Why eat some of these foods high in selenium? Well, selenium is a powerful mineral that can boost your health by strengthening your immune system, improving thyroid function, and reducing your risk of certain cancer, among other benefits.

While selenium deficiency is rare, it can still occur, which is why consuming foods high in selenium can help prevent this problem.

From brazil nuts to whole grains, lentils to mushrooms, these foods can help boost your selenium intake and more.

Let’s look closer at the various selenium-rich foods and how they can enhance your health and well-being.

What is Selenium?

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that the body needs in small amounts. This means a daily intake of food sources can be enough to meet all your needs.

Selenium plays an important role in producing glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant.

Antioxidants are compounds that help neutralize free radicals in the body that might cause cell damage, leading to various chronic diseases.

Glutathione, in this case, can prevent cancer progression, reduce cell damage in liver disease, fight inflammation, and boost immunity.

Health benefits of selenium

1. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant

As I mentioned above, antioxidants are powerful compounds that can help neutralize free radicals in the body.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can easily react with other molecules in the body, causing a chemical reaction that can be damaging to the cells. This cell damage is the root cause of most conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.

As an antioxidant, selenium neutralizes these free radicals, rendering them harmless to the body.

2. Selenium may protect against heart disease

 According to the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

According to their research, one person dies after every 34 seconds from cardiovascular disease. That brings the number to about one in every five death. 

However, consuming selenium-rich foods can help lower this risk. This is because selenium can lower inflammation which is the root cause of most chronic diseases, including heart disease.

In one review, people with heart disease taking selenium supplements experienced reduced C reactive protein, an inflammatory marker that’s often elevated when there’s inflammation going on in the body.

Another observational study found that increasing your selenium intake by 50% reduced the risk of heart disease by 24%.

Besides, selenium increases the level of glutathione in the body, which has also been shown to fight heart disease.

Symbol for the chemical element selenium

3. Selenium can boost the immune system

An immune system is a complex network of cells, organs, and certain proteins that work together to protect your body against disease-causing pathogens.

Due to its ability to reduce inflammation, selenium can help boost the immune system and prevent you from getting sick. 

Conversely, low selenium levels have been associated with a weak immune system.

This explains why low selenium levels are associated with the progression of diseases such as HIV, which highly depends on a strong immune system to keep the virus under suppression and prevent mortality.

In one study, researchers found that selenium could be a possible adjunct therapy in treating HIV. While more studies are needed to confirm these findings, the research found that selenium supplementations decreased hospitalization, reduced viral load, increased CD4 count, and reduced diarrheal episodes commonly associated with the virus.

4. Selenium may reduce the risk of certain cancers

Research shows that selenium supplementation may lower the risk of various cancers, including breast, lung, prostate, and Gastrointestinal cancers.

For example, one study found that adequate selenium levels in the body slowed the development and spread of prostate cancer cells. In comparison, low selenium levels were associated with an increased risk of developing the cancer. Different factors such as old age, genetics, and obesity play a role in the development of prostate cancer; however, nutritional deficiencies such as low selenium levels can double your risk.

As an antioxidant, selenium can fight oxidative stress and prevent its associated DNA damage that often causes cell mutations leading to cancer.

5. Supports thyroid health

The thyroid is a small endocrine gland located at the base of the neck. It makes hormones that regulate your metabolic rate and promote growth and development. 

It also plays a role in bone maintenance, digestive function, brain development, and heart muscle control.

The thyroid hormones control other vital body functions, including breathing, body weight, muscle strength, heart rate, menstrual cycle, body temperature, cholesterol levels, and much more.

While iodine plays a bigger role in the production of thyroid hormones, selenium may also have a part to play.

It has been shown to promote hormone synthesis by converting T4(a thyroid hormone) into T3, its active and usable form.

Additionally, selenium helps regulate the thyroid hormonal levels and protects the gland from the effects of stress and excessive iodine exposure.

Moreover, the antioxidant benefits of selenium help protect the thyroid gland against free radical damage and infections.

In one literature review, selenium supplementation in patients with autoimmune thyroiditis reduced antithyroperoxidase antibody (commonly found in patients with autoimmune thyroid diseases), improved findings on thyroid ultrasound, and enhanced general quality of life.

On the other hand, selenium deficiency has been associated with thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s, goiter, hypothyroidism, Graves’ disease, and thyroid cancer.

6. You can boost fertility in both men and women

In men, selenium has been shown to promote proper sperm morphology and Motility. That means it supports the growth and development of the sperm as well as its ability to swim.

Selenium has also been shown to boost testosterone levels in infertile males, hence boosting fertility.

In women, selenium can promote healthy uterine follicles, which is where the eggs are developed and released. Additionally, selenium can support a healthy pregnancy by preventing neural tube defects and regulating healthy birth weight.

Foods High in Selenium

1. Brazil nuts

Some brazil nuts spilling out of a glass jar on a vintage wooden backgroun

Brazil nuts are one of the richest sources of selenium, with an average nut providing up to 175% of the daily recommended intake. So a single Brazil nut should be enough to meet your needs for the day.

In addition, Brazil nuts can offer many other essential minerals and vitamins, including magnesium, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin E, Zinc, and thiamine. They are also a good source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

In fact, 36% of the fats in Brazil nuts are polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to fight heart disease.

