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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
7 Proven Health Benefits of Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts are tree nuts native to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. Their smooth, buttery texture and nutty flavor are typically enjoyed raw or blanched.
These nuts are energy dense, highly nutritious, and one of the most concentrated dietary sources of the mineral selenium.
Eating Brazil nuts may benefit your health in several ways, including regulating your thyroid gland, reducing inflammation, and supporting your heart, brain, and immune system.
Here are 7 proven health and nutrition benefits of Brazil nuts.
Brazil nuts are very nutritious and energy dense.
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of Brazil nuts contains the following nutrients ( 1 , 2):
- 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 (3).
Additionally, they 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 (3).
Finally, Brazil nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats. In fact, 36% of the fats in Brazil nuts are 37% polyunsaturated fatty acids, a type of fat that has been shown to benefit heart health ( 1 , 4 ).
Summary Brazil nuts are energy dense and rich in healthy fats, selenium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, thiamine, and vitamin E.
Brazil nuts are a rich source of selenium. In fact, they contain more of this mineral than any other nut with an average of 96 mcg per nut. However, some pack as much as 400 mcg per nut ( 1 , 3).
The RDI for selenium is 55 mcg per day for adults. Thus, the average Brazil nut contains 175% of the required amount of this mineral ( 1 , 2).
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 ( 5 ).
Indeed, higher levels of selenium have been linked to enhanced immune function and better outcomes for cancer, infections, infertility, pregnancy, heart disease, and mood disorders ( 6 ).
Although selenium deficiency is rare, many people around the world have insufficient selenium intake for optimal functioning. For example, suboptimal selenium status has been found in people throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, and the Middle East ( 7 ).
Brazil nuts are a highly effective way to maintain or increase your selenium intake. In fact, one study in 60 people found that eating two Brazil nuts per day was as effective as taking a selenium supplement at raising selenium levels ( 8 ).
Summary Brazil nuts are rich in selenium. One nut can contain 175% of the RDI. Selenium is an essential trace element that is vital for your immune system, thyroid gland, and cell growth.
Your 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 ( 9 , 10 ).
Low selenium intake can lead to cellular damage, reduced thyroid activity, and autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. It may also increase your risk of thyroid cancer ( 5 , 9 ).
One large study in China showed that people with low selenium levels had a significantly higher prevalence of thyroid disease, such as hypothyroidism, thyroiditis, and an enlarged thyroid, compared to those with normal levels ( 11 ).
This highlights the importance of getting adequate selenium intake. Just one Brazil nut per day should deliver enough selenium to maintain proper thyroid function ( 1 ).
Summary Your thyroid gland produces hormones that are necessary for growth, metabolism, and body temperature regulation. One Brazil nut contains enough selenium to support the production of thyroid hormones and proteins that protect your thyroid.
As well as ensuring proper thyroid function, selenium may improve symptoms in people who have disorders of the thyroid.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder in which the thyroid tissue is gradually destroyed, leading to hypothyroidism and a range of symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, and feeling cold.
Several reviews have found that supplementing with selenium may improve immune function and mood in people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis ( 12 , 13, 14 ).
However, two other reviews concluded that there is not enough evidence to determine selenium’s role in treating the disease. Therefore, further research is needed ( 15 , 16 ).
Meanwhile, Graves’ disease is a thyroid disorder in which too much thyroid hormone is produced, leading to symptoms like weight loss, weakness, sleeping problems, and bulging eyes.
Studies have shown that supplementing with selenium may improve thyroid function and delay the progression of some symptoms in people with this disease. However, more research is needed ( 17 ).
No studies have investigated the use of Brazil nuts as a selenium source, specifically, in people with thyroiditis or Graves’ disease. Nevertheless, including them in your diet may be a good way to ensure that your selenium status is adequate.
Summary Supplementing with selenium may benefit people with thyroid disorders such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. Yet, further research is needed.
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 (3).
Selenium increases levels of an enzyme known as glutathione peroxidase (GPx), which helps reduce inflammation and protect your body from oxidative stress — an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals that can lead to cellular damage ( 18 , 19 , 20 ).
The anti-inflammatory effects of brazil nuts can be achieved from single, large doses and small doses over a longer period.
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) ( 21 ).
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 ( 22 ).
However, follow-up studies observed that once people stopped eating Brazil nuts, these measurements returned to their original levels. This demonstrates that long-term dietary changes are needed to reap the benefits of Brazil nuts ( 23 , 24 ).
Summary Brazil nuts contain antioxidants like selenium, vitamin E, and phenols. Just one nut per day can lead to reduced inflammation. Nevertheless, your intake needs to be consistent to continue experiencing the benefit.
Brazil nuts contain heart-healthy fatty acids, such as polyunsaturated fats, and are rich in antioxidants, minerals, and fiber, all of which may help lower your risk of heart disease (25).
One study in 10 healthy adults investigated the effects of eating Brazil nuts on cholesterol levels. It gave them either 5, 20, or 50 grams of Brazil nuts or a placebo.
After 9 hours, the group that received a 20- or 50-gram serving had lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, compared to groups that received lower doses ( 26 ).
Another study analyzed the effects of eating Brazil nuts in obese people with selenium deficiency who were undergoing treatment for kidney disease.
It found that eating Brazil nuts containing 290 mcg of selenium daily for 8 weeks significantly increased HDL cholesterol levels. Improving your HDL cholesterol levels may decrease your risk of heart disease ( 19 ).
Furthermore, a 16-week study in obese teenagers observed that eating 15–25 grams of Brazil nuts per day improved blood vessel function and reduced LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels ( 27 ).
Brazil nuts’ effects on heart health are promising. Nevertheless, further research is needed to determine the optimal dose and which populations might reap the greatest benefits.
Summary Eating Brazil nuts may boost your heart health by reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol, increasing HDL (good) cholesterol, and improving blood vessel function.
Brazil nuts are energy dense, highly nutritious, and an excellent source of the mineral selenium. Here are 7 proven health benefits of Brazil nuts.