Known as the richest source of selenium, Brazil nuts boast outstanding health benefits due to their high mineral and vitamin content. Even more, they contain more than generous amounts of Omega-6, essential fatty acids that ensure a healthy heart and a healthy liver. Research on the properties and health benefits of Brazil nuts suggests a low and slightly moderate consumption can have great positive effects on human health.
However, when it comes to Brazil nuts, there are some things you need to know before indulging in more nuts than you can handle. Most of the production of Brazil nuts comes from the Amazon rainforest. Brazil nut trees grow unhindered in the Amazon basin and can reach heights of over 50 meters. The Amazon rain forest is the largest producer of Brazil nuts in the world and, if you are not living in Bolivia, Peru or Brazil, chances are the Brazil nut you are holding right now may come from the heart of the Amazon.
Where do Brazil nuts come from and what do they look like? Interesting enough, although there are numerous Brazil nut plantations, producers gain more from the gathering of nuts coming from trees growing freely in the wild. Special workers are employed for this task and their job is to wander through the Amazon rain forest and gather the nuts. However, Brazil nuts are not like your regular walnuts or hazelnuts: several smaller nuts are enclosed in a gigantic, coconut-sized hard shell. If there is a strong wind, the huge ripened shells may fall and kill whomever they hit. Think about how it would feel to be hit in the head with a coconut flying with supersonic speed from a 600-700 year-old tree.
What do Brazil nuts taste like? Not everybody appreciates Brazil nuts. Some will say they taste good, nutty, fatty and rich. Some will say they are not that good tasting and have an off taste and/or smell, moldy or rancid. Indeed, because they are so high in fat, Brazil nuts will turn rancid faster than most other nut varieties, and the rancidity will show in their flavor profile and scent. Brazil nuts will go bad faster if they are shelled, so keeping them in their shell will help somewhat extent their shelf life, or at least not shorten it.
Brazil nuts are however highly nutritious. First of all, they have an astonishing 650 calories/100 g, most of which come from the high fatty content of the nut. This means they are a great culinary choice for people struggling to put some weight on. Gaining weight can be just as frustrating as trying to lose weight, but luckily, foods such as Brazil nuts can help put on weight and still keep eating healthy.
For instance, most of the fat found in Brazil nuts is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. Unsaturated fats are good for you because they offer an adequate nutritional balance: a healthy diet should contain essential fatty acids, as those found in Brazil nuts, fish, walnuts or almonds. Essential fatty acids (Omega-3, Omega-6) support the activity of the nervous system, help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Even more, foods rich in healthy essential fatty acids help prevent coronary heart disease and stroke by favoring healthy blood lipid levels.
In addition to this, Brazil nuts are an excellent source of dietary minerals such as selenium, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, manganese, iron, zinc, potassium and calcium. Adequate levels of copper can prevent premature hair graying. Potassium regulates blood pressure by neutralizing sodium effects on the human body.
Manganese has strong antioxidant effects and helps protect cells from mutations caused by free radical activity. Magnesium increases calcium absorption and supports muscle activity, heart included. Iron combats anemia and zinc stimulates the immune system. All of these minerals are found in extremely generous amounts in Brazil nuts.
However, the biggest surprise comes from selenium, a mineral with incredible antioxidant properties which helps regulate thyroid gland activity and reduces joint inflammation. Brazil nuts contains 1917 mcg of selenium/100 g of nuts. This means that 100 g of Brazil nuts provides 3485% of the RDA of selenium. This is great news for people dealing with severe selenium deficiency, but can also pose some health risks.
Selenosis and other side effects
Very important: unlike vitamin C, which can be taken in high doses for prolonged periods of time (let’s say, 1 or 2 g of vitamin C daily for weeks, months or years at a time), a high selenium intake is toxic for the human body. Extreme tiredness, neurological damage, digestive problems, hair loss, cirrhosis of the liver are all signs of selenosis, poisoning due to high selenium intake.
There are many ‘nutrition experts’ professing their uncritical admiration for Brazil nuts and recommending you consume them as often as possible. However, you must be aware of the fact that even a moderate consumption can be extremely dangerous, even fatal. Yes, Brazil nuts are very healthy, but due to their high selenium intake, they must be consumed in small amounts, preferably not every single day of your life. You can always choose sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts or pistachios over Brazil nuts. They have such high concentrations of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats that you are sure to cover almost all of your dietary needs and more.
Other dangers of excessive Brazil nuts consumption concerns their radioactivity. The roots of 700-year-old Brazil nut trees go so deep in the ground that they reach layers of radioactive material found naturally in the depths of the earth. By absorbing radium, a radioactive compound, the tree ends up producing radioactive nuts.
Although the radioactivity levels of Brazil nuts are considered too low to cause any serious health problems, they remain the top most radioactive food, surpassing bananas and potatoes. This may be another reason why one should consider very carefully the amounts of Brazil nuts consumed.
However, despite the side effects, Brazil nuts remain excellent sources of dietary minerals, fatty acids and vitamin E. In addition to ensuring beautiful skin, the vitamin E-rich nuts help protect the skin against UV rays and other damage caused by free radicals. They also boast good amounts of B vitamins which are essential for many important body functions. Brazil nut oil gives great flavor to salads and heals dry skin and cracked heels better than any commercial product. Overall, the nut variety contains unbelievable concentrations of many essential nutrients, providing overall excellent nutrition. Still, they pose some serious health risks which is why they need to be consumed in rather low amounts.