Cashews are one of the most decadent nuts—you’re probably used to seeing them in gourmet nut samplers and gift boxes. They’re rich and creamy, which explains why cashew-based milk, yogurt, and ice cream satisfy in a way that’s similar to the fan-favorite oat milk. But it doesn’t have to be a special occasion to enjoy cashews. These little nuts contain a long list of beneficial nutrients, so it makes sense to incorporate them into your regular meal plan.
Eating more cashews is simple—they’re a perfectly tasty snack by themselves. Or you can always pair cashews with fresh or dried fruit, raw veggies, and cheese for a midday grazing board for one. In savory meals, cashews can be used to add texture and nutrients to salads and stir frys or as the base to sauces. If you ever explore vegan recipes for things like nacho cheese, sour cream, or mac n’ cheese, you’ll see how you can get away with swapping dairy-based ingredients for nutrient-rich cashews (people with milk allergies or lactose intolerance can rejoice!). Other ways to enjoy these kidney-shaped nuts include blending them into smoothies, sprinkling them over oatmeal or yogurt, churning them into cashew butter, or incorporating them into recipes like cashew chicken.
When shopping for cashews at the grocery store, opt for raw cashews whenever possible. Salted and roasted cashews are a tasty snack, but they can be high in sodium, sugar, and/or added fats—something to be mindful of and watch out for on packaging labels. Choosing raw cashews also allows you to soak, toast, or season them exactly as you’d like. You can even make your own roasted cashews at home to control the added ingredients.
As plant-based superfoods, nuts and seeds fall under the protein food group, making them an important part of a balanced diet. To get a wide variety of nutrients, you should consume all kinds of nuts—and here are all the healthy reasons why cashews should be one of them.
Health Benefits of Cashews
Cashews are high in protein.
Protein is an essential macronutrient, so getting plenty of it each day from different food sources is non-negotiable. It’s the building block of life, contributing to healthy muscles and supporting bodily functions like cell repair. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for the average, healthy adult is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, per the Mayo Clinic Health System. Your protein needs can range greatly depending on your body mass, activity levels, age, sex and more, but the general RDA is roughly a minimum of 46 grams of protein per day for women and 56 grams daily for men, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Snacking on cashews or adding them to your meals makes it easier to meet your protein requirements. Every ounce (about 18 cashews) packs a solid 5 grams of protein, per USDA data. That’s nearly 11 percent of women’s protein needs and 9 percent for men.
Cashews contain healthy unsaturated fats.
If there’s one nutrient cashews are known for, it’s healthy fats. The term “healthy fat” refers to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (compared to saturated fat). These are two of the healthiest types of fat since they can help lower cholesterol and maintain the health of your cells, according to the National Library of Medicine. A serving of cashews offers 6.75 grams of monounsaturated fat and 2.22 grams of polyunsaturated fat. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fat, making cashews a great source. Older research from 2004 also found cashew oil to be the nut oil highest in omega 3s.
You don’t need to eat a large amount of cashews to reap the benefits—they’re pretty rich and filling, too. In fact, they should be enjoyed in moderation. Though they’re high in “good” unsaturated fats, they do also contain some saturated fat—about 2.21 grams per serving. A diet high in saturated fat can drive up cholesterol levels, per Harvard Medical School, so a small amount goes a long way.
Cashews are good for heart health.
One of the best reasons to eat more healthy fats, particularly cashews, is the heart health benefits. “Cashews contain heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats,” explains registered dietitian Kim Kulp, RD. “When used to replace foods high in sugars and low-fiber starches, cashews have been shown to lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, which is the type of cholesterol that can lead to heart disease.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and those with high cholesterol are at greater risk, per the CDC. When looking to make heart-healthy meals and snacks, cashews are a great thing to include.
Cashews support brain health and mental health.
Eating omega-3-packed foods, from salmon to nuts, is a smart move for brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids have been positively linked to healthy brain circulation, structure, and function, helping to enhance blood-flow to the brain, support white and gray matter density, decrease onset of neurodegenerative disease, boost cognitive function, and reduce inflammation. Cashews are also a great plant source of the amino acid tryptophan, which is essential for creating and boosting levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin (important for stabilizing mood, promoting feelings of happiness, regulating sleep, aiding digestion, and many more functions).
Cashews are part of a gut-healthy diet.
Never underestimate the importance of eating for a healthy gut. Having a healthy gut means your gut microbiota (the microorganisms in your gut) consist of more good bacteria than bad. It also means you’re more likely to absorb more nutrients from your food, and it’s linked to everything from digestion and immune health to mood and inflammation. Eating nuts like cashews on a regular basis can contribute to good gut health by offering modest amounts of fiber, anti-inflammatory plant compounds called polyphenols, and adding variety to your diet, which creates a diverse and thriving gut microbiome.
They’re also a source of prebiotics, which probiotics (the actual microbes in your gut) feed on, Kulp says. “Cashews contain galacto-oligosaccharides, which is a type of carbohydrate that works as a prebiotic, feeding the good gut microbes,” she explains. “Research has shown that including more prebiotic foods in the diet can increase the variety of these microbes, which can improve immune function and decrease inflammation that can lead to disease.”
Cashews keep you satisfied for longer.
If you’ve ever felt hungry even after eating a snack or a meal, that’s a good sign your choice of food didn’t have the right combination of nutrients to keep you full and satisfied for the long haul. Part of cashews’ nutritional power is their ability to keep you feeling full. Though carbohydrates are often associated with boosting energy levels, protein is what gives you a feeling of satiety (and the addition of a little bit of fiber means your body will digest and process that snack a little more slowly and steadily, too). Older research has found that high-protein foods, such as cashews, are more satiating than foods rich in fat or carbs. Still, cashews are a good source of all three macronutrients: “The protein, fiber, and healthy fats in cashews help to keep you fuller for longer, which can help with stabilizing blood sugar levels as well as with [healthy] weight management,” says Amy Gorin, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist.