Are Brazil nuts good for you

Are Brazil nuts good for you?

Pawel Malczewski
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Short Summary

Brazil nuts are considered a superfood since they are very high in a wide range of nutrients and possess many important health properties. There are only a few exceptions where this popular snack may be harmful. For a quick answer click here..

Explanation

Health benefits of Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts are an excellent source of many minerals such as selenium, copper, magnesium and phosphorus, and a good source of zinc and manganese. Vitamins are not as abundant in Brazil nuts. However, they still are a good source of vitamin E and B1. The high composition of these nutrients makes Brazil nuts a valuable and health promoting addition to the diet.

Importance of selenium in Brazil nuts

Selenium is a very abundant component in Brazil nuts and also its most potent nutrient. This makes Brazil nuts a very unique super food. Only two Brazil nuts daily, significantly increases the body’s selenium status and reduces the need for selenium supplementation in regions with selenium deficiency, such as New Zealand. (1)Thomson CD, Chisholm A, McLachlan SK, Campbell JM. Brazil nuts: an effective way to improve selenium status. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Feb;87(2):379-84. Available here.

On its own, or together with vitamin E, selenium prevents the activity of free radicals that damage the cells.

Selenium has protective properties for the immune and endocrine (hormonal, specifically thyroid hormones) systems and against DNA damage. It has been associated with the reduced risk of bladder and prostate cancers and may have some function in the reduced risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. (read more..)

Since Selenium is an antioxidant and acts against the action of free radicals, it can also relieve the symptoms of arthritis and slow down the progression of some viruses, such as HIV/AIDS. (2)Stockler-Pinto MB, Mafra D, Moraes C, Lobo J, Boaventura GT, Farage NE, et al. Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa, H.B.K.) improves oxidative stress and inflammation biomarkers in hemodialysis patients. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2014 Apr;158(1):105-12. Available here. (3)Campa A, Martinez SS, Baum MK. Selenium in HIV/AIDS. Selenium pp 333-342. 16 September 2016. Available here.

The following is a list of some of the health benefits of consuming Brazil nuts.

Brazil nuts are anti-inflammatory

Recent studies show that Brazil nuts have significant anti-inflammatory properties. One study revealed that a single large dosage (20g-50g) of Brazil nuts leads to a long-term reduction in  body inflammation. (4)Colpo E, Dalton D A Vilanova C, Reetz LG, Duarte MM, Farias IL, Meinerz DF, et al. Brazilian nut consumption by healthy volunteers improves inflammatory parameters. Nutrition. 2014 Apr;30(4):459-65. Available here.

Please note, however, that long-term consumption of more than 20g of Brazil nuts daily (four kernels) may lead to selenium toxicity. It is, therefore, safest to limit consumption to a maximum of four kernels per day.

Another study also showed that the anti-inflammatory effects are visible after regular consumption of only one Brazil nut kernel per day over a 3 months’ period. (5)Stockler-Pinto MB, Mafra D, Moraes C, Lobo J, Boaventura GT, Farage NE, et al. Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa, H.B.K.) improves oxidative stress and inflammation biomarkers in hemodialysis patients. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2014 Apr;158(1):105-12. Available here.

Brazil nuts and Cancer

Due to it high selenium content, Brazil nuts have protective properties to DNA changes and regular consumption may reduce the risk of bladder and prostate cancers. (read more..)

Selenium and sulforaphane combined, more than each of these components alone, have shown a synergetic effect in protection against developing cancers. (6)Zhang J, Švehlíková V, Bao Y, Howie AF, Beckett GJ, Williamson G. Synergy between sulforaphane and selenium in the induction of thioredoxin reductase 1 requires both transcriptional and translational modulation. Carcinogenesis (2003) 24 (3): 497-503. Available here. Combining foods such as Brazil nuts and broccoli sprouts may have good results in cancer prevention, although more research is needed.

Brazil nuts and weight loss

Regular consumption of moderate amounts of nuts, including Brazil nuts, does not cause weight gain, and can even contribute to weight reduction. (read more..)

Brazil nuts and cholesterol

The intake of Brazil nuts lowers LDL cholesterol and raises the “good” HDL cholesterol. The most effective amount of Brazil nuts to maximize the reduction of LDLs and to increase HDLs is 20g of nuts – 4 kernels (625mcg of selenium). Nevertheless, additional larger studies are needed to confirm these findings. (7)A Single Consumption of High Amounts of the Brazil Nuts Improves Lipid Profile of Healthy Volunteers. Available here.

On average, 5g of Brazil nuts contain about 100mcg of selenium. However, selenium levels vary depending on the origin of the nuts. This particular study used nuts with a higher concentration of selenium.

A total of 625mcg of selenium daily is normally below the toxic level. However, it is recommended to limit the intake to 400mcg per day to avoid the potential risk of toxicity. To see cholesterol improvements without risking ill effects, four kernels of Brazil nuts would be optimal.  It is possible to observe results 9 hours after consuming 20g of this superfood.

