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Eating Cashew Nuts During Pregnancy: Benefits And Risks

Cashew Nuts During Pregnancy

Cashew nuts can be a perfectly good source of energy if you’re pregnant. They have a lot of goodness courtesy the magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin K they contain. Unfortunately, if you are allergic to cashew nuts, the side effects may put your health and pregnancy at risk. Also, these calorie-packed nuts can easily cause you to gain more weight than you should. So be wary if you are already overweight.

Pregnancy is a time when you’re on high alert and extra careful about everything, whether it’s exercising or foods you eat. If concerns around allergies or weight gain have you worried about cashew nut intake, know that not everyone has to fear them that much. The important thing to figure out is whether cashews are right for you and how to consume them wisely. Here are the implications you need to weigh in before you reach for that bowl of cashew nuts.

Cashew Nuts Offer Nutrients Essential During Pregnancy

Cashew nuts are rich in vitamins and minerals and are a good source of energy for quick nourishment when you’re pregnant. Every ounce of cashew nuts offers you the following nutrients and health benefits:1

Magnesium, 83 mg, 23% RDA

It helps normal function of heart, muscles, and kidneys and prevents complications from preeclampsia in pregnancy. Your recommended dietary allowance when pregnant goes up to 350 to 360 mg daily from 310 mg when you were not pregnant.2

Potassium, 187 mg, 3.9% RDA

Snack tip: To a small bowl of yogurt, add some slivered cashews and apricots as topping.

This electrolyte is needed for normal function of cells, tissues, and organs in the body. Low potassium levels can cause high blood pressure and this is potentially dangerous during pregnancy. Pregnant women need about 4,700 mg (4.7 gm) per day.3 While an ounce of cashew nut may not provide you a lot of potassium, fret not. Most foods are rich in potassium, so the risk of a deficiency is quite low.

Phosphorus, 168 mg, 13–24% RDA

Is important for strong bones and teeth, kidney function, and production of the building blocks of your genes. Pregnant women need 700 mg if they’re over 18 and 1,250 mg if they’re under 18.4

Zinc, 1.64 mg, 13% RDA

This trace mineral has antioxidant properties. It is needed for immune system health and blood clotting, important functions for a safe and healthy pregnancy and delivery. Pregnant women need 11 to 12 mg, up from the usual 8 mg a day.5

Calcium, 10 mg, 1% RDA

Meal tip: Toss up a salad with steamed collard greens, some cherry tomatoes, a dash of olive oil, cheddar cheese, and a sprinkling of roasted cashews.

Besides being a core mineral for your bones and teeth, calcium is needed for contraction and dilation of your blood vessels and nerve and muscle function. Pregnant adults need 1,000 mg a day. Calcium intake may also help lower risk of preeclampsia.6 Calcium is essential during pregnancy, and you would need to look at other calcium-rich food sources like dairy products and green veggies to up your intake.

Iron, 1.89 mg, 7% RDA

Iron is needed by red blood cells that carry oxygen to various parts of the body. Pregnant women are prone to iron deficiency, which can result in anemia, fatigue, and weakness and make pregnancy more difficult. The recommended dietary intake is 27 mg per day for pregnant women as against 18 mg for other adult women.7

Folate, 7 mcg, 1.75% RDA

Breakfast tip: Have a folic acid-fortified oatmeal porridge with a handful of roasted cashews. You can also add a side of boiled asparagus drizzled with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Folate or vitamin B9 is essential for a pregnant woman because it can help significantly lower the risk of the baby developing neural tube defects that include conditions like spina bifida, anencephaly, and encephalocele.8 Here are other folate-rich foods you can eat during your pregnancy.

Vitamin K, 9.7 mcg, 10% RDA

You need vitamin K for normal blood clotting, a function that’s vital during delivery or in a potential cesarean section, to stem the bleeding. About 90 mcg/day is the recommended intake.9

Copper, 622 mcg, 62% RDA

Copper is needed to help make red blood cells and for collagen production. Pregnant women need 1,000 mcg daily while everyone else needs just 900 mcg a day.10

Cashews Can Serve As A Source Of Energy

You’ll also get 8.56 gm of carbohydrates from 1 oz of cashews. That translates to 157 calories. This should help give you the energy and overcome any tiredness or weakness during pregnancy. Just remember to have only a handful at a time and not go overboard.

Cashews Can Help Underweight Mothers Gain Weight

Each ounce of cashew nuts contains 12.43 gm fat, of which, around 9 gm are the healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Because of their high carb and fat content, cashews are a good nutrient-dense food for those who are underweight pre-pregnancy or those struggling to gain adequate weight during the pregnancy.

Try to avoid salted cashew nuts. They come with excess sodium that you can do without.

Remember, not being in the ideal weight gain zone for your pregnancy could mean a baby who is very small at birth. Such babies sometimes struggle to breastfeed and are at greater risk of illness. Some may also experience developmental delays, not meeting their milestones for their age.11

So if you had a BMI below 18.5 before you got pregnant, you would be counted as underweight and would have to gain about 12.5–18 kg during pregnancy.

You won’t need to eat a whole lot of cashews to get the nutrition and the calories they offer. Make cashews part of a wholesome balanced diet to gain weight steadily and make the most of all the nutrients they offer.

But Binging Can Cause Excess Weight Gain

However, it is easy to lose sight of your calorie intake when you are munching your way through a bowlful of toasted nuts or slathering nut butter on your toast. To put this in perspective, consider this:

  • 1 tablespoon of cashew nut butter has 94 calories.12
  • 1 oz of raw, unsalted cashews has 157 calories.13
  • 1 oz of oil roasted, unsalted cashew nuts has 164 calories.14

While you may be tempted to eat for two, most doctors will advise you to keep a watchful eye on your weight gain. How much you should gain depends on your pre-pregnancy BMI.

