Amazon’s dense forest holds some of the unique plant species like Brazil nuts, acai berry, etc., that can be found nowhere else on the planet earth. Botanically, brazil-nut tree belongs within the family of Lecythidaceae, in the genus: Bertholletia. Scientific name: Bertholletia excelsa.
Native Amazonians cherished these delicious nuts since ages, which provided them much-needed protein, fats, and other essential nutrients.
Brazil nut trees are conspicuous in the non-flooded forests of Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. They, indeed, are one of the tallest, and long-living plant species among all the tropical rain forests. Each tree can grow upto 50 meters in height with large erect stem and wide umbrella like foliage canopy near its top 1/3. Its lifespan may thought to be of about 500 to 700 years.
Each mature tree bears up to 300 fruit pods in a season. A brazil nut pod features thick outer shell as in coconuts, and may weigh up to 2.5 kg in weight. It takes about 14 months for the fruit to mature after pollination. Upon maturity, the pod falls itself from the tree, usually with a thud. The pods may remain intact even after falling from such a height. At their natural habitat, brazil nut pods exclusively depend upon caviomorph rodents (agoutis, Dasyprocta spp. that have the ability to gnaw open woody shell) to free and disperse leftover seeds for germination.
Internally, each fruit pod features 10-25 seeds (kernels), arranged in segments. Each kernel in turn is encased within its own thick dark-brown thin shell. An edible white meat kernel features triangular base with sloping sides, and sweet nutty flavor and weigh about 5 g.
Brazil nuts are technically seeds, not nuts, but their brown nut-like casings have led most people to call them nuts.
They are produced by a South American tree which tends to grow in virgin rain forests, and they are an extremely popular food source in many Latin American nations, as well of the rest of the world. The nuts have a rich, creamy flavor which lends itself well to an assortment of dishes in addition to being tasty on its own.
In addition to being marketed on their own as nuts, Brazil nuts are also pressed to yield oil. The oil is rich, creamy, and very flavorful. It can be used in cooking projects, and also has applications as a lubricant.
It can sometimes be difficult to find the oil, but the nuts themselves are usually readily available in most markets.
Brazil nuts are also known for their great taste and health benefits. Besides being one of the richest dietary sources for selenium, a vital mineral for human health, it contains significant amount of magnesium, phosphorus and thiamine, and very rich in protein and dietary fiber. 28 g of Brazil nuts approximately contain 190 calories, out of which 170 calories can be attributed to its fat content. Out of the total fat, 5 g is saturated fat, 7 g is mono-unsaturated fat, and the rest 7 g is polyunsaturated fat.
The protein content is about 4 g, while fiber and sugar contents are 2 g and 1 g respectively. Again, 28 g of Brazil nuts contain about 190mg of potassium, 4 g of carbohydrates and 0 g of cholesterol, trans fat and sodium.
Apart from these, 28 g of Brazil nuts can provide about 20% of the daily value of phosphorus, 8% of the daily value of zinc, 25% of the daily value of magnesium and copper, 15% of the daily value of manganese and 780% of the daily value of selenium. Additionally, Brazil nuts are a good source of vitamins like, thiamine and vitamin E.
High Selenium Content (Brazil Nuts)
The greatest health benefit of Brazil nuts lies in their high selenium content, and this is what makes them so special. One single kernel provides 100% of the daily value for selenium, while 1 ounce contains as much as 536.8 mg of this nutrient, meaning 766% of the DV!
The body cannot produce selenium by itself, so it must be obtained through food and water.
Although not being an antioxidant, selenium plays an important role in the antioxidant defense system of the human body. It boosts the activity of antioxidants, for their functionality greatly depends on the presence of selenium. Selenium is an essential component of two important antioxidant enzymes, known as glutathione peroxidise and thioredoxin reductase, and it also increases the vitamin E function in the body.
High levels of selenium in Brazil nuts are therefore associated with many health benefits. Listed below are some of the most important ones.
1) Selenium helps fight free radicals and boosts the immune system. It encourages the production of glutathione, the most important antioxidant enzyme that defends our body against free radical damage.
2) Selenium is essential to thyroid gland function.
3) Selenium aids in protection against breast and prostate cancer, as well as other forms of cancer
4) Selenium prevents blood clotting and helps protect from heart diseases.
Contains Unsaturated Fats
Brazilian nuts contain a small amount of saturated fats and very high levels of monounsaturated fats. They provide 18.8 grams of total fat, of which 25% are saturated fats, 41% are monounsaturated, and 34% are polyunsaturated.
They are particularly rich in palmitoleic acid and oleic acid, which help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol levels in the blood. These monounsaturated fats are therefore very useful in preventing coronary heart diseases, heart attacks and strokes.
Brazil nuts are good sources of complete proteins, meaning that they provide all of the essential amino acids needed for human growth and development, and required for muscle tissue repair.
Another great Brazil nuts health benefit comes from their high levels of an important amino acid know as methionine. Methionine plays an essential role in the prevention of chronic illnesses, as well as in fending off premature aging symptoms and signs.
Brazil nuts are also a good source of vitamin E and B-complex group vitamins, especially thiamin, or vitamin B1. 1 ounce (6 to 8 nuts) contains 0.17mg of thiamin and provides 11% of the recommended daily value of this essential nutrient.
Thiamin helps keep the nervous system healthy and is important for energy metabolism and heart health.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that maintains the integrity of cell membranes and protects skin from free radical damage.
One of the most controversial and beneficial aspects of Brazil nuts is their surprisingly high content of healthy unsaturated fats. Otherwise known as “good” forms of cholesterol or omega-3 fatty acids. This includes oleic acid and palmitoleic acid. These varieties of unsaturated fats have been connected with balancing the cholesterol profile of the body and improving general heart health, mainly by eliminating dangerous omega-6 fatty acids from the body and cardiovascular system. This health cholesterol balance can help to prevent atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes. However, brazil nuts still contain the highest content of dangerous saturated fats. So be careful not to overdue, as Brazil nuts are also high in calories. Six average-sized Brazil nuts is actually the recommended serving size for this beneficial snack.
Zinc content in Brazil nuts has been shown to protect against acne or lessen its appearance. This can be achieved through normal consumption of the nuts or by application of Brazil nut oil on the affected area. The rich vitamin and antioxidant content of the oil is the main cause behind this protective quality.
See also: “Minerals“
Any food that has such a high concentration of nutrients and minerals will be helpful for the immune system, but the antioxidants and organic compounds also present in this unassuming nut makes it a strong contender for one of the most immune-boosting nuts around. The vitamin C content couples wonderfully with selenium and zinc to stimulate the production of white blood cells and stimulating antioxidant compounds throughout the body to neutralize free radicals, thereby preventing many chronic illnesses, including cancer and coronary heart disease. The glutathione enabled by the presence of selenium is an enzymatic antioxidant that eliminates free radicals in all parts of the body that cause cancer.
The comprehensive profile of vitamins and nutrients in Brazil nuts make it particularly good for protecting skin health. The selenium in Brazil nuts, which is often the most praised aspect of this nut. Is great for giving the skin a healthy glow and improves the elasticity of the skin, thereby preventing premature aging. This is possible because selenium stimulates the activity of glutathione. A powerful antioxidant compound that can remove free radicals from the skin cells that cause wrinkles and even skin cancer.