Brazil nuts are actually seeds of the fruit of the Castania tree found in the Amazon. Brazil nuts are a nutritious staple in the diets of native Amazonians but most Westerners know them only as those big oily nuts that you push out of the way when you’re going for the almonds in a can of mixed nuts. Should you be eating Brazil nuts? Are Brazil nuts Paleo?
Nutritional Value of Brazil Nuts
Serving Size: 1 ounce (6 nuts, dried)
- Calories: 185
- Total Fat: 19g
- Saturated Fat: 4.5g
- Monounsaturated Fat: 6.9g
- Polyunsaturated Fat: 5.8g
- Trans Fat: 0g
- Cholesterol: 0mg
- Carbohydrate: 3g
- Protein: 4g
- Sodium: 1mg
- Fiber: 2
- Selenium: 542 mcg
Health Benefits of Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts are high in fat, the majority of which is monounsaturated. Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are associated with many health benefits including decreased inflammation and a decreased risk for heart disease and cancer. Brazil nuts supply a full complement of amino acids and are a good source of vitamins and minerals including thiamin, vitamin B6, vitamin E, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, iron and copper. However, the Brazil nut’s real claim to fame is its abundance of selenium, of which it is the most concentrated natural source. In fact, a one ounce serving, or 6 to 8 nuts contains over 700% of the RDA! A trace mineral that is important for reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, immunity, the prevention of certain cancers and heart health, selenium also plays an essential role in cellular antioxidant defense. Just one or two Brazil nuts more than meets the RDA of 55 mcg for adults (the RDA for children is less). Are there any downsides to eating Brazil nuts? Let’s see.
Nuts contain anti-nutrients such as phytates, and protease inhibitors that impede digestion and if over consumed, can cause or contribute to gut permeability and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Brazil nuts are no exception. In fact, gram-for-gram, Brazil nuts contain more phytates than just about all other foods. In addition to irritating the intestinal lumen, phytates bind to minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and zinc, and impede their absorption, which can create deficiencies if these minerals are not adequately consumed from bioavailable sources. However, it is important to note that excess dietary phytates are the problem and moderate consumption is actually beneficial. Phytates play a role in antioxidant function and reduce cancer and cardiovascular risk factors. Furthermore, during production, Brazil nuts are heated and dried, likely reducing the high phytate content to some extent. This process deactivates enzymes that inhibit digestion as well.
Brazil nuts contain high levels of aflatoxins, or mold on their shells that can cause liver cancer. In fact, the European Union has put limits on imports of Brazil nuts in their shells.
Selenium is toxic in high doses and if over consumed, can cause brittle, white nails, hair loss, fatigue, rash, irritability, GI upset and garlic breath odor. The safe, tolerable upper intake of selenium for adults is 400mcg a day.
Nuts are among the most allergenic foods and many people experience some form of sensitivity to them.
Brazil nuts contain quite a bit of easily oxidized polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). The optimal dietary ratio of pro-inflammatory omega-6 PUFA to anti-inflammatory omega-3 PUFA is 1:1 to 4:1. In Brazil nuts, the ratio is extremely high at 1000:1.
Seasonality and Where to Buy Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts are harvested almost entirely from wild trees during the rainy season from December through April. However, you can find shelled or unshelled Brazil nuts in the produce bins at natural food stores year round. Look for shelled Brazil nuts that are an ivory white color and have no visible mold, rot or off-putting smell. Many brands of Brazil nuts, both conventional and organic are available on-line. Organic Brazil nuts are harvested according to sustainable practices and will be free of pesticide residues. Brazil nuts that are labeled “raw” have actually been heated and dried to prevent mold growth and facilitate shell removal.
For safe storage, once your package of shelled Brazil nuts is opened, place the nuts in a sealed airtight container. They can be stored this way in the pantry for 2-4 weeks, the refrigerator for up to 9 months and the freezer for up to a year.
Should I Eat Brazil Nuts? Are Brazil Nuts Paleo?
Yes, Brazil nuts are Paleo. One or two shelled Brazil nuts a day or a small handful a few times a week isn’t likely to tip the balance of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids too far when eaten as part of an otherwise balanced Paleo diet. They are a great snack option providing satiating fat and protein and an assortment of healthy nutrients, especially selenium. To minimize phytates, Brazil nuts can be soaked and dried (see instructions below) and eaten between meals since phytates only inhibit nutrient absorption while in contact with other foods.
How To Soak Brazil Nuts
Traditionally, soaking and drying nuts has been practiced to improve their digestibility. Soaking and drying enhances the bioavailability of nutrients, deactivates enzymes that impede digestion and decreases phytate content. Although the heating and drying required to shell Brazil nuts and inhibit mold growth has deactivated enzymes and reduced phytate content, additional soaking and drying may reduce phytates further.
To soak and dry Brazil nuts, dissolve 1 tablespoon sea salt in enough water to cover 4 cups of Brazil nuts. Soak at room temperature for 3 hours. Drain the nuts and dry in a food dehydrator or in the oven on the lowest temperature setting for 12 to 24 hours until dry and crispy.