Jun 10, 2023

Brazil Nuts Nutrition: Benefits of the Selenium

Brazil nuts may not be a staple in your pantry, but eating just a few a day serves up big benefits.

This tropical nut hails from the Amazon River area, where the selenium content of the soil is quite high. Because of this, just two Brazil nuts provide more than double the daily dose of selenium, a trace mineral that plays a role in thyroid function, DNA synthesis, and anti-inflammatory processes.

What’s more, Brazil nuts have protein, healthy fats, fiber and plenty of other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. In other words, you may want to start adding Brazil nuts to your morning oatmeal or afternoon salad.

Learn the nutrition facts and health benefits of Brazil nuts and delicious ways to include them in your diet.

A serving (about 2 nuts) of Brazil nuts has:

Eating Brazil nuts may prevent the development of chronic health issues, such as cognitive decline, hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol.

The large nuts get most of their benefits from their selenium and healthy fat content. Foods obtain selenium, a trace mineral, through the soil. Because of where they are grown, Brazil nuts are especially high in this mineral. According to a review on the health benefits of Brazil nuts, they provide the highest source of selenium of any nut. Selenium is a key element in antioxidant defense systems and immune and thyroid function. A recent study found that increased selenium levels in the blood were linked to fewer incidences of cognitive impairment in older adults.

In addition, new research suggests that selenium supplementation may reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass in obese people. A second study in women with cardiometabolic risk concluded that eating a combination of Brazil and cashew nuts on an energy-restricted diet improved body composition and endothelial function.

Brazil nuts also play a positive role on the heart. A study in the European Journal of Nutrition found that supplementation with one Brazil nut a day for 8 weeks lowered total cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Other research suggests that the antioxidant capacity of the selenium in the nuts reduces the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, which may consequentially reduce cholesterol levels.

Lastly, Brazil nuts are most known for their influence on the thyroid. Selenium concentration is higher in the thyroid than any other organ in the body, and eating adequate amounts of this mineral is important for maintaining thyroid function. The thyroid secretes hormones that control metabolism. Research suggests that supplementation with selenium-rich Brazil nuts may improve thyroid function in those who have irregular hormone levels.

Although selenium serves many purposes in the body, eating too much of it can be dangerous. It’s recommended that most adults consume 55 mcg of selenium daily, but taking in more than 400 mcg per day could be toxic. Brazil nuts have about 95 mcg of selenium per nut, which is why the daily recommended serving is two nuts.

Selenium toxicity is accompanied by hair and nail loss, as well as nausea, diarrhea, skin rashes, fatigue, irritability and nervous system issues.

There is some evidence that selenium may be a useful tool in helping you get a good night’s rest. Past research on this topic was inconsistent, but a 2023 study of over 17,000 people recorded a positive correlation between selenium intake and optimal sleep duration. However, the authors state that the results are exclusive to the overweight participants. The researchers aren’t sure what caused these results, and they suggest more research is needed.

Brazil nuts are actually a large seed of the Brazil nut tree. Unlike nuts that grow individually, the seeds of the Brazil nut tree grow in a pod that resembles a coconut. About 20 seeds reside in each hard-shelled pod. The seeds are removed from the pod and dried, and the result is the Brazil nut you see in stores.

Brazil nuts are not featured in many recipes, but they should be. Below are some suggested ways to incorporate Brazil nuts into your diet:

Add a handful of Brazil nuts to this Easy Homemade Granola recipe.

Swap out the pecans for Brazil nuts in this Kale Caesar Salad with Quinoa and Pecans recipe.

Replace some of the nuts in a traditional praline with Brazil nuts.

Add Brazil nuts to this savory roasted snacking recipe.

Replace the nuts in this pesto with Brazil nuts.

Natalie Rizzo is a New York City-based dietitian, the founder of Greenletes and author of "Planted Performance."

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