Selenium Foods: A Practical Guide

Benefits of selenium in your body 

Selenium is an essential mineral that is only needed in small amounts, but plays a significant role as an antioxidant, helps you regulate your thyroid and helps to protect you from oxidative damage.   

Selenium is also thought to help with the prevention of some cancers, protect against heart disease, prevent cognitive decline, help with asthma and boost your immune system.  

Selenium is often plentiful in seafood and will also help you detoxify the mercury that is sometimes found in fish.

Selenium deficiency conditions 

A lack of selenium is associated with:

Factors increasing demand for selenium

You may need more selenium if you are:

Satiety response to selenium 

Our satiety analysis indicates that foods with more selenium tend to provide greater satiety.  

The average selenium intake for Optimisers was 0.185 mg per 2000 calories with an 85th percentile value of 0.3 mg per 2000 calories.  

This is significantly greater than the Estimated Average Requirement of 0.05 mg/day and the Recommended Daily Intake of 0.07 mg/day for men. 

The recommended minimum intake of selenium for pregnant women is 60 mcg/day and 70 mcg/day for breastfeeding women.   

Selenium toxicity 

Although selenium is required for health, high doses of selenium can be toxic and fatal, and hence the Upper Intake Level of selenium has been set at 400 ug/day.  

Selenium stretch target 

Based on our satiety analysis, we recommend a stretch target of 300 ug/day for men and 240 ug/day for women.    

nutrient averageEAR RDIULstretch (men)stretch (women)
selenium (ug)1905055400300240

Availability of selenium

Selenium content depends on the selenium content of the soil that the food is grown in.  

Certain parts of China, where large proportions of the population have a primarily vegetarian diet and soil selenium levels are very low have the lowest selenium intake. These low selenium intake areas correspond to a 69% higher risk of thyroid disease.  Average selenium intakes are also low in some European countries, especially populations consuming vegan diets.

The chart below shows that selenium content of foods generally available that will provide you with enough selenium to meet the Recommended Daily Intake for selenium of 44 ug/day.  Still, you will need to prioritise nutrient-dense foods to meet more optimal levels.  

It appears that selenium fortification of food was ramped up in the mid-1970s after a decline in selenium content in the food system after the introduction of synthetic fertilisers and industrial agricultural practices (data from USDA Economic Research Service).  

Selenium rich food sources  

Foods that contain more selenium include:

Plants 

  • asparagus  
  • broccoli  
  • garlic
  • flax seeds
  • kale  
  • sauerkraut
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower 
  • lettuce
  • cucumber
  • onion
  • zucchini

Animal 

  • liver
  • egg 
  • cheese  
  • milk 
  • ground beef  

Seafood 

  • shrimp
  • salmon

Fats 

  • brazil nuts
  • bacon
  • cashews

Synergistic nutrients 

Selenium works synergistically with vitamins B3, C, E, cysteine, glutathione, methionine, zinc and iodine.   

Bioavailability 

There is little known about the bioavailability and absorption of selenium.

Nutrient profile 

The nutrient fingerprint chart below shows that we can obtain plenty of selenium from a nutrient-dense diet.  A diet with more selenium will have a significant amount of protein and more carbs than fat.  

Nutritious foods and meals to boost your selenium

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of low selenium or are concerned that your current selenium intake is low (e.g. due to a heavily grain-based processed diet with less protein), then you may be interested in our lists of selenium-rich foods and meals. 

What you will get:

  • Our Nutritional Optimisation Kickstart Guide,
  • A list of the most popular 50 foods that contain more selenium, 
  • A longer list of 100 popular foods that contain more selenium, and 
  • A still longer list of 150 common foods that contain selenium to allow you to expand your nutrient-dense repertoire further.
Marty Kendall
 

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