Not many people know that cashews hold several fantastic health benefits specifically for diabetes. Like most nuts and seeds, they have a low glycemic index score and a low glycemic load, meaning they have minimal effects on blood sugar. This alone makes them a good food choice for diabetes. Just as important, cashews nutrition is supportive of good diabetes management. Generous amounts of magnesium for blood sugar control, B vitamins for nerve health and vitamin E, zinc and healthy fatty acids for skin benefits and improved wound healing all recommend cashews for consumption in diabetes.
The only condition however is to maintain a modest intake: small servings of the likes of 1 oz, preferably no more than 1 serving a day. Because of their naturally high fat content (43 g of fat per 100 g, 12-13 g of fat per oz) and, consequently, high energetic value (553 kilo-calories per 100 g, 157 kcal per oz), cashews are best enjoyed infrequently, 2-3 times a week tops. Preferably not every day and not every other day either – this at least allows for variety in one’s diet.
Eating cashews daily with diabetes is not good for you because, over time, it promotes weight gain which affects multiple aspects of diabetic health, from cardiovascular health to blood sugar metabolism. In order to best enjoy the health benefits of cashews for diabetes, choose raw, unsalted, unsweetened options. This further helps prevent side effects that arise from an increased intake of salt, sugar and fat (used for roasting). And although eating them doesn’t cure diabetes, the health benefits they offer actively contribute to better weight management and blood sugar control for better overall health.
1) Low glycemic index: 21-27
The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that measures how fast the carbohydrates in a food raise blood sugar. Below 55 is a low GI. Between 55-69 is a moderate GI. Between 70-100 is a high GI. The glycemic index of cashews is estimated to be between 21-27, which is a low score. This makes them a low-glycemic food and means they have minimal effects on blood sugar, which is good for you if you have diabetes.
2) Low glycemic load: 6-8 (for 100 g), 3-4 (for 50 g), 2 (for 1 oz)
The glycemic load (GL) is a scale that estimates how fast a serving of a food raises blood sugar levels, based on its carbohydrate content. Below 10 is a low GL. Between 11-19 is a moderate GL. Over 20 is a high GL. The glycemic load of cashews is low and varies slightly depending on serving size. For example, a serving of 100 g has a glycemic load between 6-8 (calculated for the lowest GI and highest GI respectively). A serving of 50 g of cashews has a glycemic load of 3-4, while a 1 oz serving (28.35 g) has a glycemic load of only 2. Read more about it in the article Can You Eat Cashews With Diabetes?
3) Magnesium for blood sugar control
Cashews are a good source of magnesium, providing 292 mg of the mineral for every 100 g. This translates to over 80% of the recommended daily intake for an average adult. Studies show dietary magnesium actively helps control blood sugar, making cashews good for diabetes.
4) Cashews lower the effects on blood sugar of other foods
Despite their high carbohydrate content (about 30 g of carbs per 100 g), cashews are not a high-glycemic food, but a low-glycemic one. Pairing them with other, higher-glycemic foods such as some fruits has an unexpected, but beneficial effect: they lower the effects on blood sugar of those other foods. If you do include cashews into your diet, you can add them to vegetable salads or eat them with a fruit so that they may lower the glycemic effects of these other foods.
5) Benefits for diabetes-associated hypertension
Cashews are naturally low in sodium, with only 12 mg per 100 g and 3 mg per oz (compare with the adequate intake for an average adult which is 1500 mg a day). They are also a modest source of potassium: 660 mg per 100 g, 187 mg per oz (compare with the recommended daily intake which is 4700 mg). Lastly, they boast a generous magnesium content: 292 mg per 100 g, 83 mg per oz ( the recommended daily intake being 400 mg). Both potassium and magnesium actively lower high blood pressure, a common complication of diabetes. While the low sodium content contributes to maintaining healthy blood pressure numbers and helps with puffiness, bloating, swelling and water retention in general.
6) Cashews and cholesterol in diabetics
Cashews are naturally high in fat, providing 43 g of fat per 100 g (12-13 g of fat per oz). About 8.7 g are saturated fat, 28.5 g monounsaturated (of the likes of the Omega-9 oleic acid) and 14.6 g polyunsaturated (of the likes of the Omega-6 linoleic acid). Studies show both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are beneficial for cardiovascular health in limited amounts and provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits as well as contribute to healthier blood cholesterol profiles.
