Cashews Are Bad (for Me)

If you’d spent any time around me during meal times over the last year, you would know that I was a very, very finicky eater.  “What do you mean you can’t eat olive oil, Neely?  That’s ridiculous!”  I know it’s ridiculous.  Olive oil is delicious.  It brings out the Italian in any meal and what’s ridiculous is that until recently it made me itch immediately upon ingestion.  “What do you mean you can’t eat rice, Neely?  I’ve never heard of such a thing!”  You wouldn’t eat rice either if it made you feel wasted drunk, hot and itchy.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve weeded out the foods that I am sensitive to – that my immune system doesn’t like.  A lot of people know that certain foods give them headaches, heartburn, or bad gas, but they just choose to deal with it and eat the food anyway.  I, however, am a Taurus.  And we do not like to be uncomfortable.  Whether I’m wearing 3 coats to insulate from a frosty 70 degree day or avoiding a climbing area because of a 15 minute hike, I like to be comfortable.  This tauracity, as I will call it, extends to food as well.  I will avoid any discomfort-causing culprit until the day that I die so as to maintain my bubble of relative ease.

My body is a real joker, though.  See, I think that my life’s greatest challenges are 1) becoming less identified with my ego, and 2) not bingeing on sugar.  The way that I know this is that whenever I let one of those things get out of hand, my body smacks me down with some heinous symptom.  Here are some examples by category:

1.  Ego
I started rock climbing pretty well and started thinking too much about how awesome I was and how not awesome the frat boy next to me at the gym was and immediately got a finger injury that rendered me less awesome at climbing than the frat boy.

My Competition

2. Bingeing on Sugar
After a 6 month surge of diligent, conscious eating on my part, during which I enjoyed being the strongest and healthiest I’ve maybe ever been, I started basically bingeing on dates and cashews.  I don’t know if you’ve ever delighted in putting two cashews and one bite of date in your mouth at the same time, but you should try it.  It tastes like crack.

Day after day the amounts I consumed of each increased.  I started to gain weight.  Then came the skin problems.  And finally I started to have (dun dun dunnnn) joint pain – not good for a rock climber – which once again rendered me way less awesome at climbing than the aforementioned frat boy.  Some days it was my right elbow, some days it was the other elbow, then my fingers started to hurt – every one of them.  I went to sleep with pain.  I woke up with pain.  I wondered if I’d somehow broken all of my fingers in my sleep.  I certainly couldn’t climb, so I got lazy, out of shape and slightly depressed (although it turns out that watching too much TV on the weekends, instead of frantically driving to climbing areas is really enjoyable).

Finally, I pulled the plug and did what I knew I needed to do.  I was not going to let my fingers and elbows get in the way of an upcoming climbing vacation, so I stopped eating my beloved cashews.  I actually cried over this loss.  Why take out the cashews and not the dates?  I needed to take one out at a time so I could figure out if it was one or both or neither that was the cause.  It took a few days, but the pain abated and I slowly started gaining on the frat boy.

The moral of the story is this:  When you have discomfort (headache, rash, belly ache, joint pain…), you may want to think twice about taking something for it or slathering some weird cream on it to make it go away. If your body doesn’t like a certain constituent in a certain food, it will do whatever it takes to get your attention – hives, tingling lips, stomach pains, gas, acne, eczema, headaches, dizziness and fatigue, joint pain, or whatever.  You name it.  Your immune system can conjure awful things to do to you, so listen to your body when it talks to you.

While eating a Paleo diet can work WONDERS for food sensitivities (and I’ll get more into what food sensitivities are soon), sometimes it’s not enough. Grains, dairy and processed sugars are very common triggers for immune symptoms, but your body can actually be sensitive to any food. Raspberries, almonds, beef, chicken, carrots. I mean any food. So if you landed on the Paleo diet because you have some symptom(s) that make your life uncomfortable, and the diet alone isn’t quite taking care of it, you may want to consider having yourself tested. You can blood test, fecal test or do it the old fashioned way with trial and error.


  1. Wow,,,I guess I needed to read this Neely. I LOVE dates and cashews and started eating them over the last few weeks. I was wondering why my joints ached so much (knees and hips) I’m going to take your advice and stop eating them and see if the pain goes away. Thanks for your blog!
    Marcia Old

    1. I hope that works for you, Marcia! Let me be very clear about this blog post, though. I said that cashews and dates weren’t good for ME – not everyone. Everybody might have different food sensitivities, if they have any at all. For you, it might be that carrots are setting off your joint pain, and for someone else it may be rice. Try out the cashews and dates, and if that doesn’t work you may want to investigate further into your diet. Good luck!

