If you love snacking on nuts and find yourself reaching for trail mixes, chances are you love cashews. From plant-based cheese to cashew milk, cashews are a versatile food that are as delicious as they are nutritious.
You might be surprised to learn, however, that cashews are not technically classified as nuts—they’re actually seeds that grow from the cashew tree, which is a plant native to Brazil. So, what nutrients are found in cashews and what effect can these tasty seeds have on blood sugar levels?
Read on to find out more about how cashews can be part of a healthy diet—and stick around until the end for three blood glucose-friendly cashew recipes to try out.
Are Cashews Healthy?
In general, seed and nut consumption has been well documented for the numerous health benefits they offer. Cashews are no exception, as they are a good source of protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants such as polyphenols.
Not only are cashews versatile and can be added to many foods in a variety of ways, they also contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. An ounce (about a handful) of raw cashews contains:
Keep in mind that unsalted raw cashews may be a better option, as roasted or salted cashews can be higher in sodium and added oils depending on the brand.
Other Health Benefits of Cashews
Cashews are relatively high in fat, but the fat content in cashews is mostly made up of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Research shows that consuming appropriate amounts of these heart-healthy fatty acids may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and may positively impact blood lipid levels and glucose response.
Some studies show that cashews and other nuts may help reduce the risk of heart disease and support healthy blood pressure levels in some individuals, and can lead to a lower risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure. By supporting healthy blood pressure levels and reducing risk of heart disease, cashew nuts can support heart health.
Research shows that the unsaturated fats in cashews can support memory function. This may be due to cashews containing phosphatidylserine, a compound which may positively impact antioxidant systems in the body. Adding cashews to your diet may also help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, which can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce insulin resistance, and improve overall metabolic health.
Like other nuts and seeds, cashews can be dense in calories, so you may want to watch your portion sizes. If you’re concerned about how to incorporate cashews and some of the other best nuts into your diet, you may consider consulting a dietitian.
Generally, cashews and other nuts and seeds are a great snack option or meal topping that can help add some extra nutrients to your diet. People who benefit from including cashews in their diet or using it as a substitute for other food groups may include:
- Anyone with dairy allergies. You may choose to substitute dairy based foods with cashew milk, cashew based cheeses, and cashew based dips.
- People on a lower carb diet, although you may want to stick to smaller portion sizes.
- Those on a vegan or plant-based diet.
- People with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease. Cashew flour can be used as a substitute for gluten-based flours.
Who Shouldn’t Eat Cashews?
Cashews may not be suitable for everyone to add into their diet for a few different reasons. Keeping your individual health needs in mind is important to consider. People who may want to limit or omit cashews as a part of their diet may include:
- Those with tree nut allergies.
- People on the low FODMAP diet. Cashews and pistachios are high in FODMAPs while peanuts (and peanut butter), pecans, and pine nuts are lower in FODMAPs.
Cashews and Blood Sugar
An ounce of cashews has a glycemic index (GI) of 25. This is considered to be a low GI, meaning that cashews are not likely to significantly raise your blood sugar when eaten in moderate amounts.
Research shows that cashews may actually be beneficial for blood glucose. One study found that consumption of cashews over eight weeks reduced insulin levels, significantly improved HOMA-IR, as well as improved the LDL to HDL cholesterol ratio in people with type 2 diabetes.
Including cashews in your diet has been shown in research to:
- Be a good source of healthy fats that may help to prevent large glucose spikes, especially when carbohydrate consumption is reduced
- Promote satiety, which can prevent overconsumption of foods that can lead to blood sugar imbalances. One study found that consuming mixed nuts as a snack led to greater satiety and improved postprandial glucose.
- Reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which in turn can improve insulin sensitivity.
However, another meta-analysis found that, with all these studies combined, there was no significant difference in insulin, fasting blood glucose, or HOMA-IR values. More studies may be needed to determine the long-term effects of cashews on blood sugar.
It’s also important to consider that your glucose response to the foods you eat depends on a variety of other factors such as: meal timing, macronutrient intake, and the current state of your metabolic health and your blood glucose levels.
Three Fun Ways to Add Cashews to Your Diet
Here are some fun, creative ways to get more health-promoting cashews into your diet:
1) Opt for Cashew Milk
While not as common as milk alternatives like almond milk or oat milk, cashew milk has a creamy taste that pairs well with coffee and is delicious in smoothies. You will want to opt for a cashew milk with minimal ingredients, such as this one by Elmhurst, which is made using only cashews and filtered water.
You can also try making your own cashew milk at home. Here is a great cashew milk recipe to try out!
2) Try Cashew-Based Cheeses
While they don’t taste exactly like dairy cheese, cashew cheeses still have that aromatic flavor and are delicious to use on pizza or as part of a charcuterie board. We love the different cashew cheese flavors that Miyoko’s Creamery offers.
Other cashew cheeses and dips can come surprisingly close to the real deal! Some great options include the cashew based quesos by Siete which come in different flavors to choose from and are vegan and paleo friendly.
3) Top Your Favorite Meal with Cashews
Apart from all the creative ways that cashews can be made into dairy substitutes, they also make great toppings for salads, parfaits, noodles, and even rice-based dishes! Opt for a raw, unsalted variety of cashews and add them over the top of any meal you like to add some extra sources of healthy fats and a little boost of protein.
Blood Sugar-Friendly Cashew Recipes
Ready to add more cashews to your diet? Here are three fun and tasty recipes that incorporate cashews so you can take advantage of their nutritional benefits!
Cashew Chicken by Gnom Gnom
This delicious cashew chicken recipe is a classic, and it’s packed with protein, fiber, and fats helps support healthy blood glucose responses. You can pair this with whole grain rice, quinoa, or cauliflower rice to make it into a full meal.
For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons coconut aminos
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1-3 teaspoons freshly grated ginger to taste
- 1-2 tablespoons golden erythritol or allulose/xylitol, to taste
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice or rice vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper or black pepper
For the stir fry:
- 500 grams chicken thigh (skinless, boneless) diced into bite-size pieces
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil as needed, for cooking
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- ½ medium onion diced
- 1 red bell pepper or color of choice, seeded & diced
- 1-2 cups broccoli optional
- ½ cup cashews roasted
- ⅓ cup chicken stock or water
- 2 teaspoons arrowroot as needed
- 2 tablespoons water
Thai Cashew Salad by The Spruce Eats
This Thai salad is full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. While cashews can be a good source of protein, you may want to boost the protein content of this salad by tossing in some tofu or tempeh to make it even more satiating!
- 1 English cucumber
- 1 carrot, grated
- 1 cup whole cashews, roasted, unsalted
- 1/2 large red pepper, sliced thinly
- 2 green onion
- 1 generous handful fresh cilantro
- 1 generous handful fresh basil
For the salad dressing:
- 1 tablespoon lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar, or rice vinegar
- 2 to 3 cloves fresh garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 fresh red chile, de-seeded and minced
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, to taste
- 1 pinch freshly ground white pepper, or black pepper
Cashew Milk Recipe by Cookie and Kate
Making cashew milk at home is not only convenient, but allows you to better control what goes into your plant-based milk of choice. This cashew milk recipe uses simple ingredients and can be modified if you’d like to make changes (such as omitting a sweetener).
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 4 cups water
- 1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Dash of sea salt
- Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
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Heather has worked in healthcare and nutrition for over 15 years, with bachelor's degrees in Microbiology and Philosophy and a master's degree in Nutrition Science. Her professional background includes nutrition and diabetes research, nutrition education, medical writing, and extensive clinical work in a functional neuroendocrine specialty practice.