Brazil Nuts: Too Much Of A Good Thing?
Updated: Nov 22
When it comes to superfoods, Brazil nuts stand out with its powerhouse of nutrients. They’re large, rich, and creamy that are not only tasty, but are known for their potential health benefits. However, like any good thing, moderation is key.
I’ve been consistently eating Brazil nuts daily for several months now, and it’s one of my favorite snacks to have in between meals, before exercise, and to add to salads. While I also like to add variation with pecans, walnuts, and almonds, Brazil nuts have become the dominant snack for me recently. It’s better than snacking on chips and other processed foods, right?
After finishing my 1-pound jar of Brazilian nuts (not in one sitting) this week, I immediately added a reminder to buy more during my next shopping trip. After adding them to my shopping list, I decided to look up the potential health benefits again. Except this time around, I came across the potential for selenium toxicity associated with consuming too many Brazilian nuts. This created concern and curiosity as to whether I was consuming toxic levels of my favorite snack.
In this weeks Google research hole, I dive into the world of Brazil nuts. I’ll go over where they come from, health benefits, the potential risks of consuming too many, and key takeaways for safe consumption.
Where Do Brazil Nuts Come From?
Brazilian nuts, scientifically known as Bertholletia excelsa, come from the Amazon rainforest, and are the seeds of a massive tree that can reach heights of 50 meters. They make large fruit capsules that resemble coconuts, and inside the capsules are the seeds. Each capsule contains about 14 to 20 seeds.
Harvesting the Brazilian nuts is a unique process that’s like a teamwork job with nature. The fruit capsules fall to the forest floor and open by themselves. Local harvesters, known as castañeros, identify and gather the fallen capsules, and extract the seeds.
To keep the forest healthy long-term, harvesting is often done sustainably. Castañeros don’t harm the trees, and work with nature to let the seeds spread on their own. The reliance on natural processes and the involvement of local communities in the harvest help with the conservation of the Amazon rainforest.
Potential Health Benefits:
My introduction to Brazil nuts came from articles touting them as the healthiest nuts that you can buy. While they’re more expensive than most options, I was willing to reap the rewards of the potential health benefits they provided.
Rich in Selenium: Selenium is one of the standout nutrients in Brazil nuts and is a powerful antioxidant. Selenium can help play a role in the body’s defense against oxidative stress and support the immune system. It also supports thyroid function. Since selenium isn’t produced in the body, Brazil nuts is an easy way to get your daily recommended amount. However, it’s easy to get too much, which I will dive deeper below.
Heart Healthy: These nuts are packed with heart healthy nutrients such as unsaturated fats which can help lower bad cholesterol levels. The fiber content they contain can also help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Essential Minerals: Beyond selenium, these nuts contain magnesium, phosphorus, and copper. These minerals play a crucial role in muscle function and bone health.
Lower Cancer Risk: There are studies that show consuming just 1 Brazil nut a day could reduce your risk for certain types of cancers such as colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer. The rich source of selenium is what’s linked to the potential anti-cancer properties.
The Selenium Conundrum
While Brazil nuts offer many potential health benefits, they can come with a cautionary note: selenium toxicity. Selenium is an essential mineral, but like many things in life, too much of it can be harmful, something I only stumbled on recently.
The recommended daily intake of selenium for adults is around 55mcg, and Brazil nuts are known for containing high levels of this mineral. Consuming just one or two nuts can provide more than the daily recommended amount.
Up to this point, I had been consuming Brazil nuts daily. I added them to my salads and would often eat them throughout the day and before exercise. After recently finishing my last Brazil nut from my jar, I randomly decided to investigate the health benefits again. Except this time around, I stumbled upon the potential side effects of consuming too many and started to question if I was consuming toxic levels of selenium.
According to National Institutes of Health, 400 mcg of Selenium is the upper daily limit. This would mean roughly 4 – 5 Brazil nuts could easily get you to the upper limit. Prior to this realization, I was eating around 10+ nuts a day.
According to the International Joint Commission, excessive selenium intake can lead to selenosis. Some of the symptoms involved with this condition include hair loss, nausea, and even more severe effects like nerve damage.
The hair loss symptom stood out for me the most. Ironically, after my recent post, “My 90-Day Collagen Experiment” I mentioned I noticed less hair fall out on my pillow. However, a couple weeks after this post, I was on a Facetime call with my fiancé, and was looking at myself, and thinking “Wow, my hair is looking thin!” After learning about selenium toxicity, I was wondering if this was causing hair loss, but I can’t say for certain.
Verdict: Will I Continue Eating Brazil Nuts?
Yes! Only now, I’m more mindful as to how many I’m consuming daily. I’ll be treating them as an occasional snack versus a daily staple. If you look at any list of the top healthiest nuts you can eat, Brazil nuts are usually at the top due to its selenium content. I would like to continue to reap the benefits!
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on this topic and seek the general consensus from other experts when looking at adding anything new to my daily routine. I enjoy researching and trying new things to see how my body reacts and making any notes of my findings. It's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before making significant changes to your diet or incorporating large amounts of specific foods, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medications.
What are some of your favorite nuts you like to eat every day? Do you like to add variation? Comment below!