The Brazil nut is a South American tree in the family Lecythidaceae, and also the name of the tree's commercially harvested edible seed.
The Brazil nut tree is the only species in the monotypic genus Bertholletia. The Brazil nut is a large tree, reaching 50 m tall and with a trunk 1 to 2 m in diameter, making it among the largest of trees in the Amazon rainforests. It may live for 500 years or more, and according to some authorities often reaches an age of 1,000 years. The stem is straight and commonly without branches for well over half the tree's height, with a large emergent crown of long branches above the surrounding canopy of other trees.
The bark is grayish and smooth. The leaves are dry-season deciduous, alternate, simple, entire or crenate, oblong, 20–35 cm long and 10–15 cm broad. The flowers are small, greenish-white, in panicles 5–10 cm 3.9long; each flower has a two-parted, deciduous calyx, six unequal cream-colored petals, and numerous stamens united into a broad, hood-shaped mass.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is a well-known fact that dried fruits could be fattening if eaten too much. Our body requires very little selenium. An overdose of selenium can be toxic and can cause brittle and white nails, hair fall, fatigue, rash, irritability and stomach upset. Brazil nuts have been found to consist high amounts of aflatoxins, which are carcinogenic, hence European Union has placed strict restrictions on import of Brazil nuts. Small amounts of radioactive radium is also found in Brazil nuts because of its vast root system. It is a thousand times more than that is found in other foods but is not believed to be absorbed into the body.
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