Cashews are unique among nuts. They bear characteristics of both tree nuts and legumes, but they are not, botanically, either of these. They hang from fruits that look like pears but are actually a kind of apple, and the cashew is found outside the fruit, not in it! In fact, you’ll never see a cashew “in the shell,” and today you’ll find out why.
In the kitchen, cashews can be used like nuts – ground into meal, chopped, roasted, made into butter, etc. – or soaked in water to make a dairy substitute. Cashews are a most amazing and versatile “non-nut”!
So what are cashews, exactly, and what is the best way to use them? Most importantly, how do they fit into a bone-healthy diet?
Today we’re going to look at the cashew, including its place in building bones through nutrition. Also, I share a deliciously simple no-bake cashew recipe that makes an excellent snack, dessert, or party food. So let’s take a closer look at this versatile, bone-building nut, which isn’t really a nut at all, as you’ll soon learn.
Have you ever wondered how cashews got their name? It’s a funny-sounding word in English, but the Portuguese word for these nuts, caju, makes sense – it’s derived from a word that means “nut that produces itself.” The genus name, Anacardium, is no less interesting: ana means “backward” or “again,” and cardium means “heart.”
Yet the kidney-shaped cashew is the first part of the fruit to develop on the tree, and then the pedicel (flower stalk) grows into the cashew apple. Clearly, the topsy-turvy nature of the cashew caught people’s attention early on.
Botanical classification helps clarify things a bit. Cashews are actually drupes, which refers to a fruit with a fleshy exterior surrounding a pit or central seed. Apricots, peaches, and plums are drupes, as are pecans, almonds, and walnuts. So humans eat the flesh of some drupes and the pits of others. In the case of cashews, the seed or pit is consumed, although the sweet flesh of the cashew apple is enjoyed locally in areas where the tree grows, such as Brazil and India. But the delicate skin of the fruit prohibits export, so the cashew “nut” is the part most familiar to Westerners.
So why isn’t the cashew a nut or a legume? True nuts are composed of a hard shell surrounding a central seed, such as hazelnuts, chestnuts, and acorns. While cashew meats are enclosed in a hard shell, they are technically part of the cashew apple itself; they are not an independent fruit like acorns, for example.
A note about the cashew’s shell – it is different from the shells of nuts also in that it contains a toxic resin known as cashew balm, which must be removed from the cashews before they are fit to eat. The cashew balm is then used to make products like furniture varnish. This is why you will never see cashews in the shell for sale in the grocery store.
Cashews are not a legume, either. Legumes are dry fruits inside pods that split in two, like peanuts and beans. To make things a bit more confusing, cashews do split in half, but they lack other botanical characteristics of a legume.
So now that we’re clear on just what a cashew is, you might be wondering why – or if – it can help you build your bones.
Cashews And Bone Health
If you have the Osteoporosis Reversal Program, then you know that cashews are acidifying. But you’ll also be aware that cashews are a Foundation Food for their exemplary content of bone-nourishing nutrients and healthy fatty acids.
Cashews are a prime example of the role acidifying foods play in bone-smart nutrition – it’s easy to presume that a food is to be avoided entirely if it’s acidifying, but that’s not the case. There’s no need to eschew the cashew!
The pH-balanced diet described in the Osteoporosis Reversal Program is about balancing your intake of alkalizing and acidifying foods, not eating only alkalizing foods. So as you plan your meals, snacks, and desserts around the 80% alkalizing and 20% acidifying foods, make sure to include plenty of nutritious foods in that 20%, because there are many such foods that contain nutrients your bones need. Cashews are a good example.
Cashews’ Nutritional Profile
The cashew contains many valuable nutrients, but we’re going to focus primarily on the ones that support bone health.
Chances are slim that your doctor ever talked to you about getting enough copper in your diet! Nonetheless, this trace mineral is vital for bone rejuvenation. It’s found in all body tissues, and while you don’t need large quantities of it, without adequate copper, many body systems simply can’t function properly.
Cashews are extremely rich in copper – 100 grams (about ½ cup) contain 2.2mg of copper, which is well over 100% of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance).
