Exploring the cashew nut: its origins, nutritional profile and impact on brain health

The cashew nut (Latin: Anacardium occidentale) is an exotic nut with a mild and delicate flavour, widely used in cuisines around the world and popular for its unique properties and health benefits.

The cashew is the fruit of a tropical tree believed to have originated in Brazil. Ancient Indians used it not only as a food but also to treat a variety of illnesses. In the 16th century it was brought to other parts of the world by Europeans and became a popular ingredient in cooking and nutrition. Today, cashew is grown in many countries with tropical and subtropical climates, including Brazil, Vietnam, India, Nigeria and others.

Cashews: A great nut for brain health
"Raw Cashew" / Photo by dr.coop / CC BY-NC 2.0

A source of nutrients

Cashews have a number of health benefits that make them a valuable food for supporting brain and overall body health. Like many other nuts, cashews are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6, which play an important role in brain development and function. These fatty acids are not only the building blocks of brain cells, but also help to improve memory, concentration and cognitive ability.

Cashews are also an excellent source of B vitamins, including vitamin B6 and folic acid (vitamin B9), which also play an important role in maintaining brain health. Vitamin B6 is essential for the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood and emotions. Folate helps in the formation of red blood cells, which ensure proper blood supply to the brain and its functioning.

Cashews are also rich in minerals, including magnesium, iron and zinc. Magnesium plays an important role in regulating the nervous system and helps to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Iron is essential for the transport of oxygen to the brain and zinc is involved in metabolism and the proper functioning of the immune system.

100 grams of Cachew contains approx:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine) – 0.42 mg
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) – 0.42 mg
  • Vitamin E (tocopherol) – 5.3 mg
  • Iron – 6.7 mg
  • Zinc – 5.6 mg
  • Magnesium – 260 mg

Cognitive Enhancement

Several studies have linked cashew consumption to improved cognitive functions such as memory, attention and concentration. For example, a study published in 2019 in the journal Nutrients found that regular consumption of nuts, including cashews, was associated with improved memory, concentration, and cognitive performance in older adults. Another study, conducted in 2018 and published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that cashew consumption may improve brain activity and promote cognitive function in children and adolescents.

Consumption recommendations

As with any food, cashews should be consumed in moderation. It is high in calories, one ounce of cashews (about 28g) contains about 160 calories, so consuming large amounts can lead to excess calorie intake and obesity. To maximise the brain health benefits, it is recommended to stick to moderate portions, such as a handful of cashews a day.

Prepared by Mary Clair

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