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Rich in Selenium for Optimal Thyroid Function, A Functional Medicine Nutritionist’s Spin on a Classic: Brazil Nut Tapenade - Blog Image

Rich in Selenium for Optimal Thyroid Function, A Functional Medicine Nutritionist’s Spin on a Classic: Brazil Nut Tapenade

BY: Andrea Nakayama

DATE: 2014-10-17

Today, we delve into the fascinating world of thyroid health. Picture this: a butterfly-shaped gland nestled in the neck, silently orchestrating all aspects of a person’s wellbeing. But hold on, if you’re dismissing this as irrelevant because you think, “I don’t have or know anyone who has thyroid problems like hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s,” think again! Thyroid health is intertwined with countless factors that impact our overall health. So, whether or not you or someone you know currently struggles with or is working to manage thyroid hormone production issues, this is a topic to know.

Why you should care about thyroid health

Every one of us possesses a thyroid gland (unless, of course, it has been surgically removed for specific reasons). We all share a common desire for it to function seamlessly – trust me, it’s something we all wish for.

Just as we seldom contemplate our left big toe’s role in walking until we accidentally stub it, or give thought to our molars aiding in grinding and chewing food until a tooth infection arises, the thyroid often goes unnoticed until it communicates its distress through a series of unmistakable signs and symptoms.

Let’s look at the main functions of the thyroid and the hormones it produces:

  • The thyroid is the primary control center for the metabolism.

  • It plays a crucial role in determining growth rates, especially in young individuals.

  • The thyroid facilitates the breakdown and utilization of carbohydrates and fats from dietary intake.

  • The thyroid assists in the conversion of beta-carotene found in plant foods into the fat-soluble vitamin A, which is essential for proper immune function, inflammatory response, genetic health, and reproductive wellbeing.  

  • The thyroid affects cholesterol levels, blood pressure, appetite, mental sharpness, libido and so much more.

We want our thyroid functioning properly!

What factors affect thyroid function?

Thyroid dysfunction can creep up like the first day of school after summer break. It’s not usually a simple flick of a switch that takes the thyroid from functional to non-functional. Stress, toxins, autoimmune conditions, infections, certain medication, fluoride and deficiency in specific nutrients can all inhibit the necessary production of thyroid hormones. There are a few key nutrients to consider for thyroid health and today’s topic focuses on one of those that’s often overlooked for thyroid health and beyond.

Selenium: A key nutrient for optimal thyroid function and more

Selenium is an antioxidant, a critical constituent in the production of thyroid hormones, and plays a vital role in the conversion of the primary thyroid hormone (T4) to the more bio-active thyroid hormone (T3). Selenium can also counteract the oxidative stress and inflammation that can come from an excess of iodine and its by-products surrounding the thyroid tissue. Selenium has several other important functions in the body beyond the thyroid, and in today’s stressful climate, many of us can be deficient in this important nutrient. Again, a powerful antioxidant, selenium has been identified as a contributing factor in helping to prevent heart disease and cancer, among other things. 

How to add Brazil nuts to the diet, according to a Functional Medicine Nutritionist

And, since I want to bring it back to a practical, food-first perspective when I can, Brazil nuts are one food that is at the top of the list of selenium-rich foods.

As a Functional Medicine Nutritionist, I’ve always suggested that people consume two or three Brazil nuts to start the day, or the same quantity carried in their purse or pocket for a midday snack (if, of course, they are able to eat nuts). 

How to store Brazil nuts

You may be thinking of the old, dry rancid Brazil nuts that you snacked around in the nut mix at your grandma’s house. But I’m talking about fresh succulent Brazil nuts. They should be creamy, sweet and sometimes even a little smokey. Delicious as they are nutritious!

If your Brazil nuts taste rancid, they probably are. When you sample the best Brazil nuts, you will inevitably come back to tell me that you love them so much that you can’t stop eating them.

Brazil nuts should be eaten raw, sprouted (soaked in water for an hour or two), or dry-roasted without salt.

How to buy Brazil nuts

Talk to the buyer at your local health food store or co-op and find out how their Brazil nuts are being sourced, stored and how long they sit on the shelf. I like to buy mine from a trusted source and keep them in the freezer. Popping two or three Brazil nuts from the freezer is a great treat!

Brazil nuts are great, but try not to go overboard

While there are many lifestyle and environmental factors that lead to unwanted selenium deficiency, selenium toxicity is not desirable either. It’s not a danger that many of us need to worry about, but regular consumption of mass quantities of Brazil nuts could, over time, lead to adverse symptoms due to their high mineral stores. Not to mention that a large quantity may deliver more caloric intake than most of us want, need, or can use in one day.

Brazil Nut Tapenade

Enjoy my Brazil nut tapenade recipe below. It can be served atop crostini, mixed with pasta like a pesto, or massaged into torn hearty greens. The richness depends on the intensity of the olives — use a milder olive for a mellower taste.

Yields approximately 1-1/2 cups

Ingredients (all organic, if possible)

  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked about 2 hours in advance of preparation (or use oil-packed and drain)

  • 3/4 cup pitted black olives

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 1 cup packed flat-leaf parsley

  • 1/2 cup raw Brazil nuts

  • 1/2 cup cold-pressed olive oil

  • 1/2 lemon, squeezed

  • sea salt to taste

PreparationPlace all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the tapenade is chunky.


Godos J, Giampieri F, Micek A, et al. Effect of Brazil Nuts on Selenium Status, Blood Lipids, and Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress and Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Antioxidants (Basel). 2022;11(2):403. Published 2022 Feb 16. doi:10.3390/antiox11020403

Cardoso BR, Duarte GBS, Reis BZ, Cozzolino SMF. Brazil nuts: Nutritional composition, health benefits and safety aspects. Food Res Int. 2017;100(Pt 2):9-18. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2017.08.036

Barcza Stockler-Pinto M, Carrero JJ, De Carvalho Cardoso Weide L, Franciscato Cozzolino SM, Mafra D. EFFECT OF SELENIUM SUPPLEMENTATION VIA BRAZIL NUT (BERTHOLLETIA EXCELSA, HBK) ON THYROID HORMONES LEVELS IN HEMODIALYSIS PATIENTS: A PILOT STUDY. Nutr Hosp. 2015;32(4):1808-1812. Published 2015 Oct 1. doi:10.3305/nh.2015.32.4.9384da Silva A, Silveira BKS, de Freitas BVM, Hermsdorff HHM, Bressan J. Effects of Regular Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa H.B.K.) Consumption on Health: A Systematic Review of Clinical Trials. Foods. 2022;11(18):2925. Published 2022 Sep 19. doi:10.3390/foods11182925

Andrea Nakayama

By: Andrea Nakayama, FxNA Founder & Functional Medicine Nutritionist

Functional Nutrition Alliance provides the comprehensive online Functional Nutrition training in the Science & Art of the Functional Nutrition practice. Learn to address the roots of your clients’ suffering with client education, diet & lifestyle modifications.


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