Selenium is an essential mineral found in the soil, and it’s necessary for optimal functioning in the body (1). It plays an important role in metabolism and thyroid function (2), as well as reducing oxidative stress in the body (3). It’s also a powerful antioxidant that can reduce certain types of cancer risks like head and neck cancer (4), protect the heart (5), and even boost brain health (6).
Selenium is particularly important for thyroid function because the thyroid tissue has more selenium than any other part of the body (7). It helps protect the thyroid gland from oxidative stress and regulates hormone production (8). If you struggle with thyroid issues, it could mean you are low or deficient in selenium.
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Foods High in Selenium
It’s important to get enough selenium each day so the body can function properly. Many foods contain selenium, but here are the top 7 foods with the highest amount of this critical mineral. See if you can start to incorporate more selenium into your diet with these foods today.
1. Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts have a ton of beneficial selenium (9). Even just one brazil nut a day can bring selenium levels up dramatically. And one nut a day exceeds the amount of selenium required in one day. One single brazil nut has 68-91 mcg of selenium, and the daily recommended allowance is only 55 mcg. Brazil nuts are healthy for a variety of other reasons as well. They’re an excellent source of healthy fats and protein, too (10). One study found that even one nut a day had significant effects on the memory of older adults with mild cognitive impairment (11).
Brazil nuts are on the plainer tasting side of the nut spectrum. Some people don’t like the plain taste of brazil nuts, but there’s an easy solution to that. If brazil nuts are too plain for your taste, simply add them to your favorite smoothie in the morning and you won’t taste them at all. Brazil nuts are also much larger than the typical nut. You can crush them or cut them with a knife and throw them into yogurts, oatmeal, and even some recipes for an added crunch. Brazil nuts can be the easiest way to get your daily amount of selenium.
Summary: Brazil nuts are extremely rich in selenium. One selenium nut exceeds the amount required of selenium per day, containing 68-91 mcg. The daily recommended allowance is 55 mcg. They are also high in healthy fats and protein, making them an excellent food. Eat them plain as a snack, add them to smoothies, or chop and add to yogurt or oatmeal.
2. Certain Types of Fish
The fish with the most selenium include tuna, halibut, sardines, and shrimp (12, 13, 14). If you’re able to consume all these types of fish, it’s best to vary the type, instead of choosing just one. That way, you get the many health benefits from each one, besides selenium. Tuna has the most selenium, followed by halibut, sardines, and shrimp. Tuna and halibut should only be eaten every week, instead of daily, because they contain the most mercury of these fish (15). All these types of fish contain a healthy serving of omega-3 fatty acids, with sardines as the number one choice (16, 17).
Sardines also have a healthy dose of calcium, B vitamins, zinc, iron, potassium, and phosphorus (18, 19). Shrimp is a healthy source of shellfish to get in necessary minerals like selenium, iodine, as well as the antioxidant called astaxanthin (20). Astaxanthin helps protect skin against sunburn (21) and it can help with muscle soreness as well (22). All these fish also help improve brain health including memory, and they help prevent cognitive decline (23). It’s never a bad idea to start including more fish into your diet for a well-rounded healthy dose of vitamins and minerals.
Summary: Some fish including tuna, halibut, sardines, and shrimp are high in selenium. Tuna is the highest source of selenium among the fish, but tuna and halibut should only be eaten once a week due to higher mercury content. All these fish have heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and can hep improve brain health, memory, and cognitive decline.
Ham is often thought to be unhealthy food to a diet in the mainstream. Other types of pork that are demonized are bacon and sausage. This is because pork is high in fat and calories. But, if the ham is eaten cured and unprocessed, it can be an excellent choice for a healthy diet. Ham is rich in protein and many vitamins and minerals, including selenium (24). Just three ounces of ham contains 40 mcg of selenium, which is almost the daily requirement. Pork also has all nine essential amino acids necessary for optimal functioning in the body (25, 26). Amino acids are necessary for muscle production, energy, and more (27).
Ham is not only rich in selenium, but also zinc, phosphorus, iron, niacin, vitamin B6, and thiamine (28, 29). Overall, ham can help with muscle mass and performance (30). Because ham is high in unsaturated fats, it may not be the best option to have regularly for those who have a history of heart disease in their family. It’s best to consume pork occasionally if you’re unsure about the potential health benefits and controversy (31).
