Brazil Nuts: The Top Selenium Food that Fights Inflammation

Brazil nuts - Dr. Axe

We know selenium benefits are enormous, but it’s often hard to get selenium in your everyday diet. So if you’re struggling to get this healthy compound, I’ve got the food just for you: Brazil nuts.

Brazil nuts are the No. 1 food source on the planet for this chemical element. Enjoying just one to two Brazil nuts per day can be all you need — and even work better than a supplement — to maintain a healthy level of selenium in your body. (1) Selenium is crucial to many bodily functions from mood to inflammation.

Though commonly called nuts, Brazil nuts are actually seeds from the Brazil nut tree, one of the largest trees growing upward of 200 feet found in the Amazon. These trees are so incredibly large that just one can produce a whopping 250 pounds of nuts in a year. (2) The nut itself resembles a coconut and can reach up to five pounds, holding 12–20 seeds in orange-like segments that are then split during harvesting.

The Brazilian nut is one of the most important non-timber products from the Amazon and amounts to a worldwide $50 million industry. These nuts are heavily protected and cherished for their delicious flavor and high nutritional content, as well as the oil extracted from them for beauty products and more. Brazil nuts are commonly eaten raw or blanched and are high in protein, fiber, selenium, thiamine, copper and magnesium — and in addition to being the best selenium food source in the world, they provide numerous benefits for our health.


5 Amazing Health Benefits of Brazil Nuts

1. Anti-Inflammatory

Brazil nuts are great for inflammatory issues in the body because they’re tremendous anti-inflammatory foods. Brazil nuts, as do most nuts, contain ellagic acid. Why is this important? Ellagic acid has high anti-inflammatory properties in the body and can even be neuroprotective. (3) 

Another important anti-inflammatory agent in Brazil nuts is selenium, which is hugely important when combating inflammation in the body. Selenium takes part in antioxidant activity that defends against both free radical damage and inflammation. A 2012 study found that just one Brazil nut per day is able to improve anti-inflammatory and antioxidant responses in the body. In the study, 45 patients received one nut a day for three months. After three months of eating on Brazil nut per day, not only did the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant responses improve, but cholesterol levels improved as well. (4)

2. Anticancer

Brazil nuts are also on the list of cancer-fighting foods, again due to their high ellagic acid and selenium levels. Ellagic acid is also antimutagenic and anticancer. (5

Meanwhile, selenium, an essential biological trace element, has been shown to reduce and prevent the incidence of cancer. A five-year, randomized nutritional intervention study took place in China where esophageal cancer rates are extremely high and selenium intake is low. The results, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found highly significant inverse associations of serum selenium levels with the incidence of esophageal cancer. (6)

Many health professionals believe and some studies have shown a possible link between having toxic levels of mercury in the body and cancer incidence. Some animal studies show that the selenium can help reduce toxic mercury levels, which can further help fight cancer. (7

3. Mood Lifter

As mentioned, the No. 1 food source on the planet for selenium is brazil nuts. Selenium has been scientifically proven to lift mood and prevent depression. One study conducted by the Swansea University Department of Psychology in Wales and published in Biological Psychiatry examined selenium’s effects on depression, anxiety and mood. This double-blind study examined 50 volunteers who were given a placebo or 100 micrograms of selenium on a daily basis, and three times throughout the five weeks they filled out a “Profile of Moods Stats” questionnaire. 

Results showed that the lower the level of selenium in the diet, the more reports of anxiety, depression and tiredness, all of which were decreased following five weeks of selenium therapy. (8)

When it comes to a good mood, serotonin is a key player. Not only does this feel-good brain chemical help regulate mood, but it can also have positive effects on your sleep and appetite. Researchers from the University of Barcelona found that people had higher levels of serotonin metabolites after nut consumption, which included brazil nuts, almonds and walnuts. (9)

All of this points to Brazil nuts making an excellent addition to any depression diet treatment plan to help improve mood and well-being.

