If you, like me, get ‘peckish’ in the middle of the afternoon and have the urge to have a snack, then a really healthy snack you could choose is my regular: ‘Brazil Nuts and Dark Chocolate’.
I’m not suggesting that you eat too much but about three Brazil Nuts (depending on their size) and two or three squares of chocolate should be about the right amount. Each of these snacks is highly nutritious and should benefit both your health and longevity.
So, why eat Brazil Nuts? Well, here are several health benefits from eating these nutrient-rich nuts -they are
- High in Selenium: Brazil nuts are one of the best natural sources of selenium, a mineral that acts as a powerful antioxidant. Selenium supports immune function, helps regulate thyroid hormones, and plays a role in DNA synthesis. Just a few Brazil nuts can provide your daily recommended intake of selenium which plays a critical role in healthy aging and the prevention of age-related diseases (e.g. Bjorklund et al., 2022).
- Antioxidant activity: Brazil nuts contain antioxidants like vitamin E, which help protect our cells from damage caused by harmful free radicals. Antioxidants play a crucial role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.
- Heart health: The healthy fats found in Brazil nuts, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can help reduce bad cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol) while increasing good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol). This balance is important for maintaining heart health and reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Brain function: Brazil nuts are a good source of essential nutrients for brain health, such as vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium. These nutrients contribute to cognitive function, memory, and overall brain health.
- Rich in minerals: Besides selenium, Brazil nuts are also a good source of other minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and zinc. These minerals are essential for various bodily functions, including bone health, energy production, and immune system support.
- Thyroid function: As discussed in reference 1, Selenium is also crucial for thyroid health. It helps regulate thyroid hormone production and metabolism. Adequate selenium intake from foods like Brazil nuts may help maintain optimal thyroid function.
- Anti-inflammatory properties: As well as Selenium (which is also anti-inflammatory), Brazil nuts contain various other anti-inflammatory compounds including polyphenols. Polyphenols help reduce inflammation that is associated with chronic diseases like arthritis, heart disease, and certain cancers.
- Sufficient intake of Selenium is important however it is one of the nutrients known as ‘trace elements’ and while each of these elements are all critical to our survival, TOO MUCH is toxic and is as dangerous as too little.
Excessive selenium intake can be harmful. So, generally, it is recommended to limit your Brazil nut consumption to a few nuts per day to maintain a healthy balance.
Will it benefit us to add dark chocolate to our Brazil nut snack?
Yes, yes, yes! The great news is that this delicious treat can benefit our health!
Dark chocolate, when consumed in moderation and in its purest form, provides a range of health benefits. The reference (below) suggests that some healthy additives might make it even more nutritious!
Here are some of the health benefits associated with dark chocolate:
- Rich in antioxidants: Dark chocolate contains high levels of antioxidants, particularly flavonoids and polyphenols. These antioxidants help neutralize free radicals in the body, reducing oxidative stress and protecting cells from damage. The higher the cocoa content, the greater the antioxidant content.
- Heart health: Several studies have suggested that consuming dark chocolate in moderation may have a positive impact on heart health. The flavonoids in dark chocolate can improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, reduce LDL cholesterol oxidation, and promote the health of blood vessels. These effects contribute to a reduced risk of heart disease.
- Mood enhancement: Dark chocolate contains compounds that can improve mood and promote a sense of well-being. It stimulates the release of endorphins, the brain’s natural “feel-good” chemicals, and contains small amounts of theobromine and caffeine, which can provide a mild stimulant effect.
- Cognitive function: The flavonoids and antioxidants in dark chocolate may have positive effects on brain health and cognitive function. Research suggests that regular consumption of dark chocolate may improve blood flow to the brain, enhance memory and attention, and protect against age-related cognitive decline.
- Reduced inflammation: Dark chocolate has anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to its high flavonoid content. By reducing inflammation in the body, dark chocolate may help lower the risk of chronic diseases associated with inflammation, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
- Nutrient-rich: Dark chocolate is a good source of various minerals, including iron, magnesium, copper*, and manganese*. These minerals play essential roles in numerous bodily functions, including energy production, bone health, and immune system function.
Like Selenium, Copper and Manganese are also “trace elements” so again, we should enjoy our daily chocolate but moderate our intake!
- Skin health: The antioxidants in dark chocolate can help protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals and UV radiation. Additionally, some studies suggest that regular consumption of dark chocolate may improve skin hydration, thickness, and overall appearance.
It’s important to note that these benefits are primarily associated with dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (70% or higher) and minimal added sugar. Milk chocolate and other chocolate products with lower cocoa content and higher sugar content may not provide many (or any) health benefits.
Moderation in intake is key, as dark chocolate is still high in calories and trace elements and so should be consumed as part of a balanced diet.
I have only chosen two recent References from the medico-scientific literature but please note that there are hundreds of references on this topic and these were chosen for their relevance to this blog:
Selenium: An Antioxidant with a Critical Role in Anti-Aging
Molecules. 2022 Oct; 27(19): 6613.
Published online 2022 Oct 5. doi: 10.3390/molecules27196613
Dark chocolate: An overview of its biological activity, processing, and fortification approaches
Curr Res Food Sci. 2022; 5: 1916–1943.
Published online 2022 Oct 15. doi: 10.1016/j.crfs.2022.10.017