Ideal weight gain during pregnancy depends on your pre-pregnancy BMI

 

  • Underweight pre-pregnancy: 12.5 to 18 kg gain
  • Normal weight pre-pregnancy: 11.5 to 16 kg gain
  • Overweight pre-pregnancy: 7 to 11.5 kg gain
  • Obese pre-pregnancy: 5 to 9 kg gain

A pre-pregnancy BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is normal; BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight; and a BMI above 30 is considered obese. If you fall in the latter two groups, you need to be especially careful about your calorie intake.15

Gain too much weight and you could run the risk of your baby being very large at birth. This can make delivery more difficult and require you to have a cesarean section. There may also be related complications during delivery. The child may also develop childhood obesity.

If you gain more than half a kilo a week, you may need to watch what you’re eating and see if your nutty indulgence is contributing to the problem.16

Too Many Cashews May Worsen Cholesterol Or Hypertension

While most of the fats in cashews are of the healthy unsaturated type, cashews also contain some amount of saturated fats – 2.2 gm per ounce to be precise.17 So if you’re watching your fat intake, especially of saturated fats, you may need to keep a strict watch on your cashew intake. Also remember that even unsaturated fats need to be had in moderation.

There’s some concern over having cashews during pregnancy due to their high oxalate content. But if you consume them within limit and don’t have a history of kidney stones, you have nothing to worry about.

Too much saturated fat can cause your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels to rise. This, in turn, can increase chances of blockages in the arteries. Even if you do not have a cardiovascular health problem or high cholesterol, nutritionists advise keeping saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of total calorie intake for the day.18

These rules especially hold good when you’re pregnant. Your blood volume increases during pregnancy to meet the additional demands of oxygen.19 This in turn may mean your body may already be dealing with slightly higher “normal” blood pressure. But if you have hypertension due to deposits in your arteries, having a lot of fatty foods can cause your arteries to narrow further, further increasing the pressure in your blood vessels and creating problems for your pregnancy. About 10 to 15 percent of women have hypertension when pregnant and could face complications during the pregnancy or birth if not monitored carefully.20 This could:21

  • Affect the baby’s growth
  • Raise risk of breathing issues in the baby before/during labor
  • Increase risk of placental abruption (placenta separating from uterus wall before labor begins)

Cashews Are Problematic If You’re Allergic To Tree Nuts

Much ado is made about the severe allergic reactions people have to peanuts, but did you know cashews could be even worse? For those with an allergy to this tree nut, the reactions could be more severe than even with some other nut allergies like the infamous peanut allergy.

Don’t take the risk of having cashew nuts if you haven’t had them before the pregnancy or if you’re allergic to nuts or even to other foods. But if you have been tested and are not allergic to them, you don’t have anything to fear.

Researchers have found that cashew produces a severe allergic reaction in some people. According to one comparative study of children with allergies to cashew nuts or peanuts, kids with a cashew nut allergy experienced more cardiovascular symptoms and wheezing than those who were allergic to peanuts. The cashew group also reported more frequent usage of intramuscular adrenaline, the emergency treatment for severe allergies.22 Here are the symptoms of an allergic reaction to cashew nut:23

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Itchiness in the mouth or throat
  • Itchiness in the eyes
  • Itchy skin
  • Runny nose and/or nasal congestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anaphylaxis: this can be life-threatening and must be attended to immediately to prevent your body from going into shock. It may start with other symptoms mentioned but progress quickly to impaired breathing, low blood pressure, and shock.

All of these are not only uncomfortable but could even be dangerous to you or your baby when you’re expecting.

Avoid These Hidden Sources Of Cashew Nut If You’re Allergic

If you suspect a cashew allergy and want to be completely cashew-free during your pregnancy, be sure to look beyond the most obvious form of plain nuts. Here are some foods that might have cashew in them:24

  • Mixed nuts
  • Snack mixes
  • Pesto sauce
  • Asian meals
  • Nut butters (even those that aren’t plain cashew)
  • Nut brittle
  • Sweets and candy
  • Ice cream
  • Cakes
  • Chocolates

In conclusion, we can say that when cashew nuts are consumed responsibly, their benefits during pregnancy outweigh the risks.

References   [ + ]

1, 13, 17. Nuts, cashew nuts, raw. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
2. Magnesium. University of Maryland Medical Center.
3. Potassium. University of Maryland Medical Center.
4. Phosphorus. University of Maryland Medical Center.
5. Zinc. University of Maryland Medical Center.
6. Calcium. Office of Dietary Supplements.
7. Iron. University of Maryland Medical Center.
8. B vitamins and folic acid. National Health Service.
9. Vitamin K. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
10. Copper. University of Maryland Medical Center.
11, 16. Weight Gain During Pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
12. Nuts, cashew butter, plain, without salt added. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
14. Nuts, cashew nuts, oil roasted, without salt added. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
15. Pregnancy and birth: Weight gain in pregnancy. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
18. The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. Harvard Health Publishing.
19. Hytten, Frank. “Blood volume changes in normal pregnancy.” Clinics in haematology 14, no. 3 (1985): 601-612.
20. High blood pressure (hypertension) and pregnancy. National Health Service.
21. High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association.
22. Clark, A. T., K. Anagnostou, and P. W. Ewan. “Cashew nut causes more severe reactions than peanut: case‐matched comparison in 141 children.” Allergy 62, no. 8 (2007): 913-916.
23. Tree nut allergy. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
24. Cashew nuts cause more serious reactions than peanuts: study. Allergy New Zealand.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.