Health Benefits of Brazil Nuts

You’ve probably seen them in bowls of mixed nuts at holiday parties. They’re large and oblong, and they stand out from the almonds, peanuts, and pecans. When you crack open their tough, triangular shells, they’re known to have a smooth texture and a light, almost buttery taste.

These unusual-looking nuts are Brazil nuts and they come from the Bertholletia excelsa tree, which grows in the Amazon rainforest. The trees produce fairly large, hard-shelled fruits that resemble coconuts, which contain anywhere from 10 to 24 edible seeds.

While humans have likely been eating Brazil nuts since the Paleolithic era, their first mention in Western sources wasn’t until the 1500s. A Spanish explorer was introduced to them in 1569, and the Dutch brought them to Europe in the 1600s. They didn’t arrive in the United States until the 1800s.

Brazil nuts are still far from the most popular nut in the U.S., but they’re gaining traction, especially among those following keto and vegan diets. Not only that, but research is showing that they may provide significant health benefits.

Health Benefits

Brazil nuts are high in selenium, which is a trace mineral vital for proper body function.

Selenium ensures a healthy thyroid and helps to keep your immune system functioning at its best. Higher levels of selenium can help strengthen your immune system and improve your outcomes with various health conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, infections, and infertility. Eating just two Brazil nuts a day can help to maintain or increase your selenium intake as effectively as a supplement.

Other health benefits of Brazil nuts include:

Thyroid health

Selenium is necessary for healthy thyroid function. Getting enough selenium in your diet can help to reduce your risk of Hashimoto’s disease, Graves' disease, and thyroid cancer.

Reduced Risk of Heart Disease

Brazil nuts contain high levels of monounsaturated fats, which are healthy fats. Incorporating monounsaturated fat into your diet can help to improve your cholesterol levels, which can reduce your risk of heart disease. The dietary fiber in Brazil nuts can also help to lower blood cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

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Diabetes Management

Some studies show that the selenium in Brazil nuts can help to lower insulin levels and boost insulin sensitivity, improving blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

Inflammation Relief

Brazil nuts have several antioxidants, including vitamin E and phenols. Antioxidants can help to fight free radicals, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in your body. Lowering inflammation can help to reduce your risk of various health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

Bone Health

Brazil nuts have calcium and magnesium, both of which are necessary for bone health. A 1-ounce serving of Brazil nuts has about 25% to 33% of your recommended daily dose of magnesium, which plays an important role in bone density. More magnesium can lead to higher bone density.

Brain Health

Low levels of selenium are linked to neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. The antioxidants in Brazil nuts, including selenium, can help to boost your brain health. Some research also shows that increasing your selenium intake can help to improve your mood.

Nutrition

A 1-ounce serving of Brazil nuts has nearly 1,000% of your recommended daily allowance of selenium. A single nut has 96 micrograms, much higher than many other types of nuts. Other nutrients in Brazil nuts include:

Nutrients Per Serving

A 1-ounce serving of dried Brazil nuts contains:

  • Calories: 186
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Fat: 19 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 3 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Sugar: 1 gram

Things to Watch Out For

When it comes to Brazil nuts, less is more. They’re high in calories and fat, which may lead to unwanted weight gain if you eat too many.

Eating too many Brazil nuts may also lead to selenium toxicity. Signs of selenium toxicity include:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Dizziness
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Joint pain
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness

In more severe cases, it may cause:

  • Kidney failure
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure

How to Prepare Brazil Nuts

You can typically find Brazil nuts in grocery stores, either shelled or unshelled. Store them in a cool, dry place for up to a month. To keep them longer, place them in a resealable bag or container and put them in the refrigerator or freezer.

You can eat Brazil nuts plain or with other nuts as a healthy, energy-boosting snack. They have a smooth texture and delicate flavor that is delicious as is. You can also prepare them in a variety of other ways, such as:

  • Roasting them, either alone or with other nuts.
  • Sprinkling them raw on a salad.
  • Using them instead of pine nuts in a pesto.
  • Grinding them up and mixing them into a cake batter.
  • Making raw and vegan energy balls.
  • Roughly chopping them and adding them to cookie dough.
  • Adding them to rice or vegetable dishes for extra crunch.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 02, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Business Wire: “Brazil Nuts Market 2019-2023.”

The Proceedings of Nutrition Society: “The Argument for Increasing Selenium Intake.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Brazil Nuts: An Effective Way to Improve Selenium Status.”

Polski Merkuriusz Lekarski: “Significance of Selenium in Thyroid Physiology and Pathology.”

Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism: “A Single Consumption of High Amounts of Brazil Nuts Improves Lipid Profile of Healthy Volunteers.”

Hormone and Metabolic Research: “Selenium Supplementation Affects Insulin Resistance and Serum HS-CRP in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes and Coronary Heart Disease.”

National Institutes of Health: “Magnesium: Fact Sheet for Professionals.”

European Journal of Nutrition: “Effects of Brazil Nut Consumption on Selenium Status and Cognitive Performance in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairments: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial.”

Nutritional Neuroscience: “Selenium Intake, Mood and Other Aspects of Psychological Functioning.”

LWT-Food Science and Technology: “Brazil Nuts and Associated Health Benefits-A Review.”

National Institutes of Health: “Selenium: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.”

Economic Botany: “‘Made in Brazil’: Human Dispersal of the Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa, Lecythidaceae) in Ancient Amazonia.”

Rosengarten, F. The Book of Edible Nuts, Dover Publications, 1984.

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