Cashew nuts are good for you
By Dr. Harold Gunatillake
The cashew, Anacardium occidentale L., belongs to the Anacardiaceae or cashew family. Two related plants in this family are the mango tree and pistachio tree.

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 North-Eastern Brazil, and Peru. In the 16th century Portuguese explorers introduced cashew trees to other tropical regions such as India, Indonesia, some African countries and Sri Lanka, where they are now grown. The cashew tree was popular due to its apple, hardly eaten in our country, but a delicacy in some countries, which is eaten ripe, mixed in fruit salads or pickled. The trunk of the tree is also used as firewood.

Cashews are sold with the shell removed, because the interior of the shell contains a caustic resin known as cashew balm. In Sri Lanka we call it the milk, and it is very important that this resin is removed before the nuts are fit for consumption. The resin is actually a poison, which is used in industries to make varnishes and insecticides. The shells are also burnt in rural homes to keep off mosquitoes, and breathing the smoke may damage the lungs in the long run.

Low fat content
All varieties of edible nuts contain oils that can be used for human consumption. These are classified as saturated and unsaturated oils, and the latter can be further divided into mono and poly unsaturated oils. The polyunsaturated oils are further separated into Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils.
All animal oils used in the past for cooking, such as lard (pig oil), and others like the goat, cattle (tallow), duck fat oils were harmful. Being saturated these increased the cholesterol level in the blood, and their accumulation caused weight problems, too. Butter too manufactured from cow’s milk, in spite of the health benefits, caused increased cholesterol levels in the blood. Coconut oil, though saturated, containing medium chain fatty acids, does not increase the cholesterol level and also does not accumulate in the body as other saturated animal oils do.

Cashew oil contains a lower fat content than most other nuts; approximately 75% of their fat is unsaturated fatty acids, plus 75% of this unsaturated fatty acid content is oleic acid, the same heart-healthy monounsaturated fat found in olive oil. Studies show that oleic acid promotes good cardiovascular health, even in individuals with diabetes. Studies of diabetic patients show that monounsaturated fat, when added to a low-fat diet, can help reduce high triglyceride levels. Fat is carried in the blood stream as triglycerides, and settles in the body, especially under the skin and surrounding organs as triglycerides.

Diabetics invariably have high triglyceride levels in their blood, and “statin” drugs may fail to bring them down. It stands to reason that they eat plenty of cashew nuts in their food, provided the dishes are with reduced fat. As mentioned in previous articles, diabetics should eat plenty of big onions, crushed garlic and cinnamon to bring down their sugar levels naturally in the blood. A diabetic person can verify this by checking the glucometer reading before eating these and two hours after. Daily exercise also brings down the sugar levels in the blood.

Increased triglyceride levels in the blood influences heart disease. It prevents the good cholesterol (HDL), removing the bad cholesterol (LDL) from the blood stream. It also settles down in the body and causes weight problems. Increased weight causes inflammatory diseases like atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, arthritis and many others. Take cashew nuts in your diet to ensure you have plenty of monounsaturated fats in your food. Cooked cashew nuts in a white curry form do not destroy the nutrient values of the nuts. Just a quarter-cup of these delicious nuts supplies 37.4% of the daily value for mono unsaturated fat.

Good source of nutrients
In addition to the high mono unsaturated fats, cashew nuts are a good source of copper, magnesium, zinc and biotin. Copper is an essential component of many enzymes and beneficial for a wide range of physiological processes, including iron absorption from the gut, elimination of free radicals, development of bone, connective tissue, production of skin and hair pigment called melanin, hence good to prevent greying of hair. Copper is also a component of the enzyme superoxide dismutase, important in energy production and antioxidant defences. Copper also helps to make the ground substance to keep the blood vessels elastic and flexible, an important function in preventing high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. It also helps to form the ground substance for bones and joints, to keep them functionally active. In the colon, copper prevents the increase of faecal free radical production responsible for colon cancer.

When the copper intake is inadequate, one could develop iron deficiency anaemia, spontaneous rupture of minute blood vessels, osteoporosis in old age, joint problems like rheumatoid arthritis, brain damage, elevation of (LDL) bad cholesterol, reduction of good cholesterol (HDL), irregular heart beat, increased susceptibility to infections, and accelerated greying of hair.
Daily consumption of a quarter-cup of cashew will supply you with 38.0% of the daily-recommended value for copper. Wearing copper bracelets, and other copper ornaments also helps absorption of copper through the skin.
Magnesium is essential in preventing bone damage. Two thirds of the body magnesium in the human body is found in our bones. Magnesium is stored on the surface of bones for the body to draw when required.

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 blood vessels and muscles they innervate) relaxed. Calcium antagonists, given to control high blood pressure, relax the heart muscles, too. In magnesium deficiency situations, calcium tends to gain entry, and the nerve cell can become over activated, sending too many messages and causing excessive contraction.

Insufficient magnesium can contribute to high blood pressure, muscle spasms (including spasms of the heart muscle or the spasms of the airways, leading to asthma attacks. Magnesium deficiency may cause migraine headaches, too.
Eating an adequate quantity of cashew on a daily basis, may contribute in reducing blood pressure, muscle tightness, fatigue, prevent heart attacks, promote normal sleep patterns in women suffering from menopausal sleep disturbances, and reduce the severity of asthma.

Just a quarter cup of cashews provides 22.3% of the daily value for magnesium.

Preventing gallstones
Dietary data collected on 80,718 women from the Nurses’ Health Study has shown that women who ate at least an ounce of cashew nuts, peanuts or peanut butter each week had a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones.
Eating a handful of cashew nuts when hungry also diminishes one’s appetite in heavy meals; another way of controlling your body weight.

A quarter cup of raw cashew nuts contain 196.60 calories, and nutrient copper 0.76 mg; magnesium 89.05 mg; tryptophan 0.07 g (also found in fresh cow’s milk – helps sleeping problems) and phosphorus 167.83 mg.
Cashew provides essential fatty acids, B vitamins, fibre, protein, carbohydrates, potassium, iron and zinc.

Promoting cashew nuts
Sri Lanka is at an advantage in promoting the health benefits of cashew, as we have a government corporation and a good site in Pasyala (Cadju pura) to promote it for both locals and tourists. A massive billboard by the road side, at this site, before entering Pasyala will remind motorists to stop and purchase some nuts to enjoy on the way to the hills.

Furthermore, good toilet facilities provided by the local Mirigama Council will encourage drivers to take a break at this spot, which will invariably promote cadju sales.

Curing infections
Charles Weber, MS writes that chemicals in cashew nuts, cashew apples and cashew shell oil kill gram-positive bacteria, which cause tooth decay, acne, tuberculosis, and leprosy. He states that he made raw cashew nuts the main part of his diet for 24 hours on five occasions and eliminated an abscessed tooth all five times.

The active chemicals are anacardic acids with a 15 carbon unsaturated side chain. The side chain with three unsaturated bonds was the most active against Streptococcus mutans, states Dr. Weber. Much research is required to find out further antibiotic effects of cashew.

As I have promoted eating “pol sambol” daily for health reasons, supplementing it with crushed cadju nuts is a good idea as a delicacy, for health reasons. The combined taste is unbelievable.

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