Health Benefits of Brazil Nuts

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on December 20, 2023
6 min read

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.

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:

  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin E
  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorous
  • Zinc

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

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.

Diabetes management

Some studies show that the selenium in Brazil nuts can help 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.

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 many Brazil nuts are safe to eat a day?

Just one Brazil nut contains 96 micrograms of selenium, almost twice your daily requirement.

Doctors advise eating no more than five Brazil nuts a day to avoid potential health risks like selenium toxicity. This condition is linked to breathing problems, heart issues, and kidney failure.

If you're already taking a selenium supplement, avoid Brazil nuts to make sure you don't get too much selenium.

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.

Like Brazil nuts, almonds are a tree nut. Eighty percent of the world's supply of almonds are grown in California. Almonds are sweeter and crunchier than Brazil nuts.

Nutrients per serving

A 1-ounce serving of dried almonds contains:

  • Calories: 164
  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Fat: 14 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 6 grams
  • Fiber: 3.5 grams
  • Sugar: 1.25 grams

Compared to an equal serving of Brazil nuts, almonds offer a little more protein and fiber while being lower in calories. Like Brazil nuts, almonds are a good source of antioxidants like vitamin E.

Almonds are also a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the healthy fats that can help raise your "good" cholesterol. Brazil nuts tend to be higher in saturated fats, which can raise "bad" cholesterol levels if you eat too many.

Unlike Brazil nuts, almonds are not a substantial source of selenium. For this reason, you can eat more than one or two at a time, making them a good snack option as long as you watch your portion size. Aim for a serving size of a handful of almonds, and pick unsalted or unflavored options if you want the most nutritional benefit.

In most grocery stores, almonds are more affordable than Brazil nuts.

Macadamia nuts are also a tree nut. Despite being native to Australia, Hawaii is one of the main producers of macadamia nuts. Macadamia nuts have a rich, buttery flavor, making them popular in desserts.

Nutrients per serving

A 1-ounce serving of dried macadamia nuts contains:

  • Calories: 204
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fat: 21.5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 4 grams
  • Fiber: 2.5 grams
  • Sugar: 1.3 grams

Macadamia nuts have a total fat content of 76%, a percentage that's higher than almost any other nut, including Brazil nuts. But most of this fat is monounsaturated, which can help lower "bad cholesterol." Despite this, you should still watch your portions when you eat them. A serving is about 12 nuts, or a small handful.

Additionally, macadamia nuts have high levels of manganese and copper. Brazil nuts are also a good source of copper.

Because they take so long to harvest, macadamia nuts are one of the most expensive nuts available for purchase. 

  • Do I need to soak Brazil nuts?

No, Brazil nuts can be eaten raw. While some people believe that soaking Brazil nuts in water can make the nut more nutritious, there is little scientific evidence to back this. 

Soaking Brazil nuts in salted water may lower the nut's nutritional benefit. The water may leach vitamins and minerals from the nuts and could increase the amount of sodium in them.