  2. Hi Neely
    I thoroughly enjoyed this post as I also suffer from many digestive issues, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and heartburn. I have been off of dairy, except butter, for years, and tried gluten free for a while. Being dairy free helped to solve gas, bloating issues, but I didn’t find gluten free made any difference in how I felt, or help in losing weight. Since starting the Paleo lifestyle, 10 days ago, the biggest thing I notice is that my hunger cravings are almost completely gone. I am a HUGE carboydrate/sugar addict and have noticed that even though I am eating Paleo, I tend to eat a lot of fruit and nuts. This past weekend I did a strenous three day hiking trip and lost 2 pounds, though I hadn’t lost any during the first week of Paleo. I believe my body is adjusting and hope the weight loss, plus newfound energy keeps increasing. I am thinking of reducing the nut/fruit consumption for a while. What do you think?

    The food that triggers my IBS symptoms the most is onions. I can eat leeks and garlic, but not onions. I’m also hoping that the longer I am on the Paleo program, the less severe the reactions will be and that maybe I will be able to eat onions again. Have you heard of this happening? In your blog, you found that cashews still cause you problems. Did they always cause problems?

    This is a new world for me in some ways, though I really enjoy meat and am so happy to be eating this way. Thanks for your informative post.

    Age 57

    1. Elizabeth – Congrats on starting to eat Paleo and having success so quickly! A lot of people ease into the diet by using tons of nuts and seeds to curb their cravings. That’s partly because you’re in detox mode and the nuts and seeds are so fatty (and sometimes carb rich, too) that they’re helping with that. Try to lay off of them, as they’re super calorie dense, unless you need all those calories. Plus, they’re loaded with anti-nutrients if they’re raw, so aim for like 1 or 2 ounces a day. An ounce is about a small handful and that alone is about 200 calories, depending on the nut. Anyway, try eating more fatty cuts of (pasture raised) meats, eggs, lots of veggies including sweet potatoes, and coconut milk and olive oil for more fat so that you’re getting enough carbs, protein, and fat. It’s totally possible that you could eat onions again. I couldn’t eat them for a while, either. This diet will definitely help with your digestive stuff. I don’t think cashews always caused me problems. I think I was eating way too many of them and my body just became sensitive to them. I can have some nuts and seeds now, but if I eat too many my joints hurt – cashews or otherwise. Good luck to you and thanks for writing in!


  3. Thanks for your comments and suggestions Neely. I am so happy to have found this website and learned your story. It seems I am the only one in my family and circle of friends who has struggled with major dietary issues. I have battled being overweight, or thinking I was overweight for most of my life. I remember going on my first low calorie diet at age 15, so I have struggled for a long time! I took up long distance walking/running about 20 years ago but didn’t get serious until I turned 50. In the past 7 years I have completed 8 half-marathons and 1 full marathon, but still continued to gain weight. The carb cravings negated any exercise, and I am living proof that it is not possible to out exercise a bad diet!

    I have been reading your blogs and the stories of others, and am inspired. I take a low dose of an anti-depressant medication that stops my gut from cramping. I also take HRT and I am hoping that after 6 months I can quit or reduce the amount of medication. Have you heard of other women who have been able to stop?


    1. Elizabeth – Yes, I’ve heard of women stopping for sure, including my mother-in-law. Have you considered doing more non-aerobic workouts with weights instead of your usual running? Along with this diet, it can be really great for burning those pounds off and gaining strength. Keep learning and I hope you have great success!

  4. hey Neely , eating dates and cashews together , thats so last year .
    Try almond and dried apricots , now were talking . i,m serious they are delicious .
    I am having terrible pain in an ankle joint , I just had a suspicion it may be an allergy ,possibly alcohol ,
    but have been dry for four days ,and the pain was suddenly very bad.
    I have been having a binge on cashews the last few days , so thats it no more .
    dont know when the pain started as it crept up on me but i think its since i started a casual type paleo diet
    about two years ago.
    thanks for your info

  5. Ah! I was looking for someone with problems with cashews. I am on paleo and found a great fudge containing cashews, now I have wrist pain. I have an autoimmune disease, so ,no more cashews for me. Thanks Neely. Joy :'(

  6. just ate whole bag of cashews and i feel terrible :( i also binged on dates. i extremely love these two yummy foods, but i realised that these arent good for me as i notice that im gaining weight and produce excessive amount of bad gas.

