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Selenium is a critical nutrient for vegans in many countries because the soil is low in selenium. Thus plant foods only contain minute amounts of it. Still, it is possible to meet the requirement on a vegan diet regardless of where you live.

Therefore, we’ll take a look at the best sources of selenium and how you can prevent selenium deficiency on a plant-based diet in this post.

What are the functions of selenium?

Selenium is essential, although the body requires only tiny amounts of it. 

Among others, selenium is a part of metabolism and needed for the production of sperm as well as selenium-containing proteins.

Further, the element is essential for thyroid function and participates in cell growth, cell division, and the immune system. Moreover, it has an antioxidative effect and may play a role in cancer prevention.

[su_highlight]Summary: Selenium is an essential nutrient. It is needed, among others, for metabolism, selenium-containing proteins, production of sperm as well as thyroid function, cell growth, cell division, and the immune system.[/su_highlight]  

Are vegans at risk of selenium deficiency?

In countries where the soil is low in selenium (f.e. Europe), vegans are more likely to be deficient. However, they can still meet the requirement by consuming foods that were grown in countries with selenium-rich soil.  

If you live somewhere, where the soil is rich in selenium, you are not at risk because you can meet the need by eating locally grown plant foods. 

[su_highlight]Summary: Vegans who live in countries where the land is low in selenium have a higher risk of deficiency. Those who live in countries where selenium is abundant in soil, are not at risk.[/su_highlight]

What are good vegan sources of selenium?

Brazil nuts in a white square bowl as an example of what to eat to prevent selenium deficiency

In countries where the soil is selenium-rich, plant foods such as cruciferous vegetables, onions, whole-wheat grains, asparagus, mushrooms, and legumes are good sources.

For vegans, who live in countries with selenium-poor soil, imported brazil nuts are the best and most reliable source of selenium. 

[su_highlight]Summary: Brazil nuts are the most reliable source for vegans living in countries with low selenium soil.  I’m countries where the land s rich in selenium, vegans can meet the need by consuming locally grown foods.[/su_highlight]  

Do animal products contain selenium?

 Animal feed is enriched with selenium. Thus, animal products contain the element.

How much selenium should you take every day?

Currently, the exact amount of selenium that humans require is unknown. For that reason, dietary associations rely on estimated values in their recommendations. 

In general, women should consume 60 µg/day and men 70 µg/day.

Further, how much selenium is needed varies throughout different life stages. So in the table below you find the recommended daily intake for all ages:

AgeRecommended daily intake
0 – 4 months 10 µg/day
4 months – 4 years 15 µg/day
4 – 7 years 20 µg/day
7 – 10 years 30 µg/day
10 – 13 years 45 µg/day
13 – 15 years 60 µg/day
Women 15 or older 60 µg/day
Men 15 or older 70 µg/day
Pregnant women 60 µg/day
Breastfeeding women 75 µg/day

[su_highlight]Summary: Generally, women should consume 60 µg selenium a day, and men 70 µg/day.[/su_highlight]

How can you test if you are getting enough selenium?

Brazil nuts in a wooden bowl as an example of what to eat to prevent selenium deficiency

Unfortunately, there is no optimal way to test your selenium status. One of the most common methods is checking the amount of selenium in your blood serum or blood plasma (standard value 50-120 µg/l).

However, different factors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption habits, age, and other diseases, can influence this parameter.

Another way to test the selenium status is to check how much selenium there is in the whole blood (standard value 60-130 µg/l).

Moreover, it is possible to test for selenium-dependent enzymes such as glutathione peroxidase or Selenoprotein P in the blood plasma. These are present in lower quantities if you have a selenium deficiency.

[su_highlight]Summary: To test if you are getting enough selenium, a doctor can check how much selenium is in your whole blood. Other possible values to test for are glutathione peroxidase or Selenoprotein P.[/su_highlight]

What are the symptoms of selenium deficiency?

Making sure you get enough selenium is vital because a deficiency can lead to enlarged red blood cells. Further consequences can be problems with muscular function and sperm production, as well as a weakened immune system. 

Common symptoms of selenium deficiency are:

  • Muscular weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Infertility
  • Weakened immune system
  • Hair loss
  • Thyroid problems (hypothyreosis)

Is it dangerous to consume too much selenium?

Close up of brazil nuts in a bowl

Consuming more than the recommended amount of selenium can be poisonous. There is not much wiggle room between getting too little selenium and getting too much, so you always want to be careful. That’s why you should only take a supplement if your doctor instructs you to.

You also need to be cautious if you take any supplements, especially hair growth tablets or multi-vitamins. These products may already contain selenium.

If that is the case, you likely don’t need to consume additional Brazil nuts. Please consult your doctor for specific recommendations. 

Symptoms of selenium poisoning can be:

  • Throwing up
  • Nausea
  • Pulmonary edema

If you consistently get more selenium than recommended, you may experience the following symptoms.

  • Skin eczema
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Neurological problems
  • Trouble with the production of thyroid and growth hormones
  • Garlicky breath

[su_highlight]Summary: Taking too much selenium can be poisonous. That’s why you should only take a supplement if your doctor advises you to.[/su_highlight]  

Summary: How to prevent selenium deficiency as a vegan

Infographic summarizing the most important information on how to prevent selenium deficiency

Have you ever tried Brazil nuts? Do you like them?

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