as the fruit itself possesses medicinal benefits that are very useful to humans such as; stopping diarrhoea, killing bacteria and germs, increasing libido, reducing fever, body temperature, blood sugar and blood pressure. No wonder it is sometimes called "nature's vitamin pill", which now ranks number one amongst nut crops in the world with 4.1 billion pounds produced in 2002. It have been used to promote wellness for centuries.
We shall be looking at the nutritional and health benefits of cashew.
Nutritional composition of cashew
Cashews are known to be very nutritious and it is a powerhouse of proteins and various essential minerals such as calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc and potassium. Sodium is also found to be present in trace amounts.
Cashews contains the following vitamins:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C,
- Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), and
- Vitamin K (phylloquinone)
Cashews are also a source of oleic acid and they provide a good quality of monounsaturated fat and low amounts of polyunsaturated fats without harmful cholesterols if they are consumed appropriately. These nutritional compositions enables cashew to medicinal and beneficial to human health. Now let us look at the following health benefits of cashew.
Health benefits of cashew
1. Heart health
Cashews are good source of monounsaturated fats (healthy dietary fats) that are very friendly to the heart. The healthy dietary fats are essential for our body because they makes it possible for the body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and produce fatty acids that are vital for the development of the brain and blood clotting. The healthy facts comprises both monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), which are very friendly to the heart and helps in reducing bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) if consumed in the required quantities even in diabetes patients. Bad cholesterol can be generated as a result of excessive consumption of saturated fats, which poses a major threat for cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Various studies have proved that going for unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats enhances levels of HDL cholesterol, reduces triglycerides levels, and beneficially lowers the blood pressure as well.
The inclusion of nuts such as that of cashew in our diet can provide this heart healthy unsaturated fats to our bodies.
2. Weight management
Cashew is known to contain a relatively high fat content (12 grams per ounce, 2 gram saturated fat), but it is also termed as "good fat". It is a good fat because of the agreeable fat ratio in the nut of 1:2:1 for saturated, monounsaturated and poly-unsaturated respectively, which scientist have agreed that it is the ideal ratio for optimal health.
Cashew nuts also have a fatty acid profile that contributes to good health through phytosterols, tocopherols, and sqoulene, all of which lower the risk of heart disease, combined with the nuts zero percent cholesterol content.
Even with its relatively high fat content, cashew nuts are regarded as a low "low fat" nut. It contains less fat compared to other popular nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pecans and peanuts. The cashew nut also have a high energy density and high amount of dietary fiber, both which are beneficial in effective weight management, but only when eaten in appropriate amounts.
3. Healthy muscles and nerves
Cashew is vital for the development of bones, tissues, muscles, and organs of the body because it is a good source of magnesium. Magnesium also facilitates the maintenance of healthy blood pressure, sustain the immune system, maintain nerve functions and keep the bones strong. A deficiency of magnesium causes disruption in the metabolism of calcium and the hormones responsible for its regulation.
Since cashew contains a very low amount of sugar and no harmful cholesterol. it is highly safe for those suffering from diabetes. It is also effective in lowering the risk of type2 diabetes.
Cashew contains wealth of antioxidants like anacardic acids, cardanols and cardols. Research have proven that these antioxidants makes cashew to be effective for people undergoing treatments for tumour and cancer.
6. Formation of red blood cells
Cashew contains a huge amount of copper, and copper helps in iron metabolism, formation of red blood cells and assist in keeping bones and immune systems healthy. It is also vital for the nervous and skeletal system of the body. Copper deficiency in humans may result to anaemia, osteoporosis, and irregular heartbeats.
7. Bone and oral health
Phosphorus is also found in cashew, which is essential for the healthy development of teeth and bones. Phosphorus also assists in protein synthesis, maintenance of cellular health, absorption of carbohydrates and fats.
Research also have shown that chemicals in cashew nuts are capable of killing gram positive bacteria, a pervasive mouth affliction that causes tooth decay.
8. Gall stones
Gallstones are stone-like deposits that usually consist of cholesterol that accumulates in the gall bladder. The regular inclusion of healthy nuts like cashews can help to lower the risk of formation of gallstones.
9. Immune system
Cashew plays a vital role in the strengthening of the immune system because of the zinc contained in it. Zinc additionally helps in protein synthesis and healing of wounds. Zinc is totally important during pregnancy for the development of the foetus and also during the growing years of childhood in order to maintain a stable state of the body.
10. Cancer prevention
Cashew are rich in proanthocyanidins, a class of flavanols that actually starve tumours and inhibits the division of cancer cells. Studies have also shown that cashews are capable of reducing the risk of colon cancers. The high copper content of cashew also endows the seed with the potency of eliminating free radicals and they are also a good source of phytochemicals and antioxidants which protects us from heart disease and cancer.
11. Hair and skin health
Cashews are rich in copper. Copper is an essential component of many enzymes and it plays a part in a broad array of processes. One copper-containing enzymes called tyrosinase, converts tyrosine to melanin, the pigment that gives colouration to the hair and skin. Without copper that cashews are so abundant with, these enzymes will not be able to perform their functions effectively.