Functional Food: Cashews

Helloooo, friends!

Welcome to another Functional Food segment. Today, we’re talking all about cashews.

First, a little aside. Do you remember that scene from Anchorman where Will Farrell happily sips a glass of scotch and hums a little love tune to himself about his deep affection for scotch? (—> If not, watch it here immediately.)

Well, that is the best example I can think of to describe the way I feel about cashew milk.

Cashews are such a gift to the dairy-free community, providing a quick and easy plant-based beverage that is as thick and creamy as they come. Plus, finely ground cashews can also be transformed into a cheese substitute for those hearty, gooey comfort foods we all know and love.

In addition to proving their place in the culinary world, cashews also won over my heart as I researched their nutrient profile and learned about their role in reducing disease risk.

So, sit back, grab a sip of tea, and let’s dig in.

TRYPTOPHAN

Cashews are one of the richest plant-based food sources of tryptophan. Never heard of it? Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that also happens to be the precursor to serotonin (neurotransmitter responsible for reward, motivation, learning, and memory). Tryptophan is a natural mood-lifter, regulates sleep patterns, and protects against mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

Tryptophan can also be used to produce niacin (vitamin B3) if our dietary intake and physiological levels of B3 become dangerously low. Pretty neat!

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning that we need to consume it from our diet. Conversely, there are other amino acids that are considered non-essential, meaning that the body will produce a sufficient quantity independent of our dietary intake.

In order to keep enough inventory of these essential amino acids, we need to consume them regularly through whole food sources. Those who follow a plant-based diet need to pay special attention to consuming tryptophan-rich plant foods regularly, as most common sources come from animal products.

In addition to cashews, other plant-based food sources of tryptophan include:

  • Beans, especially soybeans & tempeh

  • Seeds, especially pumpkin & sunflower

  • Whole grains, especially oat bran, whole-grain oats & buckwheat

  • Lentils, and other pulses & legumes

Creamy Cashew Milk | Functional Food Friday | Purposeful Plate

COPPER

Copper is a key mineral in a number of physiological functions. One of its most important roles in health support is the production of Superoxide Dismutases (SOD), a class of enzymes with antioxidant properties that protect cells against oxidative damage.

Have you heard of Lou Gehrig’s disease? (Also known as ALS.) Research is now attributing much of the development of this degenerative neurological disorder to low / under-functioning SOD. Since copper is required for the production of SOD, we can assume that intake of copper-rich foods is directly related to the amount of antioxidant protection present in the brain and nervous system.

Translation: consuming insufficient levels of copper via dietary intake = increases risk of significant oxidative damage to the neurological system, and potentially development of diseases like ALS.

Other physiological functions of copper include:

  • aid in the formation of collagen, the most abundant protein in the body

  • energy production by transporting iron into red blood cells, preventing anemia

  • prevent hair loss and greying

  • balance cholesterol

Plus, you won’t have to chew on trail mix all day to reach your daily value of this precious mineral. Just 1/4 cup of raw cashews contains about 98% of the recommended daily intake of copper.

OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS

WEIGHT MANAGEMENT
It is a common belief that consumption of high-fat foods contributes to weight gain, however an inverse correlation has been identified between nut consumption and unwanted weight gain. Research shows that populations consuming 2 servings of nuts or nut butter per week actually reported less weight gain than those who consumed no nuts.

STRONG BONES
Did you know two-thirds of the body’s entire magnesium supply is stored in our bones? Magnesium is required for all kinds of physiological processes throughout the body and neurological system, and when dietary intake is low, magnesium gets pulled from reserves in our bones. Therefore, chronically low magnesium intake can result in weak or brittle bones as we age. Just 1/4 cup of raw cashews provides 30% of our daily required intake for magnesium.

“FEELING OF FULLNESS”
Satiety, or the feeling of reaching desirable fullness during a meal, is increased with intake of high fat, protein, and fiber foods. Cashews are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (17g total fat per 1/4 cup serving), and protein (7g per 1/4 cup serving), which make them an excellent choice for someone prone to feeling under-satisfied during a meal.

I hope this post has inspired you to reach for a handful of cashews the next time you crave a crunchy snack! Or, for the dreamiest coffee/tea creamer around, check out my recipe for Creamiest Vanilla Bean Cashew Milk here.

All my best!
Leesa Morales