Selenium is one of the important trace minerals that are required within the human body in order for it to function correctly. It is required for a very wide range of purposes, but it is only needed in quite small amounts, so, fortunately, deficiencies in this mineral are uncommon. Let’s take a look at this incredible substance, what it does inside us and how we can naturally increase our intake through dietary sources.
Why Do We Need Selenium?
Selenium is involved in many processes throughout the body. It is essential for processes involved in the reproductive system, DNA synthesis, thyroid function, and protection from damage caused by oxidative stress (the damage caused by free radicals). It also helps prevent infection. Healthy supplies of this mineral can protect against thyroid problems, cardiovascular problems, and cognitive problems that can occur when the fats in the body become damaged or changed by oxidation. We know that small amounts of Selenium are essential for good health. Research is still underway into whether supplements have any beneficial effect beyond that of obtaining the correct daily amount of the mineral. For now, there is only a little evidence to suggest that supplements can have a therapeutic effect, and more is required.
How Much Do We Need?
The NHS tells us that adult males (aged 19-64) should consume 75μg of Selenium a day while adult women of the same age need 60μg each day. The NHS website states:
“You should be able to get all the Selenium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet that includes meat, fish or nuts. If you take selenium supplements, it’s important not to take too much as this could be harmful. Taking 350μg or less a day of selenium supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.“
It is very unlikely that an adult with a diet that includes meat, fish, or nuts would suffer from a selenium deficiency. Deficiency is more common in those who live in areas where there are poor Selenium levels in the soil or those suffering from other health issues that make it harder for them to absorb nutrients from foods they eat. If a person has too little of this mineral over a period of time, it can cause or contribute to infertility, thyroid problems, muscle function issues (including weakness), as well as other symptoms such as cognitive problems, fatigue, hair loss, and reduced protection from infection.
It is always better to consume your nutrients from fresh food sources rather than supplements. A healthy balanced diet with a wide range of different fresh foods provides vitamins, minerals, and macro-nutrients in a bio-available form. Selenium is found in many different foods. Let’s take a look at some of the richest sources of Selenium and how you can increase your consumption of them to improve your intake of this essential mineral.
- Brazil Nuts – Brazil nuts are one of the richest sources of Selenium and are often recommended as a great source of this and other minerals. A single brazil nut (as well as being an incredibly tasty snack) provides nearly 100mg of Selenium! This means they are a good source if you are low in Selenium, but consuming too many or too often is not a good idea as it could potentially lead to selenium toxicity. Just a couple of brazil nuts a couple of times a week is usually enough to meet your required amount of Selenium.
- Fish – Fish is a great source of nutrition, especially when it comes to essential minerals like Selenium. Tuna is a rich source, with around 60mg in just a 3-ounce serving. Other rich fish sources of Selenium include salmon and halibut. Shellfish such as sardines, crab, clams, and shrimp are also rich in Selenium, with one small serving generally providing around the daily requirement.
- Yoghurt – Yoghurt is a good source of Selenium, especially for those who follow a vegetarian diet or those who have health problems that make eating solid foods difficult. Plain yoghurt supplies around 10mg of Selenium per cup. Nuts and seeds with yoghurt (and perhaps a dash of honey) make an excellent snack and supply a very impressive range of essential nutrients that are important for human health.
- Eggs – With 16mg of Selenium in one egg and a range of protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients, eggs are another good source of Selenium. Eggs are a fast and easy, convenient food that can be cooked in so many ways, and they are a versatile source of nutrition. Eggs make an excellent breakfast or light meal.
- Ham – There is 32 mg of ham in a single 3-ounce serving of ham. While this isn’t the healthiest of foods due to its relatively high salt content, ham does provide a fairly impressive amount of Selenium per serving. Ham can be included as part of a healthy balanced diet. Just be careful not to overdo your daily salt requirement.
- Chicken and Turkey – A 3-ounce serving of chicken will provide 25mg of Selenium while the same amount of turkey can provide around 30mg. This is around half of the daily requirement of Selenium for most people. Poultry also delivers a range of other nutrients and makes for a filling meal. Pair it with healthy carbohydrates or leafy greens to increase the nutritional profile of your meal.
- Sunflower Seeds – One of Selenium’s best (and most tasty) vegan sources is the humble sunflower seed. They are an excellent source of Selenium, with up to 20 mg per ounce. They are also a great source of other nutrients, including iron, magnesium, and vitamin B6, as well as healthy fats.
Selenium is essential for human health, and thankfully it is easy to consume enough of it for optimum health levels. As with any nutrient, if you are concerned that you are getting too little (or too much) Selenium, then it is important you speak to your healthcare provider. And as always, the most important thing is to consume a wide range of fresh produce each day to ensure that your nutritional needs are met. Talk to a nutritionist if you have any special dietary requirements or health conditions that affect your ability to consume or absorb nutrients.