Though selenium is considered a trace mineral—meaning our bodies don't need a ton of it—it still has an important role to play in our overall health (more on this below). And yes, eating foods rich in selenium is the best way to hit the recommended amount, says Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN, a nutrition expert for Provenance and founder of Middleberg Nutrition. She specifically recommends getting your selenium from food sources versus supplementation, unless recommended by your doctor, as long-term effects of selenium supplementation have been linked to certain health consequences, including nausea and fatigue.
- Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Middleberg Nutrition
The good news is that there are plenty of selenium-rich foods that are widely available, and it isn't difficult to meet your recommended intake when following a healthy meal regime. Here's what you need to know about eating selenium, according to Middleberg.
What is selenium?
First, the basics. "Selenium is an essential trace mineral necessary for everyday health. It is a powerful antioxidant that affects many functions in the body," says Middleberg. As a quick refresher, antioxidants help protect your cells from damage-causing free radicals and work to reduce chronic inflammation in the body.
What are the key selenium benefits?
There are five major things that selenium helps with, says Middleberg.
1. Selenium helps other antioxidants do their job. Essentially, your body needs it in order to reap the most benefits out of certain antioxidants, because it functions as a cofactor for antioxidant enzymes. And as a result, more anti-inflammatory benefits.
2. Selenium can help improve your thyroid and hormone function because it helps your body metabolize thyroid hormones. It can be especially important in helping those with Hashimotos, Middleberg says. Consequently, selenium can benefit your digestion and overall mood.
3. It may help with fertility. "Selenium is also important for the reproductive health of both men and women. Low levels are especially associated with a decrease in male fertility," she says.
4. Selenium can help support your immune system. "Selenium is important in glutathione production, which helps the body produce more antioxidants and facilitates cell growth. It also binds with heavy metals and toxins and helps them move to the stool to be eliminated," says Middleberg.
5. It may have a protective effect against cancer. "Low levels of selenium have been found to be associated with increased risk for certain cancers like prostate, lung, and stomach" explains Middleberg. This is inked to selenium's aforementioned ability to help antioxidants work in the body.
How much selenium do I need?
The RDA is 55 micrograms for both men and women. Middleberg notes that pregnant or breastfeeding women may need a bit more than the RDA for selenium. People can safely take up to 400 micrograms per day, but as mentioned, anything more than that can cause undesirable side effects such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fatigue, and irritability.
10 superstar selenium foods to incorporate into your meals
Believe it or not, Brazil nuts are the only ingredient you need if you want to up your selenium intake in the most efficient way possible. "Just one to two nuts per day can help you reach your selenium needs," says Middleberg. That's because Brazil nuts have abundant (read: bonkers) amounts of selenium—around 68-91 micrograms per nut. Per nut!
Fish and shellfish
Foods like shrimp, crabmeat, salmon, and tuna are all rich sources of selenium, says Middleberg. Yellowfin tuna contains 92 micrograms of selenium per three ounce serving, which makes it an excellent source of selenium. This is followed by sardines, oysters, clams, halibut, shrimp, salmon, and crab, which each contain anywhere from 40 to 75 micrograms per serving. Indeed, a single serving of salmon gets you over your selenium goals with 60 micrograms of the mineral.
A single serving of beef contains, on average, about 50 micrograms of selenium, plus other important nutrients like protein and magnesium. Keep in mind that the cut of beef will make a difference in how much selenium you're consuming—while a beef round steak provides the amount mentioned above, ground beef only offers about 22 micrograms per serving.
Turkey and chicken
If you're in search of selenium, poultry will help get you there. Turkey packs 31 micrograms in a three ounce serving, and white chicken meat has around 24 micrograms per serving.
One egg contains around 20 micrograms of selenium, so a two-egg brekkie will almost meet the recommended daily intake (and three will be the sweet spot). Just one more excuse to incorporate eggs into recipes whenever you're able.
Indeed, if you're seeing a theme here and it screams 'protein,' you're spot on. One cup of protein-packed cottage cheese contains about 20 micrograms, or a little more than a third of your daily amount of selenium.
Brown rice and barley
A cup of cooked long-grain brown rice will provide you with 19 micrograms of selenium. Pro tip: make a brown rice-based grain bowl topped with a couple of eggs (or grilled chicken) plus veggies, and you'll have met your recommended intake for the entire day. If you prefer barley, go for it—it contains around 14 micrograms of selenium per cup.
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