Summary: A 3-ounce portion of ham contains 40 mcg of selenium, which almost reaches the recommended 55 mcg per day. Ham is also rich in protein, zinc, phosphorus, iron, niacin, vitamin B6, and thiamine. Eating lean cuts of ham can help with muscle recovery and performance, and benefit a healthy diet when eaten in the right serving size.
Macaroni in any form of pasta is another controversial food. It’s also not great to eat all the time but can be beneficial here and there (33). Just one cup of macaroni contains 37 mcg of selenium. Pasta has long been consumed all around the world for it’s delicious and satisfying flavors. But, can it be included as a part of a healthy diet. The answer is yes, and the key to adding it in is moderation. You can include other types of pasta such as whole grain or mix only a small portion of pasta with a healthy fish high in selenium like halibut or tuna.
Pasta is high in carbohydrates, but it’s also high in essential vitamins and minerals (33). The biggest problem with pasta arises when you eat it in large portions. As long as you eat it in moderation, you can easily add this to a complete diet. Macaroni needs to be balanced with other healthy foods like vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats to be a complete part of a well-balanced diet.
Summary: One cup of macaroni contains 37 mcg of selenium, and can be included as part of a healthy diet. The key is in moderation. Try whole grain macaroni or pasta varieties for a boost in fiber and nutrients. Balance intake of pastas with protein, vegetables, and healthy fats.
5. Beef and Poultry
Beefsteak, turkey, beef liver, and chicken are all high in the essential mineral selenium (34, 35). They are the highest ranked in that order, too. The selenium content ranges from 33 mcg per serving to 20 mcg of selenium. Try to consume these meats in the organic and grass-fed form whenever possible for the most health benefits. Lean meat like these contains many essential vitamins like B vitamins, iron, zinc, and all essential amino acids (36).
Beef liver contains the most essential vitamins and minerals, although it’s not a typical favorite. It’s packed with vitamin A, K, and much more (37). Beef liver has a distinct and different taste than most meats. The consistency is different and almost like fried tofu depending on how it’s cooked. See if you can try to consume some of these healthy lean meats in your diet to get more selenium and essential amino acids into your life.
Summary: Beefsteak, turkey, beef liver, and chicken are high in selenium, with beefsteak being the highest. Selenium content ranges from 33 mcg to 20 mcg per serving of selenium. Lean meat such as these are also high in B vitamins, iron, zinc, and essential amino acids. Beef liver also has high vitamin A and K, making it a very nutritious food.
6. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is one of the healthiest foods around. It may surprise some since it’s a form of dairy, which is contraindicated for a large group of people. Those who are lactose intolerant and sensitive to dairy should skip out on cottage cheese. But, if you can eat dairy, this is a great healthy food to add to your diet. Only one cup of cottage cheese has 20 mcg of selenium. It’s also high in protein, healthy fats, vitamin B-12, folate, and phosphorus (38, 39).
Cottage cheese helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels (40), improves heart health (41), digestion (42), and it can improve bone health (43). You can mix cottage cheese with flaxseed oil, and blueberries and include it as part of a healthy breakfast. Or, mix cottage cheese in with hard-boiled eggs and spinach for a different taste and nutrient profile.
Summary: Just one cup of cottage cheese has 20 mcg of selenium, making it a very rich source. It is also high in protein, healthy fats, vitamin B-12, folate, and phosphorus, making it an all-around healthy food. Cottage cheese has been shown to maintain healthy blood sugar, improve heart health and digestion, and boost bone health. Try it topped with blueberries and nuts.
7. Brown Rice
Long-grain brown rice has 19 mcg of selenium in just one cup (44) Brown rice is an excellent complex carbohydrate to add to your diet every so often. Brown rice is extremely high in fiber (45), so it helps to improve digestion (46). It can also slow blood clots (47), and can even help you stay full longer (48). If you feel like you want to overeat or snack, try to fill up on complex carbohydrates like brown rice instead. It’s considered to be a low glycemic food, which means it’s a great choice for those with diabetes.
Mix brown rice with your favorite meat and vegetables for a hearty, filling, and satisfying meal filled with nutrition.
Summary: Long-grain brown rice is rich in selenium. One cup contains 19 mcg. It is also high in fiber, which helps to improve digestion, reduce blood sugar spikes, slow blood clots, and help you stay full longer. Add complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, with lean protein and vegetables to make a filling, satisfying meal.
Selenium is an important mineral, essential for overall health and well-being. Make sure to consume a variety of foods rich in selenium to get all the benefits of extra phytonutrients and vitamins available. Improve the health of your thyroid, digestion, and more by adding some of these foods to your daily routine.