Do you cashew?

These indulgent nuts offer a surprising array of health benefits for seniors

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Yes, I’m that guy who stealthily bogarts all the cashews in the party mix.

I can’t resist their seductive, sweet creaminess.

I recently discovered my instinctive magnetism to the tasty tree nut is actually enriching my health and creating a feel-good vibe.

Eating two handfuls of cashews, it turns out, can be as effective as Prozac and other anti-depressants in maintaining a positive mood. You see, cashews contain the amino acid known as L-tryptophan.

Dr. Andrew Saul, a therapeutic nutritionist and the editor-in-chief of Orthomolecular Medicine News Service said: “The body turns tryptophan into serotonin, a major contributor to feelings of sexual desire, good mood and good sleep.”

Prozac, Paxil and similar antidepressants usually either mimic serotonin or artificially keep the body’s own serotonin levels high.

Delicately flavored cashew nuts are also rich in vitamin C, protein, niacin, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, copper and zinc. Cashews make some superfoods lists for their concentration of protein, fiber, minerals and antioxidants.

They also contain proanthocyanidins, which actually work to starve tumors and stop cancer cells from dividing. (Studies have also shown that cashews can reduce colon cancer risk.)

Cashews are high in heart-healthy good fat — in the form of oleic acid, the same monounsaturated fat in olive oil. Studies show oleic acid reduces high triglyceride levels.

Though most seeds and nuts are higher in fat per serving than many other snacks, many studies have shown that people who eat nuts are actually less likely to suffer from obesity.

Cashews are also rich in magnesium, which is necessary for strong bones. (Most of the magnesium in the body is found in the bones.)

Cashews are actually seeds that develop on colorful fruits known as cashew apples.
Cashews are actually seeds that develop on colorful fruits known as cashew apples.

Fun fact: The cashew tree — a tropical, broadleaf evergreen — bears edible pear-shaped fruits called cashew apples.

Cashews are produced at the tips of the apples (and are technically considered seeds).

Native to Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, cashew trees are in the same plant family as mangos and pistachios as well as poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. (The toxic exterior of the cashew contains a resin related to the irritants found in its notoriously poisonous relatives.)

Cashew trees were spread all over the planet by Portuguese explorers, and today cashews are commercially cultivated in Brazil, Vietnam, India and many African countries.

At the grocery store, you can find raw, salted, sweetened or candied cashews. Buy nuts that are a bright, cream-white color, and are compact, uniform and feel heavy in the hand.

Ditch the salted, sweetened, artificially flavored varieties.

You will see raw cashews in the supermarket. However, all cashews undergo some heat to remove the shell and its caustic exterior coating.

Cashews sold as roasted have been cooked twice, once during the shelling process and then again during roasting, which deepens their color and flavor. Sometimes excessive salt is added during roasting, too.

Rui Hai Liu, a professor of food science at Cornell University, told the New York Times: “No research has specifically addressed how roasting nuts may change their nutritional value. I predict you will get health benefits from consuming either raw or roasted nuts.”

Asian and Indian cuisines regularly include whole or chopped cashews as a stir-fry ingredient and curries. Sprinkle them on salads or other side dishes; use them on top of breakfast cereals.

Read labels. If added oil is listed, pass. There should be only two ingredients — nuts and salt. I prefer raw over roasted, but that’s just me — that nutty guy who is nuts about nuts.


Chef Wendell Fowler is a syndicated food columnist and the author of Eat Right Now: The End of Mindless Eating.