Brazil Nuts – Supernut or Deadly?

Brazil Nuts
Brazil Nuts

Brazil Nuts are a healthy nut, and are considered by some to be one of the best nuts for maintaining good health. They are good for the immune system and help to prevent cancer. With Christmas just over a month away, families will be seated around the Christmas tree munching away on dark chocolate coated Brazil nuts, happy that they are eating a healthy snack. But we have some bad news!

Brazil nuts are rich in protein, iron, calcium, and zinc, Brazil nuts also contain the highest natural source of selenium – one nut exceeds the recommended daily amount (RDA). This is good.

However, it now appears that eating too many Brazil nuts can lead to elevated levels of bad cholesterol which can increase the risk of heart disease. The culprit for this increased cholesterol is the high levels of selenium which they contain. Originally it was thought that the Brazil nut was a good source of selenium, filling a nutritional gap, but this selenium may actually be unhealthy. Selenium is also found in fish and meat.

The recent study was published in the Journal of Nutrition. The scientists that carried out the research into diet and heart disease found that people with high levels of selenium in their diet had a 10% increase in cholesterol levels in their blood.

On average people consume about half the daily recommended level of selenium, so most people are not at any additional risk. However, a lot of people do consume large amounts of nuts as they are generally healthy. Some people choose Brazil nuts due to their other health benefits, such as the anti-cancer properties.

“We believe that the widespread use of selenium supplements, or of any other strategy that artificially increases selenium status above the level required, is unwarranted at the present time”. Dr Saverio Stranges, lead researcher.

More research is needed as the study was not conclusive that selenium was the main factor in raising bad cholesterol. Also selenium does play a role in maintaining a healthy body too, selenium deficiency is very rare amongst people that eat a healthy and well balanced diet. There is a strong link, but for now Brazil nuts are still a healthier choice over candy or hamburgers!

Further information and resources

The researcher: Dr. Stranges  from Warwick Medical School primarily focuses on the epidemiology and prevention of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In particular, he studies the effects of traditional and emerging risk factors as well the effects of non-pharmacological interventions in primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

  • Alcohol drinking pattern and cardio-metabolic risk
  • Body fat distribution, obesity, and cardio-metabolic risk
  • The role of selenium in cardiovascular disease

The Research Paper: Higher Selenium Status is Associated with Adverse Blood Lipid Profile in British Adults. Saverio Stranges, Martin Laclaustra, Chen Ji, Francesco P. Cappuccio, Ana Navas-Acien, Jose M. Ordovas, Margaret Rayman, and Eliseo Guallar
J. Nutr.,first published on Nov 11, 2009 as doi: doi:10.3945/jn.109.111252

8 Comments on “Brazil Nuts – Supernut or Deadly?”

  1. “… Brazil nuts have a high level of cholesterol, … and this can increase the risk of heart disease.”

    The main source of serum cholesterol is synthesis in the liver. My impression, it’s (a certain type of) serum cholesterol that is a cardiovascular risk factor, rather than dietary cholesterol, barring the few who are in fact, sensitive to dietary cholesterol.

    Or, are we still afraid of eggs? ;-)

  2. Brasil nuts do not contain cholesterol. Cholesterol ONLY comes from animal products. Coconuts do not either. The myths of high fat plant products having cholesterol continue to make fools out of some. Saturated fat does not equal cholesterol, nor does mono-unsaturated fat. Cholesterol is an animal pre-hormone that is not produced by plants – ask any doctor or nutritionist or dietician. It is found only in animal fats.

    And RonCam is right in saying that the amount of dietary cholesterol intake (which is generally the GOOD cholesterol, by the way) is not the cause of human HDL or LDL or VLDL or triglyceride levels being off – rather it is our general health that makes us make more HDL or convert it into LDL or VLDL. But since brasil nuts do not contain any cholesterol, it is not an issue here. Getting our omega-3s helps us process cholesterol better too. I mean EPA and DHA (ALA for vegetarians, which we have to convert into EPA and DHA). Omega 9 helps too. Animal and some vegetable fat give us plenty of omega 6. We need to eat fish for the 3 (or take seed oil supplements and convert it) and nuts and olive oil for the 9. So brasil nuts should provide omega 9 which should lower our bad cholesterol and may raise our good cholesterol!

    A piece of support that dietary intake of cholesterol does not impact our serum HDL, LDL, VLDL, and triglyceride levels much: Some Vegans have very high bad cholesterol levels!!!! Even though they eat no cholesterol. It’s liver malfunction and over all bad health, like diets that are way out of balance, that cause high bad cholesterol and triglycerides.

  3. Hi Michael, that is pretty much what the research said. Brazil nuts contain high levels of selenium which causes raised cholesterol levels once eaten in excess.

  4. I was not stating that the high selenium levels contained did not raise serum cholesterol levels; rather I was pointing out that the article read, “However, it now appears that Brazil nuts have a high level of cholesterol…” was incorrect; not that the selenium levels don’t raise human serum cholesterol levels, but that the word “have” implies that they actually contain cholesterol. They do not, in fact, contain any cholesterol. And I’m sure that the statement was accidentally written this way.

    However, your alerting us to the findings of the high levels of selenium in the nut leading to our higher (and I assume you mean “bad”) cholesterol level is very much appreciated.

    I would also assume then, that small amounts of Brasil nuts are a good source of selenium, which we do need in our diets, then. Thank you. I got a lot of information from your other articles too. I appreciate the information.

  5. The article was interesting but like other studies is not conclusive. If I had a penny for every time a published health study was found years later to be unfounded and changed I’d be a rich woman. I have been eating nuts brazil, cashews, almonds, walnuts ect for most of my life and have never had raised cholestrol or any illness for that matter including the flu. Whilst a lot of studies are founded I would have my doubts about this one.

  6. I have been a raw veggan for last 8 years(100%). Everyday I eat one avocado, plenty almond, raw cashew butter, brazilain nuts. Never had any problem with high colesterol and/or tryglyceride. But, whenever I combined this diet with durian that I love so much, my colestrol and tryglyceride elevated. why?

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