Brazil nuts are a tasty addition to that handful of nuts we can eat daily. But did you know that eating just one Brazil nut a day can help control inflammation, blood sugar and cholesterol levels?
This is precisely what a recent Brazilian study determined. (Of course, it was a Brazilian study.) This and other research confirms that regularly consuming Brazilian nuts can also improve our body’s ability to fight inflammation. When this takes place in the bloodstream, this also reduces the risk of heart disease.
Brazil nuts are rich source of nutrition
Brazil nuts (Brtholletia excelsa) are a rich source of many nutrients.
A cup of Brazil nuts contains 10 grams of fiber, 19 grams of protein, 38 percent of our U.S. Daily Value (DV) of vitamin E, 55 percent DV of thiamin, 21 percent of our DV of calcium, 125 percent DV of magnesium and 96 percent of our DV of phosphorus. A cup of Brazil nuts also contains 38 milligrams of choline and decent amounts of vitamin B6, folate and omega-3 fats.
Key source for selenium
The most important contribution of Brazil nuts is selenium. In fact, Brazil nuts have the most selenium of any other natural food. Just one unblanched Brazil nut will contain about 90 micrograms of selenium. This is a whopping 129 percent of the U.S. Daily Value of selenium.
Selenium is not just a nutrient. It is a precursor to a type of protein called Selenoprotein P. This protein is produced in the liver and uses selenium as a key ingredient, along with cysteine.
The action of Selenoprotein P is that it is a very efficient free radical scavenger. It will facilitate the deposit of selenium throughout the tissues and organs of the body – helping reduce inflammation among those tissues.
Selenium also helps keep the blood vessel walls clean and supple. In addition, Selenoprotein P assists with monitoring cholesterol and blood sugar levels within the bloodstream. And some genetic variants of Selenoprotein P are better than others. Research has found that adequate selenium in the diet produces more healthy variants of Selenoprotein P.
Selenoprotein P also increases the effectiveness of other antioxidants, including glutathione and vitamin C.
Other research has confirmed that good variants of Selenoprotein P result in longer life and fewer health problems.
Indeed, selenium is critical to our diet. Yet many of us are, quite frankly, deficient in selenium.
That’s where Brazil nuts come in.
Lowering cholesterol and fasting blood sugar
Researchers from Brazil’s University of São Paulo tested 130 healthy adult volunteers. selected at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. The subjects were given one Brazil nut per day for 8 weeks. Then for another 8 weeks, they did not consume any Brazil nuts.
Before, after and in between, the scientists tested each of the subjects for their cholesterol levels, fasting blood sugar and other factors. They were also tested for levels of Selenoprotein P, and the different genetic types. Remember that some genetic variants of Selenoprotein P are not as healthy as others. The healthy version is produced in the liver in conjunction with selenium.
The researchers found that just one Brazil nut a day for two months resulted in decreases in total cholesterol and fasting glucose levels.
The researchers concluded:
“Supplementation with one Brazil nut a day for 8 weeks reduced total cholesterol and glucose levels. Furthermore, our results suggest that rs3877899 might be associated with glucose concentrations and rs7579 with cholesterol concentrations.”
The “rs” numbers are the genetic variants (single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs) of the Selenoprotein P. Those with more pronounced rs3877899 Selenoprotein P variants tended to have higher blood sugar levels. And those with more pronounced Selenoprotein P rs7579 variants tended to have higher cholesterol levels.
Regardless of the variant, the research found that increased intake of Brazil nuts reduced both blood sugar and cholesterol.
Selenium boosts insulin sensitivity
This ability of Brazil nuts’ to reduce fasting blood sugar is based upon insulin sensitivity. When cell receptors become more sensitive to insulin, the cells will absorb and utilize more blood sugar. This gives the cells more energy and reduces the damage that too much blood sugar can have on the walls of the blood vessels.
A 2016 study tested 60 people with type-2 diabetes and heart disease. The researchers divided the people into two groups. One group was given 200 micrograms of selenium per day. The other group was given a placebo. After 8 weeks, the researchers found the selenium group had significantly lower insulin levels in the blood. They also had increased insulin sensitivity.
The selenium supplementation also resulted in higher levels of antioxidant capacity and reductions in high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. This means the selenium helped reduce their inflammation levels.
Brazil nuts boost immune response
Brazil nuts’ ability to reduce inflammation and boost immune response was translated in research on HIV patients.
Researchers from the University of Alabama’s School of Public Health found in 2010 that low levels of selenium relates to higher rates of HIV infections and a faster progression to AIDS. Those who had lower levels of serum selenium concentration had greater risk of dying from AIDS as well.
The research analyzed a combination of laboratory experiments and human clinical trials. The laboratory tests showed that selenium boosts the liver’s ability to counteract toxins. The human clinical tests illustrated that selenium supplementation could significantly boost the immune system and reduce hospitalization.
Selenium deficiency has been linked with lower levels of the selenium-dependent liver enzyme, glutathione peroxidase. Glutathione peroxidase is a significant antioxidant and blood purifier produced in the liver. Low levels of glutathione peroxidase can result in various conditions, such as thyroid problems, lung issues, and greater susceptibility to infection.
Glutathione peroxidase is the leading enzyme responsible for the breakdown and removal of lipid hydroperoxides. Lipid hydroperoxides are oxidized fats that damage cell membranes. As they do this, they create pores in the cell. The resulting damage eventually kills most cells. Lipid hydroperoxides are one of the most damaging molecules within the body. They are responsible for many deadly metabolic diseases, including heart disease, artery disease, Alzheimer’s disease and many others.
Brazil nut consumption
The bottom line is that Brazil nuts provide the best way to naturally increase our selenium levels. And increasing our selenium levels reduces inflammation, improves blood sugar levels, increases insulin sensitivity, and improves cholesterol.
The research also shows that we don’t need to eat a lot of Brazil nuts every day. In fact, it’s best to be conservative. Just one to three of these nuts per day will significantly improve our selenium levels.
Many nut mixes will include a few Brazil nuts. This is a great way to consume Brazil nuts daily because as we have discussed elsewhere, research shows that eating a range of nuts will reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Brazil nuts are by far the best source of selenium; but other sources of selenium include corn, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, fennel seed, kelp, walnuts, brewer’s yeast, grapes and wheat germ.
Donadio JLS, Rogero MM, Guerra-Shinohara EM, Desmarchelier C, Borel P, Cozzolino SMF. SEPP1 polymorphisms modulate serum glucose and lipid response to Brazil nut supplementation. Eur J Nutr. 2017 May 13. doi: 10.1007/s00394-017-1470-7.
Hellwege JN, Palmer ND, Ziegler JT, Langefeld CD, Lorenzo C, Norris JM, Takamura T, Bowden DW. Genetic variants in selenoprotein P plasma 1 gene (SEPP1) are associated with fasting insulin and first phase insulin response in Hispanics. Gene. 2014 Jan 15;534(1):33-9. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2013.10.035.
Burk RF, Hill KE. Selenoprotein P-expression, functions, and roles in mammals. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Nov;1790(11):1441-7. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2009.03.026.
Farrokhian A, Bahmani F, Taghizadeh M, Mirhashemi SM, Aarabi MH, Raygan F, Aghadavod E, Asemi Z. Selenium Supplementation Affects Insulin Resistance and Serum hs-CRP in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes and Coronary Heart Disease. Horm Metab Res. 2016 Apr;48(4):263-8. doi: 10.1055/s-0035-1569276.
Stone CA, Kawai K, Kupka R, Fawzi WW. Role of selenium in HIV infection. Nutr Rev. 2010 Nov;68(11):671-8
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.