Cashews are also an important source of beta-sitosterol, a plant compound similar in structure to cholesterol. Beta-sitosterol competes with cholesterol for absorption and causes a reduced uptake of cholesterol, contributing to healthier cholesterol profiles and cardiovascular health. Both the fats and beta-sitosterol in cashews may help lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and raise HDL cholesterol. However, overall fat and nut intake is best kept low in order to enjoy such benefits.
7) Further benefits for cardiovascular health
Cashews are an important source of vitamins and minerals that actively contribute to promoting cardiovascular health in diabetics and non-diabetics alike. Vitamins B6 and B9 for example has been shown to contribute to reduced risk of stroke and other cardiovascular events by regulating levels of the amino acid homocysteine. Vitamin B3 contributes to healthier cholesterol numbers, helping increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels and reduces risks of arrhythmia. Vitamin E holds antioxidant benefits and contributes to lower risks for cardiovascular events, while calcium has electrolyte properties with direct benefits for blood pressure.
Cashews nutritional information relevant to cardiovascular health:
– Vitamin B1: 0.423 mg, or over 35% of the recommended daily intake, RDI for an average adult
– Vitamin B6: 0.417 mg, or over 32% RDI
– Vitamin B5: 0.86 mg, or over 15% RDI
– Vitamin B3: 1.062 mg, or over 5% RDI
– Vitamin B9: 25 mcg, or over 5% RDI
– Vitamin B2: 0.058 mg, or 5% RDI
– Vitamin E: 0.9 mg, or over 5% RDI
– Calcium: 37 mg, or about 4% RDI
8) Benefits for eyesight
Poorly managed diabetes is known to lead to neuropathy, or nerve damage. This complication is a direct result of a continual state of hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar levels. In addition to learning to control blood sugar, it helps to have a good, nutritious diet that provides important micro-elements that support nervous system activity and health. B vitamins in particular support nerve health, especially the health of the optic nerve.
Vitamin B1 supports the health of the optic nerve, helping prevent diabetes-associated loss of vision. And it’s found in generous amounts in cashews (over 35% of recommended daily intake in 100 g of nuts). Studies show folic acid and vitamin B6 reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, or loss of vision. Vitamin E not only supports nerve health overall, but also lowers risk of cognitive decline.
9) Benefits for skin and wound healing
Modest amounts of vitamin E together with a generous content of fat, B vitamins and zinc promote healthy skin and support good wound healing. Vitamin E has antioxidant properties and helps repair skin cells. Fats help in the absorption of vitamin E as well as build cell membranes, being essential to skin regeneration and health. Severe B vitamin deficiencies make skin prone to drying and breaking, lesions and poor healing wounds. Zinc has antibacterial properties with benefits for wound healing.
10) Satiating, curb hunger and support weight loss
Being high in fat (43 g of fat per 100 g) and protein (16-18 g of protein per 100 g), cashews are satiating and efficiently curb hunger and cravings. Modest amounts of dietary fiber (1.5 g per 100 g) help keep you full longer as well as contribute to digestive health. All of these benefits indirectly support weight loss.
11) Boost energy and restore vitality for an active lifestyle
Rich in iron and B vitamins, cashews boost energy levels and restore vitality. B vitamins in particular promote elevated energy levels, especially vitamin B9 which is involved in red blood cell production. Iron is responsible for oxygenating tissues and has a strong revitalizing effect which combats tiredness and muscle weakness. 100 g of cashews has 6.68 mg of iron or about 50% of RDI. Combined, the two micro-nutrients support an active lifestyle that encourages weight loss.
12) Lower type 2 diabetes risks
Regular consumption of nuts such as cashews has been shown to reduce risks of type 2 diabetes. The low glycemic index and load values, minimal effects on blood sugar as well as generous nutritional value centering on a high vitamin and mineral, good fiber content are all factors that promote metabolic health. Of course, servings are best kept small and cashews and other nuts consumed in moderation, according to individual nutritional requirements and level of physical activity.