Brazil nuts and diabetes

The consumption of tree nuts, including Brazil nuts, is associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The possible mechanism for this risk reduction is the improvement of glycemic control. (8)Viguiliouk E, Kendall CWC, Mejia SB, Cozma AI, Ha V, Mirrahimi A, et al. Effect of Tree Nuts on Glycemic Control in Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Dietary Trials. PLoS One. 2014; 9(7): e103376. Available here.

Brazil nuts thyroid

Selenium is an important component in the production of thyroid hormones. The high selenium levels in Brazil nuts make them an ideal snack for hormonal health.

Brazil nuts may be especially useful in Hashimoto’s (by reducing local inflammation) and Graves’ disease by improving the thyroid function. (read more..)

When Brazil nuts are bad for you?

There are two scenarios where the consumption of Brazil nuts may be harmful. This includes allergy to Brazil nuts and toxicity as a result of excessive selenium intake over a long period of time. Nevertheless, acute toxicity doesn’t usually occur with Brazil nuts.  This is because it is difficult to eat a large amount at one time (it is more likely to occur from selenium supplementation).

Brazil nuts and selenium toxicity

Although selenium is an essential trace mineral for our health, it can become toxic if high amounts are ingested over a long period of time. Since Brazil nuts contain exceptionally high amounts of selenium, it is very easy to cross the safe limit.  As long as you don’t consume other foods high in selenium and don’t take selenium supplements, you should limit your Brazil nuts intake to four kernels per day. (read more..)

Brazil nut allergy

Brazil nuts are one of the most frequent causes of nut allergy. The main reason for the allergic reaction is a type of protein called 9kDa2S albumin. This protein is resistant to digestion and causes an immune system reaction. People with an allergy to tree nuts or specifically to Brazil nuts should avoid them.

Curiosity: since the allergy causing proteins are not digested, they enter the bloodstream and end up in male sperm. Females who are allergic to Brazil nuts may experience an allergic reaction after unprotected intercourse with a male who has recently eaten Brazil nuts. (9)Bansal AS, Chee R, Nagendran V, Warner A, Hayman G. Dangerous Liaison: Sexually Transmitted Allergic Reaction to Brazil Nuts. Department of Immunology, St Helier Hospital, Carshalton, Surrey, England. Available here.

CONCLUSION

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Provided that you are not allergic to Brazil nuts and you stick to the safe amount (maximum of four kernels – about 20g) of fresh Brazil nuts per day, they are a very nutritious food and have many health benefits. 1-4 kernels of Brazil nuts per day insures a good selenium intake and helps to reduce body inflammation, increases antioxidant activity and can be beneficial in reducing the risks of various cancers, atherosclerosis, thyroid issues, type 2 diabetes and in weight management.

References   [ + ]

1. Thomson CD, Chisholm A, McLachlan SK, Campbell JM. Brazil nuts: an effective way to improve selenium status. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Feb;87(2):379-84. Available here.
2. Stockler-Pinto MB, Mafra D, Moraes C, Lobo J, Boaventura GT, Farage NE, et al. Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa, H.B.K.) improves oxidative stress and inflammation biomarkers in hemodialysis patients. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2014 Apr;158(1):105-12. Available here.
3. Campa A, Martinez SS, Baum MK. Selenium in HIV/AIDS. Selenium pp 333-342. 16 September 2016. Available here.
4. Colpo E, Dalton D A Vilanova C, Reetz LG, Duarte MM, Farias IL, Meinerz DF, et al. Brazilian nut consumption by healthy volunteers improves inflammatory parameters. Nutrition. 2014 Apr;30(4):459-65. Available here.
5. Stockler-Pinto MB, Mafra D, Moraes C, Lobo J, Boaventura GT, Farage NE, et al. Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa, H.B.K.) improves oxidative stress and inflammation biomarkers in hemodialysis patients. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2014 Apr;158(1):105-12. Available here.
6. Zhang J, Švehlíková V, Bao Y, Howie AF, Beckett GJ, Williamson G. Synergy between sulforaphane and selenium in the induction of thioredoxin reductase 1 requires both transcriptional and translational modulation. Carcinogenesis (2003) 24 (3): 497-503. Available here.
7. A Single Consumption of High Amounts of the Brazil Nuts Improves Lipid Profile of Healthy Volunteers. Available here.
8. Viguiliouk E, Kendall CWC, Mejia SB, Cozma AI, Ha V, Mirrahimi A, et al. Effect of Tree Nuts on Glycemic Control in Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Dietary Trials. PLoS One. 2014; 9(7): e103376. Available here.
9. Bansal AS, Chee R, Nagendran V, Warner A, Hayman G. Dangerous Liaison: Sexually Transmitted Allergic Reaction to Brazil Nuts. Department of Immunology, St Helier Hospital, Carshalton, Surrey, England. Available here.