We know selenium benefits are enormous, but it’s often hard to get it in your everyday diet. 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 better than a supplement — to maintain a healthy level of selenium in your body.
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 that grows 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 and live to be 500 to 800 years old.
Are you impressed yet? Let’s learn more about the potential health benefits of Brazil nuts.
The Brazil nut, also called Bertholletia excelsa, actually comes from the Brazil nut tree. It’s known in Brazil as the pará tree.
You now know that Brazil nuts’ selenium content is high, but do they contain any other valuable nutrients? Brazil nuts nutrition is quite extensive and impressive.
A one-ounce serving of dried, unblanched Brazil nuts (about 28.4 grams or six kernels) is roughly about six large kernels or eight medium kernels and contains approximately:
- Calories: 187
- Total Carbohydrates: 3.3 g
- Fiber: 2.1 g
- Sugar: 0.7 g
- Total Fat: 19 g
- Saturated Fat: 4.6 g
- Polyunsaturated Fat: 6.9 g
- Monounsaturated Fat: 6.8 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
- Protein: 4.1 g
- Sodium: 0.9 mg (0.04% DV*)
- Selenium: 544 mcg (989% DV)
- Copper: 0.5 mg (56% DV)
- Magnesium: 107 mg (25% DV)
- Thiamine: 0.2 mg (17% DV)
- Phosphorus: 206 mg (16% DV)
- Manganese: 0.3 mg (13% DV)
- Vitamin E: 1.6 mg (11% DV)
- Zinc: 1.2 mg (11% DV)
- Potassium: 187 mg (4% DV)
- Iron: 0.7 mg (4% DV)
- Calcium: 45.4 mg (3% DV)
*Daily Value: Percentages are based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day.
Brazil Nuts Benefits
Why is this important? Ellagic acid has high anti-inflammatory properties in the body and can even be neuroprotective.
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 2014 study revealed how just one Brazil nut per day for three months was able to lower inflammation in patients undergoing ongoing kidney dialysis. These patients typically struggle with excessive oxidative stress and inflammation.
Overall, the researchers found that “consumption of only one Brazil nut per day during 3 months was effective to reduce the inflammation, oxidative stress markers, and the atherogenic risk” of these patients.
Meanwhile, selenium, an essential biological trace element, has been shown to help 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.
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 may further help fight cancer.
3. Mood Lifter
As mentioned, the No. 1 food source on the planet for selenium is the Brazil nut. Selenium has been scientifically proven to help 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.
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.
All of this points to Brazil nuts making an excellent addition to any depression diet treatment plan to help improve mood and well-being.
4. Heart Health Booster
In small amounts, Brazil nuts can provide a healthy boost to one of your most important organs — your heart. The unsaturated fats, soluble fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients present in nuts are all helpful for maintaining a healthy blood pressure, which has a direct positive effect on heart health.
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.
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 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.
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.
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. Thus, the Brazil nut can act as a natural remedy for thyroid health, thanks mostly to its selenium content.
Risks and Side Effects
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.
Can eating too many Brazil nuts be harmful or even toxic?
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.
Selenium toxicity can occur 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).
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.
Seek emergency medical attention if you suspect you’re having a serious allergic reaction.
How to Eat
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. You can also buy them prepackaged or by the pound.
How many Brazil nuts are in a pound?
This number varies according to the size of the nuts, but a pound of Brazil nuts is around 128 medium-sized nuts.
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 nuts in shells, 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 are delicious on their own, but they can also be used in all kinds of recipes.
For instance, you can also use them 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
- 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)
- Soak the Brazil nuts along with the vanilla bean in water for 8 hours or overnight.
- Discard the soaking water, and rinse off the Brazil nuts and vanilla bean.
- 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 the nuts as well.
- Place the blended mixture in a nut milk bag, and strain into a glass jar.
- 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 are the No. 1 food source on the planet for selenium, which is a key nutrient for optimal health.
- Though commonly called nuts, Brazil nuts are actually seeds from the Brazil nut tree, one of the largest trees that grows upward of 200 feet and is found in the Amazon.
- Brazil nuts benefits are impressive. These nuts can help fight inflammation, combat cancer, positively affect mood, improve heart health and control thyroid health.
- It’s important not to overdo it with the Brazilian nut, since the high selenium content can be detrimental if you overload your body with it.
- Brazil nuts spoil quickly, so make sure to purchase them in reasonable amounts and store them in airtight containers.