You may not have heard of selenium, which is a mineral and essential micronutrient.
In the nutrition world, the term essential refers to a nutrient (like a vitamin, mineral or amino acid) which is not produced in the body so it must be obtained through diet.
What Is Selenium?
Selenium (Se on the periodic table) is categorized as a trace mineral, meaning you only need to consume a small amount to obtain its health benefits. It has been examined in numerous medical research studies due its strong capacity as an antioxidant.
Many chronic diseases result from an accumulation of compounds called free radicals that cause a state of oxidative stress in the body, which if left untreated can damage healthy cells.
Selenium has been examined in numerous medical research studies due its strong capacity as an antioxidant.
Antioxidants combat these harmful effects by keeping the number of free radicals from escalating to problematic levels.
Se in particular activates an enzyme called glutathione peroxidase (GPx for short) which consumes the excess compounds from body tissues, antioxidant activity known as “radical scavenging”.
What Are the Major Health Benefits of Selenium?
Selenium has been associated with decreased risk of several serious conditions including heart disease, certain cancers, and even cognitive decline. This is largely attributed to Se’s antioxidant functions that reduce free radical-related destruction, including in brain tissue.
Selenium plays a role in healthy thyroid function. The selenoproteins, including GPx, help prevent the thyroid gland from oxidative damage during the generation of thyroid hormones. It’s no surprise then the thyroid tissue contains the most Se of any organ in the body!
What Foods Contain Selenium?
Selenium is present in a variety of different foods including many types of seafoods and meats. There are plant-based sources too, but the selenium content varies depending on the type and quality of soil the crops were grown and farmed in.
Certain regions contain more selenium-rich soil than others, and processes like enriching add extra selenium to food products like bread and pasta.
Top 5 Food Sources of Selenium:
1. Brazil Nuts
These snacks are the highest known food source of selenium, in fact just one nut has more than the recommended daily selenium requirement!
A study featured in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that a single serving of Brazil nuts helped improve blood selenium status and cardiovascular lipid biomarkers in healthy adults.
Several kinds of seafood, ranging from yellowfin tuna and halibut to oysters and shrimp, are particularly high in selenium. Just another reason to savor those fish tacos.
Ham, beef, chicken, and turkey are all good sources of selenium. Adding whole wheat bread increases the Se content even more, so enjoy that turkey sandwich!
4. Brown Rice
One cup of long grain cooked brown rice contains between 27 and 35% of the recommended daily Se amount. Pair with a meat or seafood protein or make it a selenium-boosting base of a grain or veggie bowl.
5. Baked Beans
This is another great plant-based source of selenium which also provides additional nutrients like protein, fiber, and iron. A great way to add some extra Se to chilis and stews!
How Much Selenium Should You Get?
According to the National Institute of Health the daily recommended intake for selenium is 55 micrograms for people 14 years of age and older, 60 micrograms for pregnant women and 70 micrograms for lactating women.
While it is a nutrient with many benefits, Se does carry risk of toxicity if the upper limit of 400 micrograms per day is exceeded.
Se has been associated with decreased risk of several serious conditions including heart disease, cancers, and cognitive decline.
For reference, a 3 oz. serving of dry-cooked halibut contains 47 mcg of selenium (85% of the daily value) while one cup of cooked long-grain brown rice contains 19 mcg.
Meanwhile, one ounce of Brazil nuts (6-8 nuts) exceeds the tolerable upper limit at 544 mcg, so it is best to keep servings to no more than 20 grams per day.
Those with thyroid conditions (such as Graves’ Disease and hypothyroidism) may need to modify their intake to ensure proper thyroid protection.
There are also certain populations, such as HIV positive, dialysis patients, or individuals with specific gastrointestinal conditions who may have difficulty absorbing Se.
Consult your doctor and dietitian to determine a dietary selenium level that is right for you.
The Takeaway on This Essential Nutrient
Selenium helps protect many body tissues and organs from harmful oxidative damage and inflammation, and intake has been associated with a reduction in several serious chronic diseases.
The great news is that it is found widely in many foods and consuming just 55 micrograms daily can help you benefit from Se’s antioxidant power. Brazil nuts are the highest source of the Se boost, so be sure to enjoy responsibly!
All included information is not intended to treat or diagnose. The views expressed are those of the author and should be attributed solely to the author. For medical questions, please consult your healthcare provider.