 

All about Brazil nuts - Dr. Axe

 

4. Heart Health Booster

In small amounts, Brazil nuts can provide a healthy boost to one of your most important organs — your heart. The selenium, potassium, calcium and magnesium present in these nuts are all helpful for maintaining a healthy blood pressure, which has a direct positive effect on heart health. (10)

Brazil nuts are naturally high in fat, but most of that fat is the health-boosting unsaturated kind. The unsaturated fats in Brazil nuts can increase your HDL cholesterol levels (good cholesterol). A healthy level of HDL cholesterol can protect against heart attack and stroke, while low levels of HDL cholesterol have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. (11)

5. Thyroid Control

Your thyroid helps control your metabolism, heart rate and body temperature. The thyroid gland has more selenium content per gram of tissue than any other organ in your body. Selenium is a key component of the molecules that are necessary for your body to be able to create and use thyroid hormones. The selenium in Brazil nuts can help to keep your thyroid in proper working order and in overall good health .

Research now shows, through numerous studies, that there is a link between thyroid metabolism and selenium deficiency. Selenium acts as a catalyst for the production of active thyroid hormones. (12) A 2015 Brazilian study found that people with reduced levels of the thyroid hormone T3 were able to increase their selenium levels via Brazil nut supplementation, which was associated with improvement in thyroid hormone levels in the patients with reduced T3 levels. (13

Overall, selenium from Brazil nuts acts as a powerful protector of the thyroid and regulates the production of reactive oxygen within the gland, and it protects the body from antibodies that can create thyroid disease. (14) Thus, the Brazil nut can act as a natural remedy for thyroid health, thanks mostly to its selenium content.


Brazil Nut Nutrition Facts

The Brazil nut, also called the Bertholletia excelsa, actually comes from the Brazil nut tree. It’s known in Brazil as the pará tree. The tree is in the Lecythidaceae family. This family of trees falls in the Ericales order, which also includes tea, blueberry, persimmon and azalea.

Brazil nuts nutrition is quite impressive. A one-ounce (six kernels) serving of dried, unblanched brazil nuts contains about: (15)

  • 185 calories
  • 3.5 grams carbohydrates
  • 4 grams protein
  • 18.8 grams fat
  • 2.1 grams fiber
  • 542 micrograms selenium (774 percent DV)
  • 106 milligrams magnesium (27 percent DV)
  • 0.5 milligram copper (25 percent DV)
  • 205 milligrams phosphorus (20 percent DV)
  • 0.3 milligram manganese (17 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligram thiamine (12 percent DV)
  • 1.6 milligrams vitamin E (8 percent DV)
  • 1.1 milligrams zinc (8 percent DV)
  • 45.2 milligrams calcium (5 percent DV)
  • 186 milligrams potassium (5 percent DV)
  • 0.7 milligram iron (4 percent DV)

When it comes to eating brazil nuts by themselves as a snack, one to six per day is a typical recommended amount with one to two being sufficient and safest. You don’t want to overdo it with Brazil nuts due to their high selenium content.


Brazil Nuts History & Interesting Facts

Brazil nuts are truly a wonderful superfood. They’re harvested in the wild and exclusively in the wet season of the rain forest. Some areas in Brazil, however, due to high demand, have started to build Brazil nut plantations. It’s actually illegal in Brazil to cut down a Brazil nut tree so you can even find them along roads and in backyards across South America growing wild. These massive trees tower in your backyard for a while too — they can live between 500 to 800 years!

The oil of the nut is also a popular product for many people. Brazil nut oil is an excellent natural skin moisturizer for your whole body, making it a perfect natural skin care ingredient. It contains many of the powerful mineral and vitamin components as the seed itself and is great at healing dry or damaged skin. Brazil nut oil is used traditionally in dressings for salads and marinades in South America as well.


How to Use Brazil Nuts

It’s best to eat Brazil nuts raw or blanched, although they can be roasted and salted like most nuts. Brazil nuts can also be sweetened and crushed for dessert toppings or even made into puddings, dips and cheeses.

