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.
The tree from which Brazil nuts come is known as Bertholletia excelsa by most botanists. In good growing conditions, the tree can reach heights of 150 feet (45 meters), and it plays a significant role in rain forest ecology. The trees typically have straight, smooth trunks which open out to a branching canopy, and they drop their leaves during the dry season. Many animals interact with Brazil trees, including the agouti, a type of South American rodent which eats the seeds and hides others for later consumption. The hidden Brazil nuts sometimes develop into trees of their own, perpetuating the cycle.
The trees are excellent illustrations of the complex web of interdependence which characterizes the rain forest. When they bloom, the trees produce complex, coiled flowers which cannot be penetrated by most pollinators. One species of bees likes the flowers, but it is only found in the presence of a particular orchid. Therefore, Brazil nuts will only be produced in rain forest regions which have this orchid. In turn, the tree relies on animals like the agouti to seed itself.
In nature, Brazil nuts develop inside a large capsule which strongly resembles a coconut. If cut open, the capsule reveals a number of three-sided nuts. The nuts have extremely hard shells, but if they can be successfully cracked, they yield protein and fat rich seeds. Brazil nuts are considered a complete protein, making them an excellent addition to the vegetarian diet. Unfortunately, because of the high fat content of Brazil nuts, they can easily go rancid, and they should be kept in a cool dry place and eaten quickly.
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 Nutrition
Like all the other types of nuts, 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.
Brazil Nuts Health Benefits
After having a look at the nutritional value of these nuts, it is not so difficult to get a fair idea about Brazil nuts nutrition. Most of the health benefits of Brazil nuts can be attributed to its high selenium content. Selenium is an important antioxidant that can protect from the harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive particles that can oxidize and thereby, damage the body cells and tissues. Selenium can neutralize such free radicals and in the process, provide protection against a number of diseases including, heart disease. Selenium is also found to boost the immune system and promote the synthesis of glutathione, which plays an important role in minimizing free radical damage.
Another important fact about Brazil nuts nutrition is that selenium is also required for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Apart from this, like other nuts, Brazil nuts can assist in controlling weight. High protein and fiber content of these nuts help to control hunger and thereby losing weight. However, people trying to lose weight should control their total calorie intake; consuming Brazil nuts only cannot assure the prevention of weight gain.
Brazil nuts are a very rich source of omega-6 fatty acids that can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Similarly, the mono unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in Brazil nuts lower the level of cholesterol, and thereby reduce the risk for heart attacks and strokes. The benefits of these healthy fats often seem to outweigh the effects of small amount of saturated fats found in the nuts. Brazil nuts can prove beneficial in a very rare inherited disorder, which is known as Acrodermatitis enteropathica. In this disorder, the body fails to absorb sufficient amount of zinc from the diet leading to zinc deficiency. Brazil nuts contain high level of zinc and hence can be helpful for anyone having zinc deficiency.
Considering all the Brazil nuts nutrition facts, we can conclude that including a few of them in our daily diet can improve overall health and well-being. However, excess consumption should be avoided, as it contains a very high level of selenium. Presence of selenium more than the required amount in the body can cause fatigue, irritability and stomach upset. So, it is essential to maintain moderation in case of any food or dietary supplement. Moreover, it is better to use the unsalted or lightly salted nuts, as salted nuts means high level of sodium, which in turn is associated with hypertension.