This trace mineral is best known for its role in boosting immunity and fending off colds and flu – hence the zinc lozenges that show up in stores when cold and flu season starts. But zinc plays a myriad of roles in building bone, including fracture repair by enhancing the production of bone-building cells (osteoblasts). Research shows that increased zinc ingestion via zinc-rich foods actually increases bone mass.
To read more about this study and the role of zinc in building bone, please read this article on zinc:
One hundred grams of cashews contain almost 6mg of zinc.
Your bones require boron to absorb calcium, and a deficiency in boron can result in a corresponding decrease in calcium and magnesium as well. Boron also influences estrogen, one of the key hormones in maintaining and recovering youthful bone density.
Cashews offer 1.15mg of boron per 100 grams.
With .66mg (33% daily value, or DV) of manganese per 100 grams, cashews are a fairly good source of this trace mineral, which is necessary for the synthesis of connective tissue in cartilage and bone. Manganese is indispensable for your bones, forming part of a trio of minerals (copper, zinc, and manganese) that compose Superoxide Dismutase, a crucial antioxidant your bones must have. This antioxidant is particularly effective at quelling bone-damaging inflammation via dismutation (a reaction between two molecules where one is reduced and the other oxidized) – hence its name.
Cashews contain all three of these key minerals.
Two-thirds of a cup of cashews (100 grams) offer nearly 117mg of magnesium (about 30% of daily value), making this “nut” a valuable means of combating magnesium deficiency, a widespread problem. Magnesium works synergistically with calcium, so without adequate amounts of magnesium, your bones simply can’t absorb the calcium they need.
Cashews are actually lower in fat overall than other nuts, and more than 80% of their fat content is unsaturated fatty acids. Over 65% of these fatty acids are monounsaturated fats, known for their role in preserving and promoting heart health and lowering cholesterol.
Cashews are delicious to eat out of hand; they have a sweet, meaty flavor and soft texture. But they are also scrumptious in recipes like this one, which includes other bone-building ingredients as well as cashews.
Chocolate Cashew-Apricot Clusters
Makes 20 clusters
Because these delicious, nutritious, no-bake treats are mostly acidifying, enjoy them with a glass of plain almond milk or with some fresh fruit. They can also replace granola, when crumbled and sprinkled over alkalizing, plain yogurt.
- 2 cups dark chocolate chips
- ¼ cup coconut milk or almond milk
- 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups raw cashews, coarsely chopped
- 2 cups dried, unsweetened apricots, chopped
- In a medium-sized, heavy saucepan or double boiler, combine the chocolate chips, milk, and honey or maple syrup. Melt over low heat, stirring occasionally.
- When chocolate mixture is thoroughly melted, stir in the cashews and dried apricots.
- Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto cookie sheets lined with waxed paper; refrigerate for at least 3 hours before consuming. Store in the refrigerator.
Acidifying Foods Can Be Bone-Healthy Too!
I hope today’s article helped clarify not only the definition of cashews, but also the very important role that healthful, acidifying foods can and do play in bone health. Some Savers find it surprising that Bone Appétit, the companion cookbook to the Osteoporosis Reversal Program, contains recipes that are acidifying and should be consumed with other alkalizing foods; but that’s the beauty of an 80/20 pH-balanced diet: balance, not prohibition, is the key element for success.
This “balance factor” also makes eating your way to healthy bones a fun, creative, and enjoyable experience. Bone Appétit enlivens the whole process, with more than 200 recipes for bone-smart breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and even desserts. Plus, to simplify your bone-building endeavors, it also includes clear guidelines, explanations, and a 30 Day Meal Planner.
Eat Your Way to Stronger Bones!
Discover over 200 mouth-watering bone healthy recipes for breakfast, smoothies, appetizers, soups, salads, vegetarian dishes, fish, and plenty of main courses and even desserts!
Do you have a favorite way to enjoy cashews? If you’d like to share your recipe or idea with the community, or if you have any other comments about today’s article topic, please feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Till next time,