Selenium deficiency on a vegan diet

Do vegans get enough selenium? And how can you get enough selenium on a vegan diet? Let’s have a look.

What is selenium?
Selenium plays an important role in regulating thyroid function, the immune system, mental health and acts as an antioxidant. Selenium is a trace element. Our body cannot produce selenium on its own.

Therefore, make sure you eat adequate amounts of selenium.

Forms of selenium
The amount of selenium in plant foods is dependent on the amount of selenium in the soil. There is relatively little selenium in European soil, which is why there is little selenium in European plants and plant foods. The food of animals in factory farming is supplemented with selenium to prevent them from getting too little selenium and thus improve their health.

Both plant and animal products contain selenium.

Selenium occurs in plants mainly as selenomethionine. It occurs as selenocysteine ​​in animal products such as meat and fish. Therefore, vegetarians, vegans and omnivores eat both different amounts and forms of selenium.

How much selenium do you need?
The adequate intake (AI) of selenium for adults is 70 micrograms per day. The level of adequate intake is an estimate of the lowest amount of nutrients that is sufficient for almost all people. This value applies if no recommended daily amount can be determined, for example because too little research has been done.

What about selenium on a vegan diet?
Several studies suggest that vegans are likely to have a lower selenium intake than non-vegans. There are also studies showing that vegans consume less selenium than the adequate intake (AI) of 70 micrograms. In several European studies, the average daily intake for vegan women ranges from 28 to 52 micrograms and for men from 48 to 62 micrograms.

All these studies have one thing in common: they all worked with food diaries. Measuring selenium intake through food diaries and reference tables is imprecise. There is a lot of difference in the amount of selenium in foods. Biomarkers such as the amount of selenium in the blood are therefore more useful for measuring the selenium status. Unfortunately, few studies have done this, and the results provide no clear indication that vegans have a worse selenium status than omnivores. Much research is still needed on the selenium status in vegans.

Taken together, selenium is of important concern for vegans.

Brazil nuts
You can take a selenium supplement. But there is a tastier way to get your selenium! How? From Brazil nuts. There are about 1917 micrograms of selenium in 100 grams of Brazil nuts. 1 Brazil nut weighs about 4 grams and therefore provides about 77 micrograms of selenium.

That is why 1 Brazil nut per day is sufficient to get enough selenium on a vegan diet.

In any case, do not eat more than 4 Brazil nuts a day, so you stay within the safe amounts of a maximum of 300 micrograms per day.

Selenium content of plant foods
In addition to Brazil nuts, whole grain products, seeds, kernels and legumes also contain a relatively large amount of selenium – but still only a fraction of the amount found in Brazil nuts. Actual selenium levels will vary depending on the soil the plant has grown in.

References

Bakaloudi, D. R., Halloran, A., Rippin, H. L., Oikonomidou, A. C., Dardavesis, T. I., Williams, J., Wickramasinghe, K., Breda, J., & Chourdakis, M. (2021). Intake and adequacy of the vegan diet. A systematic review of the evidence. Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), 40(5), 3503–3521. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2020.11.035

Hoeflich, J., Hollenbach, B., Behrends, T., Hoeg, A., Stosnach, H., & Schomburg, L. (2010). The choice of biomarkers determines the selenium status in young German vegans and vegetarians. British journal of nutrition, 104(11), 1601-1604.

EFSA NDA Panel (EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies), 2014. Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for selenium. EFSA Journal 2014; 12( 10):3846, 67 pp. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2014.3846

Kristensen, N. B., Madsen, M. L., Hansen, T. H., Allin, K. H., Hoppe, C., Fagt, S., … & Pedersen, O. (2015). Intake of macro-and micronutrients in Danish vegans. Nutrition journal, 14(1), 1-10.

Sobiecki, J. G., Appleby, P. N., Bradbury, K. E., & Key, T. J. (2016). High compliance with dietary recommendations in a cohort of meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians, and vegans: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition–Oxford study. Nutrition Research, 36(5), 464-477.

Weikert, C., Trefflich, I., Menzel, J., Obeid, R., Longree, A., Dierkes, J., … & Abraham, K. (2020). Vitamin and mineral status in a vegan diet. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, 117(35-36), 575.

Fallon, N., & Dillon, S. A. (2020). Low Intakes of Iodine and Selenium Amongst Vegan and Vegetarian Women Highlight a Potential Nutritional Vulnerability. Frontiers in nutrition, 7, 72. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2020.00072

Christine D Thomson, Alexandra Chisholm, Sarah K McLachlan, Jennifer M Campbell, Brazil nuts: an effective way to improve selenium status, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 87, Issue 2, February 2008, Pages 379–384, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.2.379