Selenium is an essential nutrient for humans, which means we all should be getting it in our diets every day through the consumption of selenium foods. That is certainly a fact, and when you toss in all the wonderful selenium benefits for health, it’s a nutrient you don’t want to miss out on.
What is selenium? It is a trace mineral that works in conjunction with vitamin E to help prevent oxidative damage in the body. Another key selenium function? It also helps iodine regulate metabolism, and it helps recycle vitamin C in the body, improving overall cellular protection. Selenium is a key aspect of a hypothyroidism diet as well because it helps to balance hormone levels.
It works as powerful antioxidant and is required for your body to create glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant. For this reason, consuming foods high in selenium can support detoxification and take stress off of organs like the liver and thyroid. Selenium foods are tasty as well, making it easy to meet your selenium needs on a daily basis. Read on to learn all about selenium foods and their benefits.
What Is Selenium? Selenium’s Role in the Body
Selenium (Se) is a naturally occurring trace element or mineral found in many foods and also available as a selenium supplement. The Se element has an atomic number of 34 and is considered a nonmetal.
In nature, selenium is most commonly found as sodium selenite, its inorganic form. In foods, it’s found in its organic form, selenomethionine.
Selenium is naturally found in soil. In the United States, soils in the Central Northern states are especially high in selenium. (1) The selenium in soil is transported into plants as they grow through special membranes within their roots. This is why plants can be such great sources of selenium in the diet.
Selenium is believed to be present in the form of the amino acid selenocysteine within at least 25 proteins called selenoproteins. This is highly significant to human health since selenoproteins play critical roles in thyroid metabolism, reproduction, DNA synthesis and immune response. (2, 3)
You may be wondering how much selenium do I need per day? Needs vary depending on your age and health status. For adults and children four years of age and older, the current daily recommendation is 55 micrograms per day. For pregnant and breastfeeding women, the recommendation is 70 micrograms per day. (4)
Top 15 High Selenium Foods
What foods have selenium? There are a lot of healthy and delicious selenium-rich foods that come with selenium foods benefits, of course! I’m about to tell you some of the most impressive foods in terms of selenium content.
Below is a list of high selenium foods, including:
- Brazil nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Pinto Beans
- Grass-fed beef
- Skipjack tuna
- Wild-caught salmon
- Beef Liver
- Navy beans
1) Brazil nuts: 1 kernel (5 grams): 95.9 micrograms (over 100 percent DV)
Brazil nuts’ selenium content is amazing, isn’t it? When it comes to selenium foods for vegetarians and selenium foods vegan can eat, Brazil nuts are without a doubt a top choice. It only takes one or two (depending on their size) a day to meet most people’s daily selenium needs.
As No. 1 on this list, it’s no surprise that Brazil nuts are also No. 2 on the top healthiest nuts list. A small clinical study published in 2013 in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that eating a single serving of Brazil nuts can lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and raise HDL (“good cholesterol) in healthy subjects. (5)
2) Sunflower seeds: 1 cup: 74 micrograms: (over 100 percent DV)
Another plant-based source of selenium is sunflower seeds, which are great to snack on by themselves. You can also add to them to salads, homemade veggie burgers, meatballs and more.
3) Pinto beans, raw: 1 cup: 53.8 micrograms (77 percent DV)
In addition to selenium, pinto beans are very high in folate, manganese, thiamine, copper and magnesium. It’s always best to sprout beans before cooking them. For more info on that, check out my sprout guide.
4) Halibut, cooked: 3 ounces: 47 micrograms (67 percent DV)
There are pros and cons of halibut fish, but the fact that this fish is a selenium-rich seafood option is definitely a pro.
5) Sardines: 3 ounces: 45 micrograms (64 percent DV)
Sardines are a great source of selenium as well as essential fatty acids, which are known for their anti-inflammatory benefits. Essential fatty acids also play an important role in the body when it come to cell signaling, immunity, mood and brain health.
6) Grass-fed beef: one lean strip: 45.1 micrograms (64 percent DV)
7) Skipjack tuna, cooked: 3 ounces: 39.8 micrograms (57 percent DV) (6)
When buying tuna, look for skipjack tuna caught through Pacific troll or pole and line methods to get the lowest mercury option. (7)
8) Wild-caught salmon, cooked: 3 ounces: 35.2 micrograms (50 percent DV)
This is one of my favorite fish to eat because salmon nutrition makes it one of healthiest foods on the planet (of course, just make sure it’s wild-caught). This a seafood that can really encourage whole body wellness.
9) Beef liver: 3 ounces: 30.1 micrograms (42 percent DV)
Is liver good for you? If you can learn to enjoy (or mask) the taste, many people love beef liver for its high nutrient content.
1o) Oats, old-fashioned, not fortified: 1 cup: 23.4 micrograms (33 percent DV)
11) Navy beans, raw: 1 cup: 22.9 micrograms (33 percent DV) (9)
Loved by many vegetarians and vegans as an excellent plant-based source of protein, navy beans also contain an impressive amount of folate, manganese and selenium.
12) Chicken: 3 ounces: 22 micrograms (31 percent DV) (10)
Always opt for organic free-range chicken to get the healthiest version of this high protein and selenium source.
