Brazil nuts are grown in the Amazon rain forests, and most Brazil nut production is still gathered from wild trees. The trees are found especially in the non-flooded forest regions of Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. They grow up to 50 metres tall, and are thought to have a life span of 500 to 700 years.
Botanically, the brazil-nut tree belongs within the family of Lecythidaceae, of the genus Bertholletia, and has the scientific name Bertholletia excelsa.
Each tree bears up to 300 fruit pods in a season. The pod is a large shelled fruit and can weigh up to 2.5 kg. When mature, the fruit falls from the tree. Internally, each fruit has 10-25 seeds or nuts. Each nut is in turn encased in within its own thick, dark-brown individual shell. The edible kernel has a three-sided shape, a sweet nutty flavour and weighs up to 5g.
Rich rain forest soils contribute to the wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals found in Brazil nuts. They have been referred to as "nature's own vitamin pill - beneficial to health and protection from disease".
Nutritional and Health Benefits of Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts are calorie-dense. 100g of Brazil nuts provide about 656 calories, their high caloric content coming from their fats (1 calorie = 4.2 joules).
- Fatty Acids
The nuts are an excellent source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, including palmitoleic acid and oleic acid, which help to lower low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the so called "bad cholesterol" and increase the high density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good cholesterol", in the blood. They also contain healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids and are completely free of trans fats and cholesterol.
Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, 100g providing 1917mcg of selenium. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant. It is an important cofactor for the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Selenium foods in the diet help prevent coronary heart disease, liver cirrhosis, and cancers.
Mineral content in 100g of Brazil nuts:
- Calcium 160mg
- Magnesium 376mg
- Phosphorus 725mg
- Zinc 4.0mg
- Sodium 3.0mg
- Copper 1.73mg
- Iron 2.41mg.
- Protein and Arginine
Brazil nuts contain some 14g of protein per 100g, which includes 2.2g of arginine. This amino acid is a building block of protein which is converted to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide causes blood vessels to relax and remain elastic, and helps prevent blood clotting. (Hardening of the arteries and blood clotting can lead to heart disease.)
There is about 8g of fibre per 100g of Brazil nuts, important for digestive and heart health, as well as helping to manage blood glucose levels.
- Vitamin E
The nuts are also a very good source of vitamin E, 5.7mg per 100g. Vitamin E is a powerful lipid soluble antioxidant. It is required to maintain the integrity of the cell membranes of mucous membranes and skin by protecting them from harmful oxygen-free radicals.
Brazil nuts are free from gluten, making them one of the popular ingredients in the preparation of gluten-free foods.
In summary: Brazil nuts are very low in cholesterol and sodium, and high in healthy mono-unsaturated fatty acids. They are an excellent source of selenium and have significant amounts of magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, copper and zinc and iron. Brazil nuts supply quality protein and significant amounts of fibre, as well as vitamins and antioxidants.
Brazil nuts have significant health benefits as outlined above.
It is recommended that they be consumed regularly and should be part of everyday diet. A 30g serving of Brazil nuts is about 6-10 nuts, depending on the size.
Buy whole, brown colour nuts that are full, compact and heavy, avoiding shrivelled ones, and store in an air-tight container.
*Copyright 2013: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material in the huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.
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