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We’re back at it again with an in-depth look into highly beneficial foods, and Brazil nuts happens to be one that most people overlook or don’t know too much about. For example, Brazil is not where the nut is most harvested—Bolivia is. Also, they’re not even nuts—technically, they’re seeds! High in proteins, fats and minerals, Brazil nuts have been an important part of the diet in this region for an approximated 11,000 years.
When the Spanish conquistadors were fighting to take control of South America, they fed their soldiers Brazil nuts to keep energy levels up. The Spanish paved roads into the jungles leading to the trees, and the Brazil nut export industry was born. Brazil nuts are now one of the foremost profitable exports of the Amazon forest, and can now be enjoyed by us all.
What Are Brazil Nuts?
Brazil nuts may technically be seeds, but they have a distinctly nutty flavor and texture. They are primarily harvested in Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru from the tropical forests there. The nuts are oblong, cream colored nuts that are completely or partially covered by a brown outer layer. They are creamy, very tasty, and so, so good for you.
How Do Brazil Nuts Grow?
Brazil nuts grown inside rough pods, similar in shape and size to a coconut. They are the seeds inside the pod, and there is a shell around the individual seeds that is toxic and not to be eaten. The pods fall to the ground when they’re ripe (in January, February and March, and the last ones for the year falling in April.) Brazil nut trees are giant, some of the tallest in the entire Amazon rain forest, and produce fruit once a year, every year.
Because the fruit fall on their own, no trees or branches have to be cut down to harvest. The harvesters have a level of reverence for the forest, and Brazil nut collection is seen as a model for monetization of a natural resource with minimal disruption of the surrounding ecosystem. Logging and timber exportation could be a lucrative benefit to be taken from these tall, wide trees, but that could strongly disrupt the ecosystem. This is why it is a very controversial topic, and why the practice has been regulated by the local government. Hopefully things will stay the way they are in that regard, because the trees rely on each other for fertilization, as can clearly be seen by looking at lone trees, which are almost completely bare.
Are Brazil Nuts Healthy?
Brazil nuts offer a host of health benefits, but are perhaps best known for their high quantity of the mineral selenium. A single Brazil nut has 165% of the daily recommended amount of selenium. This mineral does not get the press it deserves and you definitely want to be sure you’re getting enough of it.
First of all, selenium detoxifies heavy metals and other environmental pollutants in the body, and it has major antioxidant power helping to repair cellular damage and reduce signs of aging. Selenium also promotes thyroid health, converting the T4 thyroid hormone to the more active form of the hormone, T3. For men, selenium can increase testosterone levels and improve sperm count and mobility. The mineral improves scalp health (and can help with dandruff reduction), which is directly related to hair health, strength, and shine. Selenium also has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
This next one’s really cool: A small research study published by Biological Psychiatry found that 100 micrograms of selenium a day for five weeks significantly reduced depression, anxiety and chronic low-energy in participants. The study was placebo controlled, so the results are assuredly reliable. Another study, conducted at the University of Barcelona, found that eating certain nuts, including Brazil nuts, increases serotonin levels. Basically, Brazil nuts can help you feel great and stable -emotionally and mentally.
Another study found a highly significant negative correlation between selenium levels and esophageal cancer, which is pretty insane. I was going to say “pretty nuts” but I think that might have been a bit much. Check out the study here.
Prevalent in Brazil nuts, selenium plays a key role in the metabolism. pic.twitter.com/MHal6LrE4Z
— Badazz Nutrition (@BadazzNutrition) December 27, 2016
Additional Brazil Nut Benefits
I may have gotten a tad carried away with selenium, because it’s awesome, but it is definitely not the only thing Brazil nuts have to offer nutritionally. They are rich in fat-soluble Vitamin E which is an anti-oxidant, boosts your immune system, regulates cholesterol levels and works against hormone imbalance.
Brazil nuts also contain a substantial amount of magnesium, which plays a leading role in energy production and is important for metabolic function, sufficient bone density, muscle and nerve function, and more. Only about 25% of people are getting enough magnesium (according to a U.S. specific study, but this problem is assumed to be widespread) so this aspect of Brazil nuts is a pretty big deal.
Related: Check out our Pumpkin Seeds, Pistachios, Chia Seeds, and Natural Oils Features!
Brazil nuts are also a significant source of protein and fiber. They are full of Vitamin B complex vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, folate, and pyridoxine. These nuts have ellagic acid in them, which is an anti-inflammatory and good for the brain. They also contain small amounts of other minerals such as zinc, manganese, potassium, calcium, and iron.
Brazil nut oil is used for its cosmetic abilities (The Vitamin E is soothing, and it is full of age-reversing antioxidants) and is a food staple in the countries the trees are indigenous to, but does not make for a good cooking oil given its low smoke-point.
How Do You Eat Brazil Nuts?
Because of the high selenium and fat content in Brazil nuts, it’s best to only eat two or three a day. These nuts make amazing, creamy nut butter and milk, but it’s difficult to be conscious of how many you are eating in that form, so they may not be best as a regular part of a diet. Brazil nuts make a nice, filling snack eaten straight, and eating them raw is best so that the nutrients and fatty acids are protected.
All nuts and seeds are coated with a self-protective outer layer containing phytic acids which block the absorption of certain minerals. To fully absorb all of the minerals inside Brazil nuts, soak and rinse them prior to eating to remove that outer layer. It’ll make them easier to digest, and makes the nut creamier, so soaking is definitely recommended if you’re making something with a smooth texture, like milk or butter.
The creamy texture of Brazil nuts lends itself perfectly to nut-based milk. To make raw Brazil nut milk, just blend Brazil nuts, water, some dates or maple syrup to taste, and sea salt to taste. You can also add cacao powder for a delicious vegan chocolate milk.
Are There Side Effects From Eating Brazil Nuts?
There are some potential side effects of Brazil nuts, but only if they are eaten in excess. Too much selenium is toxic, resulting in weakened nails and hair, garlic/metallic smelling breath, nausea, vomiting, and/or fatigue. The recommended upper limit for adults is 400 micrograms per day, so it isn’t great to eat more than four of these nuts a day. There’s 650 calories in 100 grams of Brazil nuts and they contain high amounts of fat, which is another reason to enjoy Brazil nuts in moderation.
Like all nuts, there are people who are allergic to Brazil nuts, and some symptoms may include shortness of breath, stomach cramping, nausea and vomiting, and hives. The crazy aspect unique to Brazil nut allergies is that it’s actually the only known allergy that can be sexually transmitted. In other words, someone allergic to Brazil nuts can have a reaction if their sexual partner had eaten Brazil nuts earlier that day.
Selenium is often left out of supplements and multi-vitamins because it is a micro-nutrient that we require a very specific amount of, and the manufacturers want you to be able to take two vitamins for an extra boost without a toxicity risk. Many people are very low in selenium, especially vegans, and it’s a shame because the mineral can do so much good for your body. Eating one or two Brazil nuts a day gives you the RDV of selenium, not to mention all of the other great nutrients they contain; protein, fiber and magnesium to name a few. You can eat them as part of a filling, energizing breakfast or add them to a smoothie for a richer, creamier texture. There’s a good reason Brazil nuts have stuck around for so long, and if you haven’t been taking advantage of their benefits already, it may be time to.
Thanks for reading our Brazil Nuts feature! For more on healthy ingredients, check out our Avocado, Primrose, Rosemary, Grapeseed, Lemon Balm, and Castor Oil features here at Innovative Private Label!