13) Turkey, boneless: 3 ounces: 19.2 micrograms (27 percent DV)
14) Eggs: 1 large: 15 micrograms (21 percent DV)
15) Spinach: 1 cup: 11 micrograms (16 percent DV) (11)
Spinach is known for its impressively high vitamin K content, but it’s also a great vegetarian- and vegan-approved source of selenium and many other essential nutrients.
I recommend consume two to three of these selenium foods daily to improve detoxification, immunity and thyroid function.
Top Health Benefits of Selenium Foods
Eating high selenium foods can provide you with the wide ranging health benefits of this vital mineral. Selenium benefits are numerous, and these are just some of the most impressive ones below.
1. Improved Thyroid Health
Selenium plays a role in maintaining thyroid health since it works together with iodine. In fact, the thyroid is the organ in our bodies with the largest content of selenium. It’s needed to produce a critical thyroid hormone called T3, which regulates metabolism.
Selenium deficiency is known to lower the synthesis of thyroid hormones, as it decreases the function of selenoproteins (in particular iodothyronine deiodinases), which are responsible for the conversion of T4 to T3. (11)
For patients struggling with Hashimoto’s disease, increasing selenium intake has been shown to decreases anti-thyroid antibody levels and improve the structure of the thyroid gland. Selenium has also shown itself to be helpful during pregnancy-related thyroid problems like postpartum thyroiditis as well as Graves’ disease. (12)
2. Cancer Prevention
There is a strong correlation between levels of selenium in the blood and a reduced risk of several types of cancer. Selenium may help with DNA repair or may prevent cancer cells from replicating.
According to a scientific article published in the journal Mutagenesis, “The possible benefits of selenium in humans is supported by an extensive literature of in vitro and animal model systems indicating that low, non-toxic levels of selenium can protect against cancer.” (13)
Since selenium is a powerful antioxidant, it makes sense why foods high in selenium may help to prevent cancer by reducing free radicals in the body. Studies to date point toward the benefit of cancer prevention being from eating selenium foods, but not from taking a selenium supplement.
3. Stronger Heart Health
Selenium-rich foods prevent oxidative damage to the body’s cells reducing inflammation and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some people with low levels of serum selenium have been shown to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Follow-up results of a prospective randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial reveal that four years of supplementation with selenium and coenzyme Q10 “significantly reduced cardiovascular mortality” in elderly subjects ten years after the supplementation intervention. (14)
4. Mercury Poisoning Protection
Signs of Selenium Deficiency
A selenium deficiency is generally seen more often in areas where the soil does not contain as much selenium, such as certain regions of China. People at greater risk for developing a selenium deficiency include those living in selenium-deficient areas (including parts of China and Europe), undergoing kidney dialysis and living with HIV. (16) First-line treatment for this deficiency is typically eating more selenium foods.
Selenium deficiency symptoms include:
- Weakened immune system
- Infertility in men and women
- Mental fog
- Muscle weakness
- Hair loss
- Thyroid dysfunction
Selenium Foods Recipes
If you’re going to make sure you get enough selenium in your diet, you need to know some recipes that include delicious foods that contain selenium. Here are some mouth-watering recipes that include plenty of selenium:
In 1817, selenium was discovered by Swedish chemists named Jöns Jacob Berzelius. Its name comes from the Greek word selene, which means moon, due to the fact that selenium is bright and gray when melted. When used to color glass, it can create a deep red color. It is also employed in the making of photo cells, photographic toner, electric eyes and light meters for cameras — and is also added to stainless steel.
Selenium makes up about 90 parts per billion of the Earth’s crust. In nature, it can be found in some minerals long with heavy metals like copper and silver. (17)
Selenium sulfide is the active ingredient often found in shampoos used for the treatment of dandruff. Some naturopaths also use selenium supplements to treat acne, asthma, tendinitis, male infertility problems and postmenopausal disorders in women. (18)
You now know that selenium is essential to human health, but it also plays an essential role to animal health. For animals, selenium helps with reproduction/fertility and immune health. (19)
Chronically high intakes of selenium can lead to unwanted side effects. Some early signs of of excess intake include bad breath (specifically a garlic odor) and a metallic taste in the mouth.
The most common clinical signs of chronically high selenium intakes are hair and nail loss or brittleness. Other symptoms of excessive selenium include skin lesions and rashes, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, irritability, and nervous system abnormalities.
Selenium can possibly interact with other supplements and medications, including niacin, antacids, chemotherapy drugs, corticosteroids, statin drugs and birth control pills.
The American Cancer Society advises that the maximum dose of selenium in supplement form should not be greater than 200 micrograms per day. (21)
- Selenium foods include a variety of meat, fish, plants and nuts (especially Brazil nuts).
- Selenium health benefits may include a boost to immune, heart and thyroid health, and benefits are linked more to dietary intake of selenium rather than selenium supplements.
- Consuming selenium foods regularly is the best and safest way to ensure that you are getting enough of this vital nutrient in your diet.
- I recommend consuming two to three high selenium foods daily to improve detoxification, immunity and thyroid function.
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