Today we are going to talk about selenium, what it is, why it’s important, where to get it on a plant-based or vegan diet and how to get enough.

Even though selenium is a very important nutrient, we typically don’t talk about it a lot or overly focus on getting enough of it on a plant-based diet. I didn’t even include it in my guide Meeting Your Nutrient Needs With Plants At Any Age!

Why?

Because a plant food is actually one of the best source of selenium (keep reading)!

What is selenium?

Selenium is one of the nine trace minerals and is considered to be essential meaning that we need to get this nutrient from the foods that we eat. A trace mineral is a nutrient that we only need very small amounts of BUT that is critical for our health.

Selenium acts like an antioxidant, meaning that it protects our cells from damage and may help prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and cancers. It also plays an important role in fertility as well as proper thyroid and immune function.

How much selenium do we need?

The below recommended intakes and upper limit levels have been taken from Canadian DRI Tables. The set upper limit (UL) is the microgram (mcg) amount that should not be exceeded with diet and supplements combined.

Age (Years)RDA Daily Requirements (mcg/day)Do Not Exceed/Upper Limit (mcg/day)
1-32090
4-830150
9-1340280
14-70+55400
Pregnancy60400
Breastfeeding70400

Where do we find selenium?

How much selenium is found in our food is completely dependent on the selenium content of the soil where the plant is grown or the animal eats from! Because the selenium content of soil varies depending on the region, it can be difficult to get an accurate picture of just how much selenium a particular food actually contains.

Generally the best sources of selenium include meat, seafood, grains. However, one of the richest sources of selenium for all eaters are brazil nuts!

Should I take a selenium supplement?

Just like with most nutrients, taking too much selenium can be harmful. Given that it is so easy to meet our selenium needs from whole foods it is not recommended to take a selenium supplement, but it is a nutrient that is generally found in appropriate and safe amounts in multivitamin supplements.

Food ServingSelenium (mcg)
Brazil nuts5 nuts340
Sunflower seeds1/4 cup6.2
Couscous, cooked1/2 cup23
Brown rice, cooked1/2 cup8-10
Tofu, firm1 cup26
Lentils, cooked1 cup6
Chia seeds1/4 cup24
Chickpeas, cooked1 cup6
Egg1 egg17
Whole grain bread (with seeds)1 slice17
Mushrooms1/2 cup10-21

As you can see, eating a variety of whole grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables will help you meet your daily selenium needs.

It is possible to get too much of a good thing as well. Just 6-8 Brazil nuts give you over 700% of the recommended daily intake of 55 mcg, so it is important to stay mindful of where you are getting your selenium from and about how much. Take 1-2 Brazil nuts per day is enough to meet your daily needs!

I love crushing a Brazil nut or two into my oatmeal or adding into a smoothie!

If you are unable to eat Brazil nuts or other good sources of selenium on a plant-based diet, talk to your Registered Dietitian!

Want to learn more about how to get nutrients like protein, vitamin B12, omega-3’s, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, iodine and choline?

Find all this information and MORE in my guide, Meeting Your Nutrient Needs With Plants (At Any Age).