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5 health benefits of Brazil nuts

Nutritional therapist Nicola Shubrook explains why Brazil nuts are good for you, and the key nutrients they provide. She discusses their top benefits and whether it’s possible to eat too many.

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.

Discover our full range of health benefit guides and find out more about the health benefits of nuts. Also check out some of our delicious Brazil nut recipes, from burritos to banana bread.

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.

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.

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.

Nutritional therapist Nicola Shubrook explains why Brazil nuts are good for you, and the key nutrients they provide. She discusses their top benefits and whether it’s possible to eat too many.

Brazil nut

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Brazil nut, (Bertholletia excelsa), also called Pará nut, edible seed of a large South American tree (family Lecythidaceae) found in the Amazonian forests of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. The Brazil nut is particularly well known in the Brazilian state of Pará, where it is called castanha-do-pará (Pará nut) and is grown as one of the major commercially traded nuts in the world. Brazil nuts are commonly eaten raw or blanched and are high in protein, dietary fibre, thiamin, selenium, copper, and magnesium. The oil is often used in shampoos, soaps, hair conditioners, and skin-care products.

The Brazil nut tree grows wild in stands in the Amazon River basin. It will often tower over its neighbours, reaching heights of 49 metres (160 feet) or more, with its crown spreading over 30 metres (100 feet) in diameter. The buttressed trunk is usually less than 2 metres (6.6 feet) across, but 3-metre (10-foot) specimens have been observed. The trees bear ovate leaves with smooth margins and produce unusual, white to cream-coloured flowers with bilateral symmetry.

The hard-walled fruits are spherical pods, 8–18 cm (3–7 inches) in diameter, that resemble large coconuts hanging at the ends of the tree’s thick branches. A typical 15-cm (6-inch) pod can weigh up to 2.3 kg (5 pounds) and contains 12–24 nuts, or seeds, that are arranged like the sections of an orange. A mature tree will produce more than 300 pods, which ripen and fall to the ground from January to June. The pods are harvested from the forest floor, and the seeds are taken out, dried in the sun, and then washed and exported while still in their shells. The brown shell is very hard and has three sides.

Brazil nuts are some of the most valuable non-timber products in the Amazon but are extremely sensitive to deforestation, because of their complex ecological requirements. The trees produce fruit only in undisturbed habitats and cannot be cultivated in pure stands. They require large native bees for the pollination of their semi-enclosed flowers and rely solely on agoutis (medium-sized rodents) for the dispersal of their seeds. Brazil nuts are primarily harvested in the wild by local people. Many forest-based communities depend on the collection and sale of Brazil nuts as a vital and sustainable source of income, and the sweet nuts provide protein and calories for tribal, rural, and even urban Brazilians. Native Amazonians use the empty pods as containers and brew the bark to treat liver ailments.

Brazil nuts are related to a number of other tropical trees valued for their fruits and nuts, including the cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis), the anchovy pear (Grias cauliflora), and the monkey pot (Lecythis species).

This article was most recently revised and updated by Melissa Petruzzello, Assistant Editor.

Brazil nut, (Bertholletia excelsa), edible seed of a large South American tree (family Lecythidaceae) found in the Amazonian forests of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. The Brazil nut is particularly well known in the Brazilian state of Pará, where it is called castanha-do-pará (Pará nut) and