Since Brazil nuts are very high in selenium, most of their health benefits are attributed to their selenium levels. This may include things like boosting thyroid health, fighting inflammation, and providing antioxidant benefits.

However, this nut contains additional nutrients such as ellagic acid, which can boost your brain health in combination with the selenium.

Ellagic acid is a polyphenol antioxidant that also fights inflammation and can provide antidepressant benefits while protecting the brain against damage.

In one study, older adults with mild cognitive impairment were required to eat a Brazilian nut daily for 6 months. At the end of the study, researchers found out that their mental functions and communication improved.

While these nuts are delicious and nutritious, eating too much can result in excessive selenium intake, which comes with its set of side effects. To avoid this, experts recommend a daily intake of 1-3 Brazil nuts only.

2. Lentils

Mix of various color legumes lentils for background

Lentils are another good source of selenium, with a cup (198g) of cooked lentils providing about 8 percent of your daily requirements.

They are also very high in protein, a macronutrient that plays various major bodily functions, including promoting tissue and cell repair, aiding muscle recovery and growth, supporting bone health, and boosting metabolism and fat-burning processes, among others.

Consuming lentils can also boost your intake of other beneficial nutrients like folate, iron, phosphorus, copper, and manganese.

They also offer dietary fiber that promotes healthy digestion, prevents constipation, and lower cholesterol.

You can enjoy lentils in various recipes, including soups, stews, and salads.

3. Shiitake mushroom

Shiitake mushrooms on a silver plate

While there’re various edible wild mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms are the best when it comes to those high in selenium.

With a cup of cooked shiitake mushrooms providing 50 percent of what you need for the day, they are one of the best sources in general.

Shiitake are also rich in fiber, copper, manganese, pantothenic acid, niacin, and riboflavin.

They also contain polysaccharides such as lentinans and beta-glucans which can help lower cholesterol levels, fight inflammation, and support the immune system.

You can easily find shiitake mushrooms in mainstream grocery stores ( fresh or dried).

They are great in stir-fries, but you can also make mushroom ramen, soup, mushroom gravy, risotto, add them to pizza, or use them as a substitute for bacon.

You can also make shiitake mushroom tea. Simply soak the dried mushrooms in water until tender, about 20inutes. Add a cup of water to a pot, then add in the mushroom plus the soaking water and boil for about 5 minutes. Sieve and enjoy. Some people like to add some soy sauce or salt to taste.

4. Brown rice

overflowing bowl of dried brown rice

Brown rice is often used as a healthy alternative to white rice, and for a good reason. It’s high in fiber, protein, and minerals like manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and manganese. It also contains essential vitamins like vitamin B6, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, and folate.

Consuming a cup of cooked long-grain brown rice ( 195g) can offer up to 27 percent of your daily selenium requirements.

To enjoy brown rice, just use it like you would the white variety, only that it takes longer to cook, so you may want to add enough water.

5. Cashew nuts

Homemade roasted salted cashews in a bowl and scattered on table

Cashew nut is a snack nut that you can enjoy on its own or include in recipes. It’s also used to make cashew butter or cheese.

Cashews are a good source of copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus. They are also high in fiber, healthy fats, and protein.

Additionally, cashew nuts can boost your intake of selenium, with an ounce providing 8 percent of your daily requirement. Although it may not seem too much compared to the other sources, it can still boost your intake.

Besides, the additional nutrients in cashews can help boost energy production in the body, improve bone health, strengthen the immune system, and support cardiovascular health.

6. Oatmeal

spoonful of oats with background of oats

Oatmeal is the most common source of selenium that you’re likely to eat more often. One cup can offer up to 33 percent of your daily requirement of selenium, which is pretty impressive. Moreover, it’s a good source of protein, with the same serving providing 21 percent of your daily needs. Protein can help regulate your appetite and fill you up until your next meal. This is why oats are a go-to breakfast option for most people, including those looking to shed some pounds.

Other benefits of eating oatmeal include reduced cholesterol levels, improved cardiovascular health, reduced blood sugar levels, and improved gut health.

Recommended Daily Intake

The daily recommended dietary allowance for men and women 19 years of age and above is 55 micrograms.

However, lactating mothers and pregnant women may need a slightly higher amount of 70 and 60 micrograms, respectively.

On the other hand, children require 40 micrograms daily if they are between 9-13 years of age, while those 14 and above will need the same amount as adults (55 micrograms).

Potential Risks of Consuming Too Much Selenium

Consuming too much selenium, such as through regular snacking of brazil nuts which are very high in selenium, can result in various side effects ranging from mild to severe to fatal.

In mild cases, one may experience stomach discomfort, rash, and headache. High levels can result in nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, and weight loss, while extremely high levels can result in organ failures such as kidney failure and heart failure and, in the worst scenario, death.

Final Thoughts

Selenium is an essential mineral in the metabolism of thyroid hormones, maintaining antioxidant protection, preventing cancer, protecting against heart disease, and boosting the immune system.

The body only needs 55 micrograms of selenium daily, which you can easily meet by eating foods high in selenium, such s oats, lentils, brazil nuts, shiitake mushrooms, cashew nuts, and brown rice.

While these foods are safe to consume, eating too much brazil nuts may increase your selenium levels beyond the needed amount, which may result in various side effects, including death. So if consuming brazil nuts as your main source of selenium, keep your intake between 1-3 nuts per day.