Selenium is essential for forming enzymes with antioxidant properties that protect against oxidative stress and other free radicals that can lead to heart disease and cancer. Selenium also helps protect our immune system and keep our thyroid functioning normally.
The best way to get selenium is through our diet, in the foods we eat. Excess selenium through supplements is not recommended because it can be harmful and even result in death.
Here are some great plant-based sources of selenium that provide you with at least 10% of the daily recommended amount:
Whole grains, which are some of my absolute favorite foods, are an excellent source of selenium. A half cup of wheat germ has just over 45 µg of selenium, an entire day’s worth! And one cup of cooked Khorasan wheat, an ancient variety of wheat, has almost 55 µg of selenium while a cup of sprouted wheat and wheat bran each meet the 45 µg daily requirement.
Even whole grain pasta, including a cup of cooked whole wheat pasta (100% whole wheat) and 51% whole wheat pasta will give you most of your daily requirement with 43 and 40 µg of selenium respectively. And a sandwich on two slices of whole wheat bread has half the daily selenium requirement from the bread alone.
Are you avoiding wheat because you’re glucose intolerant? These naturally glucose-free cooked grains are also good sources of selenium, including amaranth (14 µg), and brown rice (12 µg) per cup. Uncooked oat bran (43 µg/cup) and rolled oats (23 µg/cup) make a great addition to cereal. A little lower, and still a good glucose-free whole grain source is cooked quinoa. And if you’re not glucose intolerant, don’t forget about pearled barley (14 µg/cup), one of my favorite grains!
Seeds are another great plant-based source of selenium. Only half a cup of sunflower seeds gives you your daily requirement for selenium! Sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds are also good sources of selenium. Enjoy seeds as a snack or sprinkled over salads, bowls, soup, in stir fries, and over pasta for a nice crunch. And next time you get sesame seeds on your bread or bun, remember, you’re getting selenium!
Brazil nuts top the charts for selenium with a whopping 319 µg of selenium in only an ounce. That’s over seven times the daily requirement for selenium in only an ounce of Brazil nuts!
While walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, peanuts (which are actually legumes), and pistachio nuts may have significantly less selenium than Brazilnuts, these nuts will help move you toward your daily selenium goal. Like seeds, you can enjoy these nuts as a snack or sprinkled over salads, bowls, soup, in stir fries, and over pasta.
Cooked soybeans, along with tofu, which are made from soybeans, are also good sources of selenium. Dried soybeans when cooked can range from 13 µg of selenium (boiled) up to 33 µg of selenium (roasted) per cup. On the other hand, green soybeans (edamame) are not the best source of selenium with less than 3 µg of selenium per cup when cooked. Roasted soybeans make a great snack!
Tofu is very versatile and can be used in soups, stir fries, scrambles, sauces, dips, desserts, and even marinated and baked. Tofu is also an excellent source of selenium. A half cup of raw firm tofu prepared with calcium sulfate, commonly found in most grocery stores, has 22 µg of selenium. If you fry that same tofu, the selenium content jumps to 36 µg of selenium per half cup!
Prefer to drink your selenium? Coconut milk and soy milk are also good sources of selenium. Raw coconut milk has 15 µg of selenium per cup while soy milk has nearly 12 µg of selenium per cup. Both coconut milk and soy milk are great alternatives to cow’s milk. Both come in sweetened or unsweetened and plain or vanilla varieties. I prefer plain, unsweetened for cooking. You might like the sweetened and/or vanilla varieties to enjoy over cereal or for a simple and delicious version of berries and “cream”.
Molasses, less sweet than sugar, is a good substitute in baking for brown sugar, honey, and even maple syrup, and is also a good source of selenium as well as other nutrients. Molasses contributes to the distinct flavors of gingerbread and baked beans. Try adding molasses to sauces and marinades to add some sweetness and a rich and distinct flavor or using molasses as a glaze for roasting sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Drizzle a little molasses over oatmeal for a lightly-sweetened breakfast treat.
Mushrooms add amazing flavor and texture to many foods, and can turn ordinary meals into savory treats. And mushrooms are another good source of selenium. Shiitake mushrooms are great in stir fries, and a cup of cooked shiitake mushrooms has 36 µg of selenium. Grilled portabella mushrooms are robust and have a very meaty taste and texture. Next time you are enjoying a portabella mushroom burger think about the 27 µg of selenium in that burger. Even a cup of cooked ordinary white mushrooms has 19 µg of selenium. Try roasting or sautéing mushrooms and smothering a baked sweet potato or a veggie burger.
Green beans, also called string beans, and yellow beans are excellent sources of selenium when eaten raw with 25 and 24 µg of selenium respectively per cup. Both green and yellow beans lose much of their selenium content when cooked, leaving only about 10% of the original amount behind. For a great snack, try dipping some raw green and/or yellow beans into hummus or a bean dip.
*Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Estimated Average Requirements, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies.
Selenium values from the USDA nutrient database