The Brazil nut, also known as Bertholletia excelsa, is a natural wonder of the Amazon rainforest. Cherished by the indigenous people of this region for its much-needed protein, fats and other essential nutrients, this nut has, in recent years, become widely recognized as an herbal supplement. In the local region where it is found, some of the common names for this nut are castania, castanha-do-pará, para-nut, Castaña-de-Brazil and cream-nut. Contrary to popular belief, Brazil nuts are found in many areas other than Brazil. Such areas include Bolivia, Columbia, Peru, Venezuela and the Guianas. In fact, it is Bolivia, not Brazil, who is the largest producer of Brazil nuts.
Almost exclusively, Brazil nut trees can be found in abundance in non-flooded forest regions of South America. This stately tree is one of the largest trees in the Amazon rainforest, growing up to 50 meters tall and living anywhere from 500 to 700 years. Each mature tree forms fruit pods, a large shelled fruit, which falls from the trees with a thunderous crash. Each fruit pod contains 12 to 25 Brazil nuts, which is the part of the tree that people use for a variety of health and culinary purposes.
Although Brazil nuts are high in calories, they contain ample amounts of vitamins, anti-oxidants and minerals. The nuts are a vital part of the staple diets of Amazonian people.
One hundred grams of Brazil nuts yield approximately 656 calories. The reason why they contain so many calories is because of their high concentration of fats. A Brazil nut consists of 70 percent fat and 17 percent protein. However, most of these fats are "good fats" like mono-unsaturated fatty acids such as palmitoleic acid and oleic acid. These types of fats help to lower "bad cholesterol" and increase "good cholesterol" in your body. Research studies show that diets rich in palmitoleic acid and oleic acid help to prevent coronary artery disease and strokes.
Brazil nuts have also been found to contain high amounts of vitamin-E. On average, 100 grams of these nuts contains a whopping 52 percent of the recommended daily value of Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that is required for maintaining the integrity of cell membranes, mucus membranes and your skin.
Ounce for ounce, Brazil nuts contain the highest levels of selenium found naturally in any plant, fruit or nut. Only one ounce of Brazil nuts contains over seven times the daily recommended value of selenium. An individual can obtain all of the selenium they need for the day by consuming just one or two nut. Adequate selenium intake has numerous health benefits. including preventing coronary artery disease, liver cirrhosis, and many forms of cancer.
Brazil nuts are gluten-free and provide a healthy alternative for people with wheat allergies and celiac disease.
Additionally, these creamy nuts are an excellent source of B vitamins, and 100 grams of Brazil nuts contain over half of the daily recommended value of thiamin. They also contain a host of energy-giving B vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine and folate.
Brazil nuts have high levels of many other beneficial constituents other than selenium, including magnesium, copper, calcium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and zinc.
A one ounce serving of Brazil nuts contain 27 percent the recommended daily value of magnesium which assists with the muscle performance, the production of protein and absorption of energy from food. They provide a healthy dose of copper, and a one ounce serving contains 25 percent of the recommended daily value for copper. Copper, although it is a mineral, helps the body in many ways, including facilitating iron absorption and maintaining bone and connective tissue health. Brazil nuts do a wonderful job of supporting bone and teeth health because the same one ounce portion contains 20 percent of the recommended daily value of phosphorous.
Brazil nut oil contains many helpful amino acids, namely linoleic, oleic, palmitic, and alpha linolenic acids. The proteins found in Brazil nuts are an excellent source of other such amino acids as cysteine and methionine. These nuts also contain high concentrations of glutamine, glutamic acid, and arginine. These amino acids work to facilitate selenium absorption and assists the digestive absorption of other minerals in the nut.
The Brazil nut is usually consumed whole, but it can also be consumed as an oil.