Brazil nuts come from the South American Bertholletia excelsa, or Brazil nut, tree. They are a good source of healthful fats, protein, fiber, and selenium.
Despite its name, the Brazil nut is technically a seed rather than a nut. By definition, nuts are hard-shelled fruits that contain a single, large seed. (Walnuts and pistachios are good examples.)
Brazil nuts have a smooth, buttery texture and nutty flavor. These nuts are energy dense, highly nutritious, and one of the most concentrated dietary sources of the mineral selenium.
A 1-ounce serving of Brazil nuts contains the following nutrients:
- Calories: 187
- Protein: 4.1 grams
- Fat: 19 grams
- Carbs: 3.3 grams
- Fiber: 2.1 grams
- Selenium: 988% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Copper: 55% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 33% of the
- Phosphorus: 30% of the RDI
- Manganese: 17% of the RDI
- Zinc: 10.5% of the RDI
- Thiamine: 16% of the RDI
- Vitamin E: 11% of the RDI
Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, with just one nut containing 96 mcg, or 175% of the RDI. Most other nuts provide less than 1 mcg, on average. The RDI for selenium is 55 mcg per day for adults.
Selenium is a trace element that is vital for the proper functioning of your body. It is essential for your thyroid and influences your immune system and cell growth. Higher levels of selenium have been linked to enhanced immune function and better outcomes for cancer, infections, infertility, pregnancy, heart disease, and mood disorders.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that lies in your throat. It secretes several hormones that are essential for growth, metabolism, and body temperature regulation. Thyroid tissue has the highest concentration of selenium, as it’s required for the production of the thyroid hormone T3, as well as proteins that protect your thyroid from damage.
Selenium deficiency can cause hormonal imbalances that can negatively affect sleep, mood, concentration, and metabolism. Obtaining enough selenium from dietary sources may prevent or help regulate thyroid problems, such as hypothyroidism.
Brazil nuts have higher concentrations of magnesium, copper, and zinc than most other nuts, although the exact amounts of these nutrients can vary depending on climate and soil.
Brazil nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats. In fact, 36% of the fats in Brazil nuts are 37% polyunsaturated fatty acids which benefit heart health. Brazil nuts contain healthful fats called polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), consuming monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated and trans fats helps improve cholesterol levels, which lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Brazil nuts also provide dietary fiber. The AHA report that eating fiber-rich foods improves blood cholesterol levels and lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. The findings of a 2019 study showed that higher consumption of tree nuts decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack among people living with diabetes.
Brazil nuts may boost the body’s antioxidant system and prevent oxidative stress. The liver breaks selenium down into a type of protein called selenoprotein P, which effectively removes excess free radicals. Free radicals cause oxidative stress, and research has linked them to many chronic health conditions, including cancer.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the antioxidant effects of Brazil nut consumption. During the study, 91 people with hypertension and high blood-lipid concentrations received either 13 g of granulated, partially defatted Brazil nuts or a placebo every day for 12 weeks. The participants in the Brazil nut group had higher selenium levels and increased activity of an antioxidant enzyme called GPx3. They also had lower levels of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
Brazil nuts are rich in antioxidants, which are substances that help keep your cells healthy. They do this by combating damage caused by reactive molecules called free radicals. Brazil nuts contain several antioxidants, including selenium, vitamin E, and phenols like gallic acid and ellagic acid.
The selenium in Brazil nuts increases levels of an enzyme known as glutathione peroxidase (GPx), which helps reduce inflammation and protect your body from oxidative stress. One study in 10 people noted that a single 20- or 50-gram serving (4 or 10 nuts, respectively) significantly reduced a number of inflammatory markers, including interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha).
Another three-month study gave people undergoing treatment for kidney failure one brazil nut per day. It found that their selenium and GPx levels had increased, while their levels of inflammatory markers and cholesterol had significantly decreased.
Brazil nuts contain ellagic acid and selenium, both of which can benefit your brain. Ellagic acid is a type of polyphenol in Brazil nuts. It has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may have protective and antidepressant effects on your brain.
Low selenium levels are associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In one study, older adults with mental impairment ate one Brazil nut per day for six months. In addition to experiencing increased selenium levels, they showed improved verbal fluency and mental function.
Supplementing with selenium may help mediate a poor mood, which is significantly associated with inadequate selenium intake.
Brazil nuts offer some impressive health benefits, but eating too many could be harmful.
*An intake of 5,000 mcg of selenium, which is the amount in approximately 50 average-sized Brazil nuts, can lead to toxicity. This dangerous condition is known as selenosis and can cause breathing problems, heart attack, and kidney failure. Too much selenium, particularly from supplements, has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes and prostate cancer.
To avoid consuming too much selenium, limit your intake to one to three Brazil nuts per day.
How to Buy
Most grocery stores carry Brazil nuts. Look for them in your local co-op in the bulk section or online at nuts.com.
How to Store
To preserve the quality of Brazil nuts, keep them away from onions and other high-odor foods. They tend to take on the smell of things around them. Store nuts at room temperature for up to three months. Store shelled or unshelled nuts in the refrigerator for up to six months, or in the freezer for a year or more. Label your packages of nuts with the date that they were put into storage, so you know which ones to use first.
If your nuts start to taste stale, toast them in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. It’ll bring back their flavor. Don’t expect it to improve rancid nuts. Once the oils in nuts go bad, there’s no fixing them.
How to Cook
People can eat whole Brazil nuts as a snack or add them to other foods. Brazil nuts are fine to eat raw or roasted.
To cook Brazil nuts on the stovetop:
- Place a layer of Brazil nuts in a skillet over medium heat.
- Stir the nuts every minute or so to avoid burning them.
- Continue cooking for about 5 to 10 minutes until the nuts become aromatic.
To roast Brazil nuts in the oven:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Place the nuts on a layer of parchment paper on a baking sheet.
- Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven and roast for 5 minutes.
- Take the baking sheet out of the oven and stir the nuts.
- Return the baking sheet to the oven for another 5 minutes.
- Remove the nuts from the oven and season them with salt, herbs, or spices.
- Allow the nuts to cool completely before eating them.
Try adding Brazil nuts to pad Thai dishes, trail mixes, or pesto. Alternatively, they can use chopped Brazil nuts as a topping for oatmeal, salads, or even brownies.