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Benefits of Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts are a nutritional powerhouse. These large nuts grow on giant trees, primarily in the rain forests of Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. Brazil nuts, like other nuts, are high in calories -- 190 per ounce, which equals just 6 kernels -- but they're a nutrient-dense source of essential vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.

Brazil nuts are chock full of selenium -- 1 ounce contains 544 micrograms, or 780 percent of the recommended daily value -- by far the best food source of this essential mineral. Some studies indicate that people with a higher intake of selenium have a lower rate of death from cancer, including cancers of the colon, rectum, prostate and lung, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Selenium may prevent cancer because it's an antioxidant that protects cells from damage. Too much selenium can be toxic, however.

Brazil nuts, like most other nuts, reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack and sudden cardiac death. As little as 1 ounce of nuts several times per week can confer this benefit, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Brazil and other nuts contain monounsaturated fats that increase protective high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and reduce harmful low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Nuts also contain arginine, an amino acid that eases blood flow by relaxing blood vessels, and other nutrients known to be beneficial to the heart, including folic acid, fiber and vitamin E.

Brazil nuts are a good source of several minerals. A handful of just six nuts contains 25 percent of the daily value of magnesium, 20 percent of phosphorus, 25 percent of copper and 12 percent of thiamine based on a 2,000-calorie diet. One ounce of Brazil nuts also provides 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, 187 milligrams of potassium and zero cholesterol.

Brazil nuts are high in calories, but rich in nutrients. Eat 1 ounce of Brazil nuts each day, and you could gain 10 pounds in one year. Extra weight increases your risk of heart disease, which negates the nut's heart-health benefits. Replace your empty-calorie snacks -- chips, candy, pretzels and cookies -- with a serving of Brazil nuts and reap the health benefits without gaining weight. The key is a small serving, however, so you aren't taking in more calories than you need.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.