  7. Cashews are one of the highest foods in phytates, You cant sprout them because they are already dead and soaking does not really help.
    Phytates will block minerals from entering your body and Phytates will block enzymes needed for digestion. So when you eat that good healthy food after eating cashews for a few days you might think you are allergic to it but its just you cant digest it because of all the phytates the other day. Whenever you block digestion from Nuts beans or coffee and tea, or drugs you will start to get leaky gut then hell starts with inflammation everywhere. I see so many people with crohns go on a “healthy diet” of brown rice oatmeal and all the whole grains only to get worse, Then they go back on junk food and they get better. There is almost no phytates in junk that’s why they seem to feel better because they are digesting it.

    1. Hi Mike,
      Thanks for your comment. Traditionally nuts, seeds and grains have been soaked, dried and partially sprouted to increase digestibility and the potency of various nutrients they contain. The soaking process deactivates digestive enzyme inhibitors and decreases phytate content. Phytates bind to minerals, typically calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc leaving them unavailable for absorption and when too much phytate is consumed, the intestinal lumen can become inflamed leading or contributing to leaky gut. You are correct that cashews cannot be sprouted. In order to release them from their toxic shells, cashews have actually been roasted twice before going to market, even when labeled as “raw.” It’s this process that deactivates the “live” enzymes. Soaking them however, may decrease the phytate content and many people find soaked and dried “raw” cashews much easier to digest. To soak, add 1 tablespoon of salt to enough filtered water to cover 4 cups of cashews. Do not soak longer than 6 hours. Unless you’re using them in a recipe right away, dry them in a food dehydrator or a 200 to 250 degree Fahrenheit oven for 12 to 24 hours until dry and crisp.

  8. Thank you for this post. I really needed to hear / read this. I am reacting to so many foods these days…especially after having to take strong antibiotics to get rid of a parasite. You can not imagine how unbelieveably sick I was. It’s pretty scary when you feel like you are literally dying a slow death and doctors just scratch their heads after doing a bunch of tests then saying sorry we can’t find anything wrong with you. I feel so depressed that I can’t eat many foods right now. The only grain I eat is white rice. I feel like I deteriorate unless I eat some type of starch. I usually just eat white rice once a day. This is my first visit to your blog. Looking forward to reading more about your story and healing journey. Right now, I can’t even work because my dizziness, foggy head and nausea get so bad. I think I have to do an elimination diet. So not looking forward to that…so exhausting having to stay organized and think about food and cooking. However, I am willing to do whatever it takes to feel awesome again. I understand what you mean when you said you cried about having to give up foods. I feel like that about chocolate. Anyway, thanks for your blog and sharing your experiences in an honest and open way. So many paleo blogs but I just can’t relate to the written content like I can with your blog. Looking forward to exploring more later today. : )

    1. Healingjourneygirl,

      I am so sorry to hear of all you’re going through. It’s so unfair, exhausting, demoralizing, and depressing when our bodies give out on us. I went through this for years, fighting to have energy, fighting to try to put the right foods in me, and then still having some of them make me sick. You know your body better than anyone, so you just keep listening to it and trying what you can to support your health through this difficult and frustrating time. It’s okay to grieve the loss of “normal” eating, to wonder if your life will ever feel good and healthy again. I think I spent the better part of five years doing that, day in and day out. There is hope, however. I am currently healthier than I’ve ever been in my life, just from sticking with my Paleo journey for the last 5+ years. It’s hit and miss, and some days you won’t have the energy to care, but others you will. There are no right or wrong answers—just you knowing what your body needs, and doing what you can to get there. I hope that you have or can find a good support network, with people around you. Online sources are great too, and I think you’ll find that here at Paleo Plan we are all about helping people through their health journeys, however that looks. If you just need someone to talk to, or troubleshoot ideas with, please send me an email at Chronic health problems are isolating, but with all of the great resources available today, there’s no need to feel alone through the process. I wish you all the best in your recovery and healing!

      Aimee McNew, MNT

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