One of the least known, yet extremely important, trace minerals that we need in our diet is selenium. Although many of us have probably only heard of it in passing conversations, unlike the minerals zinc and calcium that we hear about to the point of distraction. A deficiency in selenium is responsible for a number of illnesses and conditions so it is imperative to make absolutely certain that we get enough in our daily intake of foods. If you are looking for natural ways to add selenium to your diet, there are several food groups that should give you an adequate supply.
What Exactly Is Selenium?
As mentioned, selenium is a trace mineral that is important to good health, but the body really only needs small amounts. Selenium is combined with proteins to become a substance called selenoproteins that are vital antioxidants. If you haven’t heard all the recent excitement in the scientific community about antioxidants, they are a marvelous defense against a number of illnesses and diseases that are the direct result of free radicals in the system. Free radicals are the result of the metabolism of oxygen, and have a missing electron. They float through the bloodstream until they find another molecule that has an unpaired number of electrons and then attach to that molecule. This is often the root cause of many cancers. To sum it up then, selenium is instrumental in counteracting free radicals in the body that can lead to a great number of diseases.
Actually, selenium deficiency is rare in the United States but the minimum recommended daily amount (RDA) isn’t sufficient to counteract disease. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, adults need between 55 and 70 micrograms per day. Children between the ages of 1 and 3 need 20 micrograms, between 4 and 8 years of age 30 micrograms, between 19 and 13 years of age 40 micrograms and between 14 and 18 years of age 55 micrograms. That is the bare minimum to stay healthy. However, to protect against and counteract disease, higher amounts are recommended.
Who Would Need to Increase Intake of Selenium?
While selenium deficiency is rare, certain individuals could significantly benefit from supplementation or increased amounts in the diet. Anyone who is suffering from gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s Disease would benefit as would anyone who has had a portion of their stomach removed in surgery. Anyone with a severe infection or iodine deficiency should increase intake of selenium. There may also be a correlation between reduced levels of selenium and thyroid disorders such as goiter (enlarged thyroid).
Naturally Increasing Selenium Through Diet
If you are looking to increase your daily intake of selenium naturally without taking supplements, there are a number of foods that are great sources of naturally occurring selenium. Since selenium is taken into plants through selenium rich soil, any foods grown in places such as North and South Dakota as well as Nebraska would almost certainly be rich in selenium. Also, any meats from cattle that graze on selenium rich foods would provide an excellent source. Beginning with the foods that are richest in selenium, a list of foods to consider increasing in your diet would include:
- Brazil Nuts
- Cottage Cheese
Although it is possible to add too much selenium if you were to take supplements significantly higher in dosage than the RDA, it is unlikely to become toxic by adding selenium naturally in your diet. Because of its potent antioxidant properties, increasing foods that are naturally high in this trace mineral can help ward of the onset of many debilitating diseases such as any of the osteoarthritis family of conditions as well as heart disease and some forms of cancer. Scientific study is ongoing, but there is empirical evidence that indicates that selenium increases the body’s defense against invading organisms which is vital to a healthy immune system. Simply add selenium rich foods to your daily diet and you will have the best source of one of nature’s best naturally occurring antioxidants.
Selenium's RDA is measured in MICROgrams. 4-5 times the RDA can lead to neurological symptoms such as anxiety. We should NEVER take selenium as a supplement. Healthy diets have plenty. Unhealthy diets have plenty.
The EPA treats selenium as a toxic heavy metal pollutant, monitoring and regulating levels in products such as garden soils and composts.
DO NOT TAKE SELENIUM SUPPLEMENTS