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No, eating cashews is not bad for you

They don’t raise your cholesterol.

 |  Hello, Health  |  4-minute read |   13-02-2018
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Take a guess: which nut gets the most flak?

Cashew, of course, which has been on the receiving end of bad press for, well, forever. This I think is mostly the doing of the myth that it raises cholesterol, and also the fact that it is absolutely delicious. And something so delicious has to be bad for us, right? Wrong.

I have always eaten this nut, and asked everyone else to eat it, too, without any guilt. In fact, I stash them in my handbag for hungry moments. And now validation has come from a spanking new study just published in the journal Nutrition by Dr V Mohan and his colleagues at Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF), Chennai. This comma-shaped kernel does not make your waist wider and your life shorter. They have reported that regular consumption of cashew nut actually helps boost our health.

They fed a group of similar people 30 grams for cashew nuts for 12 weeks and found that this led to a drop in systolic blood pressure, a significant increase in HDL good cholesterol, and there was no negative influence on body weight, glucose or LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).

cashew-nuts-690_021218115442.jpgIt also helps prevent age-related macular degeneration and keeps our eyes healthy. 

So how did this happen? It’s actually the good fat content of cashews - the Mono Unsaturated fats (MUFA) - that helps. Our diets are traditionally deficient in MUFA, which can be detrimental to our heart's health, and cashew helps fill this gap. Besides, cashews actually have lower amount of fat (13 grams per ounce) than most other nuts.

Secondly, even though cashews do contain about 20 per cent saturated fat, most of it is stearic acid, which has been found to be relatively neutral on blood lipids.

So the fear about it - increasing our cholesterol levels - is highly misplaced, as the study mentioned above has also shown. For starters, it has absolutely no cholesterol content in it, rather it actually helps cut down bad cholesterol levels in the body, while jacking up the good (HDL) cholesterol.

Besides good fat, cashews are a good source of antioxidants and plant sterols, too. In fact, it’s loaded with proanthocyanidins (flavanols) that hamper the ability of cancer cells to divide and multiply. It also has huge amount of micronutrients like vitamins E, K, and B6, along with minerals like copper, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, iron, and selenium.

Phosphorus is essential for the healthy development of teeth and bones, selenium is protective against cancer, zinc strengthens the immune system and is needed for proper thyroid function, and copper plays an important role in the elimination of free radicals from the body, and optimal absorption of iron, and its deficiency may lead to osteoporosis, irregular heartbeat and anaemia.

Copper by the way also helps in the production of the skin and hair pigment called melanin, which delivers lustrous hair. Magnesium, meanwhile, is vital for maintaining blood pressure, boosting the immune system, maintaining the nerve function, and keeping the bones strong. Another good news here is that cashews' good fat content helps the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and produce fatty acids that are vital for the development of the brain and proper blood clotting.

That’s not all! Cashews also contain a powerful antioxidant pigment called Zeaxanthin, which forms a protective layer over our retina and saves it from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays. It also helps prevent age-related macular degeneration and keeps our eyes healthy.

Finally, even though it is lower in fibre compared to other nuts, it is a high-satiety food and can lead to a reduction of food intake, especially carbohydrate intake of the subsequent meal. This could be why there was no weight gain in the subjects of the study mentioned above despite cashew nuts being high in calories (an ounce delivers 160 calories and about five grams of protein).

So that’s another myth busted - that cashews lead to weight gain. Moderate intake, in fact, is actually really good for us. Moderate intake I must clarify here, of unsalted and not roasted (in unhealthy oils or ghee) nuts.

Now that you know that when you munch on cashews they are doing you lots of good, go on include them in your diet without any fear. In fact, I say celebrate cashews unconditionally.

Also read - Chew on this: Fennel seeds are great for weight loss and ending bad breath

Writer

Kavita Devgan Kavita Devgan @kavitadevgan

The writer is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don't Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico) and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa).

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