Brazil nut milk is a highly nutritious and tasty alternative to almond, soy or regular dairy milk. However, it should only be used in small amounts or on occasion so you don’t overdo it in the selenium department.

You can buy Brazil nuts in the shell or without. Look for Brazil nuts that are stored in airtight containers, whole and brown and heavy in the hand. Don’t pick any that are shriveled or in pieces, as they could be already spoiled or contaminated with mold. 

Brazil nuts have a propensity to spoil quickly so buy them in reasonable amounts. It’s best to store Brazil nuts airtight in a cool, dark, dry place without exposure to humidity or sunlight.  If you purchase the nut in a shell, it’s best to de-shell them and store them so they don’t rot inside the shell. You can also store whole Brazil nuts in an airtight bag in the refrigerator, where they can last for a few months.

 

Brazil nuts nutrition - Dr. Axe

 


Brazil Nut Recipes

Brazil nuts are delicious on their own, but they can also be used in all kinds of recipes. You can also usethem to make a homemade dairy-free milk. Brazil nut milk is actually fairly easy to make and is very creamy and nutritious.

Easy Brazil Nut Milk Recipe

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups Brazil nuts
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2–3 pitted, raw Medjool dates or ½ tablespoon maple syrup to sweeten (optional)
  • 2–3 tablespoons of cinnamon or cacao for additional flavor (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Soak the Brazil nuts along with the vanilla bean in water for 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Discard the soaking water and rinse off the Brazil nuts and vanilla bean.
  3. Place Brazil nuts and vanilla bean in blender with 4 cups of fresh, filtered water and blend until smooth. If you opt for sweetener and/or flavoring, place those ingredients in along with nuts as well.
  4. Place the blended mixture in a nut milk bag and strain into a glass jar.
  5. Keep stored in an airtight jar in refrigerator.

You can save the nut pulp for another use like making cookies, crackers or even hummus. The name doesn’t sound that appetizing, but this recipe is sure to be tasty and loaded with nutrients as well: Raw Nut Pulp Hummus.

More unique and scrumptious options for incorporating Brazil nuts into your diet include:


Brazil Nuts Potential Side Effects & Caution

You can potentially overdose on Brazil nuts and reach a point where you have selenium toxicity. Symptoms can include diarrhea, a metallic taste in the mouth, nausea, brittle nails, hair loss, coughing and more. This could happen if you overeat Brazil nuts in one sitting or repeatedly overeat the daily suggested amount of one to six nuts per day (depending on your selenium needs). 

The fairly high amount of polyunsaturated fats in Brazil nuts can cause the nut to go bad fast. It’s important not to eat rancid Brazil nuts. To help fend off spoilage, buy them in small batches and/or store them in the refrigerator. 

People with nut allergies should take caution. Although it’s technically a seed, the profile of this food is similar to other nuts, and one might find adverse allergic reactions like vomiting and swelling. If you experience allergic symptoms to other foods in the Anacardiaceae family, like pistachios, mangoes or cashew nuts, take caution in consuming Brazil nuts. 


Final Thoughts on Brazil Nuts

  • Brazil nuts are the No. 1 food source on the planet for selenium, which fights inflammation and more.
  • Though commonly called nuts, Brazil nuts are actually seeds from the Brazil nut tree, one of the largest trees growing upward of 200 feet found in the Amazon. The Brazil nut s one of the most important non-timber products from the Amazon and amounts to a worldwide $50 million industry.
  • Brazil nuts have been shown to fight inflammation, combat cancer, positively affect mood, improve heart health and control thyroid health.
  • It’s important not to overdo it with these nuts, since the high selenium content can be detrimental if you overload your body with it. Brazil nuts also spoil quickly, so make sure to purchase them in reasonable amounts.

Read Next: Selenium Benefits, Signs of Deficiency, & Foods

Josh Axe

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