Selenium is a trace mineral, meaning your body only needs a small amount. However, these low levels bring powerful health benefits. Selenium helps to protect your body against infection and chronic disease and regulates hormones produced by your thyroid.
This mineral is found in a wide range of foods, including everyday staples like meat, eggs, and bread. Because selenium comes from the Earth, its content can slightly vary based on where a food source (or animal feed) is grown, and the quality of that soil. It’s also available as a supplement, yet, most diets include selenium making it easy to get.
Why You Need Selenium
As an essential mineral, getting your daily selenium requirement from dietary sources is important. On average, you should consume 55 micrograms a day to avoid a deficiency, which can reduce your body’s immunity against disease and may affect fertility.
While we only need trace amounts, selenium plays a vital role in:
Reduced Risk of Chronic Disease
Selenium is a potent antioxidant. It works to prevent cell damage in your body caused by factors such as aging, lifestyle choices, and environmental conditions like pollution. Over time, this cell damage — or oxidative stress — is linked to cancer, heart disease, and cognitive decline.
Your thyroid is a small gland that produces hormones to regulate your body’s metabolic processes. When it’s not performing correctly — such as an underactive thyroid — people may experience fatigue, weight gain, depression, and muscle aches. Over time, thyroid risks can contribute to chronic diseases.
Selenium is involved with maintaining healthy thyroid function. Research shows, however, that too much can also negatively affect your thyroid. Unless advised by your doctor, get selenium from food-based sources instead of a supplement to avoid consuming too much.
Research shows selenium’s antioxidant activity fights cell damage that may contribute to neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis. Studies are ongoing to determine if selenium's effects could help prevent or treat cognitive decline, but scientists believe getting enough in your diet can help maintain healthy brain function.
Foods With Selenium
Selenium is found in many different kinds of food, so most people get an adequate amount in their diet. These eight foods are some of the most nutrient-rich sources of selenium:
1. Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts are the most potent source of selenium available. Just one nut contains 95 micrograms, almost twice your daily requirement. However, it’s important to moderate your portions to the recommended amounts. Doctors advise not consuming more than 400 micrograms of selenium a day to avoid potential health risks.
Most seafood contains high levels of selenium. Per a 3-ounce serving, yellowfin tuna and white fish like halibut have about 92 micrograms of the mineral, while tinned sardines contain 45 micrograms for the same portion.
Meat is an excellent source of a range of essential nutrients, including selenium. A sautéed chicken breast can have up to 35 micrograms of selenium with an extra 5 micrograms if you eat the skin. Lean varieties of beef can be a great choice as well. Serve up a 4-ounce portion of skirt steak to get 26 micrograms of selenium.
Pasta is an easy way to include selenium in most diets. One cup of cooked pasta contains 36 micrograms, while whole-grain varieties have as much as 50 micrograms.
Because most rice is gluten-free, it can be a good alternative for people with wheat allergies or Celiac disease. One cup of cooked white rice contains 9 micrograms of selenium, however, you can get about 15 micrograms from a cup of brown rice varieties.
One large egg can add about 28% of your daily selenium requirement. Most of this content is concentrated in the egg’s yolk. However, the egg whites have about 9 micrograms of selenium, which is a great option for people watching their cholesterol intake.
Whether having a bowl for breakfast, using it to thicken smoothies, or substituting flour in baked goods, oatmeal is an excellent selenium source. A cup of instant oatmeal contains 10 micrograms of selenium, while raw oats have up to 23 micrograms.
Baked beans — including vegetarian products — contain about 12 micrograms of selenium per cup. Beans are a great source of fiber as well, but canned beans contain high amounts of sodium. Moderate your portions to avoid health risks associated with a high-sodium diet.