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What is Selenium and can you get enough on a plant-based diet?

What is Selenium?

Selenium is an essential micronutrient. While we only need small amounts of it, it is a very important mineral we need to consume daily, as our body cannot produce it. Selenium works as an antioxidant in the body. It can help to keep tissues healthy by preventing cell damage. (1)

Functions of Selenium: (1)

  • Keeping your immune system functioning properly

  • Maintain healthy thyroid function

  • Helps to keep your tissues healthy by preventing cell damage, as it is an antioxidant

  • Protective against the development of some types of cancers.

  • DNA Synthesis

  • Key role in reproduction and foetal development

Recommended Daily Intake (RDI): (2)

Men: 70 µg/day Women: 60 µg/day

Requirements can increase during different stages of life, such as pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Pregnancy: 65 µg/day

LactationL 75 µg/day

Upper Limit:

400 µg/day

High intakes can lead to Selenium toxicity.

* Source: NRV- Selenium

Vegan sources of Selenium: (1) (3)

Soil quality can play a role in selenium content in plant-based foods. In the UK and Australia levels of selenium in the soil are quite low. Therefore, where your ingredients come from can play a role in your overall selenium intake.

Table 1: Food Sources of Selenium on a vegan diet


Serving Size

Selenium (µg)

Brazil Nuts



Chia Seeds

1/4 cup

24 µg

Cous Cous

1/2 cup

23 µg

Sunflower Seeds

1/4 cup

21 - 27 µg

Baked Beans

3/4 cup

9-19 µg


1/2 cup

10 µg

Mushrooms (Portabello, shiitake or crimini)

1/2 cup

10-21 µg

Weet Bix


14 µg

Special K


8 µg

Soy Milk


5 µg

*Source: NUTTAB Australia

Brazil nuts are an excellent source of Selenium, with approximately 2 nuts meeting 100% of the recommended daily intake. However, it is recommended to avoid consuming large amounts of brazil nuts as it may lead to Selenium toxicity.

Symptoms of Selenium Deficiency: (4)

  • Impaired thyroid function

  • Fatigue

  • Hair loss

  • Altered mental state/confusion

Two conditions are associated with severe selenium deficiency:

1) Keshan disease- Disease of the heart muscle

2) Kashin-Beck disease - A form of osteoarthritis.

While Selenium deficiency is typically rare, some populations are at an increased risk such as:

  • People living in low-selenium regions who also eat a primarily plant-based diet. Populations in China, Russia, and Europe are at risk as their soil is generally low in selenium. The risk is further increased in people living in these areas who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet

  • Those with kidney failure, undergoing dialysis

  • Those with HIV

Take home messages:

  • Selenium is an essential micronutrient involved in a number of key bodily reactions, our body cannot make it on its own so it is imperative we consume this within our diet.

  • Selenium quantity in plant-based foods can be dependent on soil quality, so levels may vary.

  • Approximately 2 Brazil nuts per day are recommended to meet your Selenium requirements.

  • It is possible for those following a plant-based diet to meet their Selenium requirements. However, those with nuts and legume allergies should consult a health professional on how to do so given the limitations.

  • If you are unsure if you are meeting your requirements, book a consultation with Melissa here and she can assess your diet and provide you with recommendations.


Author: This blog post was written by Melissa D'Elia (APD)

Book your free discovery call now to find out how Melissa can assist you.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult with your Dietitian or GP for individualised advice.

Copyright: 2022 Sprout Nutrition & Dietetics.

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