As the price tag of cashewsand most other nutscontinues to rise, many of us will pass them up muttering, “$7.00 a bag? That’s so not worth it.” Well, think again. Cashews aren’t just tasty, protein-filled snacks: they contain powerful, health-enhancing nutrients that may keep us from, well, going nutty.

Yes, you heard that right. Cashews are a natural antidepressant. With all of their goodness, some might think these tiny-moon shaped nuts were sent from above, but the truth of the matter is that the average person probably doesn’t even know where cashews really come from, nor all of the benefits they offer.

Where Do Cashews Come From?

Cashews come from the cashew tree, known for its large leaves and pink flowers. Cashew trees grow wide and fairly tall, anywhere from 20 to 30 feet. Today, dwarf trees are grown to bear fruit more quickly. These trees, formally known as Anacardium occidentale, originate from tropical regions of Brazil. Cashews sprout from the bottom of a strangely shaped-fruit, called a cashew apple, which looks alot like a small pear. The cashew nut is actually a seed of this fruit.

Unlike other popular nuts such as peanuts, pistachios, chestnuts, cashews are sold without the shell because the shell is poisonous in its natural state. But even the shell has other beneficial uses: the acidic elements of the cashew nut shells are harvested as natural medicines for conditions like diabetes and tooth decay. Today, cashew trees are grown in other tropical regions throughout Africa, India, and Vietnam.

Why Are Cashews Good For Depression?

Serotonin is the chemical responsible for maintaining mood balance, so depression is often the result of reduced levels of serotonin and the amino acid required to produce serotonin, called tryptophan.

So where do cashews come in?

Cashews contain mood-stabilizing vitamins: B6, magnesium, niacin, and even tryptophan. B6 helps convert the tryptophan into serotonin and helps magnesium enter into the body’s cells. It’s the synergy of these nutrients that helps with depression; researchers claim that if you eat two or more handfuls of cashews per day, you will get enough tryptophan to alter and elevate your mood.

Cashews may be a natural solution for depression and anxiety, and don’t carry the price tag or side effects of Prozac. If you start to see a positive impact on your mood after eating cashews on a consistent basis, it may make more sensefor both your health and your bank account to invest in a bag of cashews every month. A 5-pound bag for $50 will supply you with a little more than a whole month’s worth of natural anti-depressants.

It may seem crazy to think that a couple handfuls of nuts may help some of the 6.7 million people in the US that suffer from depression and anxiety, but studies have already shown that tribes that continue to forage for food don’t develop Western world diseases such as high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Seems like good evidence that the trusty cashew may do the trick.

What Else Are Cashews Good For?

In a nutshell, cashews are good for your body. Besides their antidepressant effects, cashews are jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and fats that help benefit many body parts, organs, and systems:

  • The Heart: Because cashews are low in cholesterol, they are easy on your heart and vessels. They also contain antioxidants and oleic acid, a common monounsaturated fat in the human diet. Oleic acid is associated with decreased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
  • Weight Loss: If you can eat cashews even just twice a week, it can help slow weight gain. Cashews contain heart-healthy fats, so replacing your typical junk food snacks with nuts can help increase weight and fat loss even if the number of calories and the total amount of fat you consume stays the same. Nuts are also high in protein and low in carbohydrates which helps manage your Body Mass Index.
  • Blood pressure: Cashews contain magnesium, which helps lower your blood pressure and prevent hypertension. One study shows that those who consume 368 milligrams (mg) of magnesium per day for an average of three months had overall reductions in systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure. You can get this amount of magnesium by eating about 4 ounces, or a little more than half a cup, of cashews a day.
  • Gallbladder: Studies conducted over the years show that women who eat at least 1 ounce of nuts or peanut butter each week have a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones.
  • Gums and Teeth: Cashews contain copper and magnesium which is essential for development and maintenance of skin, bones, connective tissue, and organs.
  • Disease Prevention: Cashews are rich in antioxidants that fight off toxins and diseases like cancer. They are also rich in vitamins like riboflavin, pantothenic acid, thiamin, and niacin that help prevent medical conditions like sideroblastic anemia and pellagra.

These are not even all of the benefits of cashewsthere are many more. But this list alone reminds us of the importance of a diet rich in whole foods like cashews and other nuts.