What are Brazil nuts?
Brazil nuts are actually edible seeds from the Brazil nut tree, and they can be eaten raw or blanched. The nuts grow inside a round, coconut-like shell, in orange-like segments that, when split open, reveal about 12-20 Brazil nuts.
Nutritional benefits of Brazil nuts
A 28g serving (about six nuts) contains approximately:
- 186 calories
- 4.1g protein
- 2.1g fibre
- 19g fat
- 420mg selenium
- 112mg magnesium
- 198mg potassium
- 48mg calcium
- 1.22mg zinc
- 7.2mg iron
Brazil nuts have a high proportion of monounsaturated fat, which is a healthy fat. They also contain some protein and offer a good source of important nutrients, including magnesium, zinc, calcium and vitamin E.
Most renowned for their high selenium content, Brazil nuts are actually the richest known food source of this vital nutrient. Selenium is an essential mineral and antioxidant that is required daily to support a healthy immune system. In fact, a single Brazil nut can contain 68-91mcg of selenium, easily meeting the recommended daily allowance of between 60-75mcg.
What are the 5 main health benefits of Brazil nuts?
1. Good for the brain
Brazil nuts contain a polyphenol known as ellagic acid which has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may offer neuroprotective and anti-depressant effects on the brain. Further research has shown that selenium is involved in supporting key brain signalling pathways such as GABA and dopamine signalling within the central nervous system, which is of particular importance in conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Discover the 10 foods to eat to boost your brainpower.
2. May support healthy cholesterol levels
Thanks to their heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acid profile, high fibre and mineral rich content, Brazil nuts have been shown to reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels (known as ‘bad cholesterol’). In fact, just one serving of Brazil nuts is sufficient enough to improve lipid profiles in healthy adults.
Read more about how diet affects cholesterol.
3. Good for thyroid health
Selenium is a key nutrient required to support healthy thyroid function, with studies showing that Brazil nut consumption could improve thyroid hormone levels in those who were deficient. While little research has been done to look at the direct effect of Brazil nuts on specific thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease, some evidence has shown improvements in mood and immune function following selenium supplementation.
4. Strong anti-inflammatory properties
Inflammation in the body can lead to increased free radical activity. Brazil nuts are abundant in antioxidants which help to protect cells from the oxidative damage caused by these free radicals. As well as this, selenium increases levels of glutathione peroxidase, an enzyme which helps to reduce inflammation and protect the body from oxidative damage.
5. May support mood balance
Low selenium levels have been linked with several mood-related disorders including anxiety and depression. One study demonstrated that these symptoms decreased after just five weeks of taking 100mcg selenium a day (which would be the equivalent of about 1- 1.5 Brazil nuts).
Are Brazil nuts safe for everyone to eat?
On the whole, Brazil nuts are safe for everyone to eat. If you eat too many, or consume them in addition to selenium supplements, you could ingest too much selenium. This may result in selenosis which can cause symptoms such as hair loss and brittle nails in some individuals. In most cases, consuming 350mcg of selenium or less per day is unlikely to cause an issue, however it is always advisable to speak to your GP or dietician before making any major dietary changes.
Brazil nut recipes
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This article was reviewed on 4 August 2020.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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