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Selenium in food

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 356 views

People need selenium, among other things, for a strong immune system and to stay healthy in general. Foods with a lot of selenium are mainly of animal origin, the selenium content in plant products is often more modest. You can find out here what selenium is and how much, how vegetarians and vegans can cover their selenium requirements through food and how much selenium you need per day!

Which foods contain a lot of selenium?

Selenium is a trace element. This means that the body only needs a little of it, but it cannot do without it completely, because selenium is vital or essential and involved in various processes in the body, such as the immune system or cell protection.

We have to get selenium from food because the body cannot produce it itself. But what actually contains selenium? The following table provides a selection of different animal and vegetable foods with large amounts of selenium. The selenium content is given in micrograms (µg) per 100 grams of food:

groceries Selenium content per 100 grams
pork liver 53,0 µg
Brathuhn 10,0 µg
Salami 6,9 µg
Owner 10,0 µg
Emmental 11,0 µg
tuna 82,0 µg
mackerel 39,0 µg
Hummer 130,0 µg
brazil nuts 103,0 µg
coconut 810,0 µg
white cabbage 2,4 µg
Savoy cabbage 1,2 µg
Paprika 4,3 µg
Broccoli 0,7 µg
asparagus 1,0 µg
White beans 14,0 µg
lenses 9,8 µg
Chickpeas 9,0 µg
tangerines 2,4 µg

How much selenium a day is healthy?

The daily selenium requirement estimated by the German Society for Nutrition (DGE) depends on age. For example, infants should take in ten micrograms of selenium daily in the first three months of life. The estimated selenium requirement of 13 to 14 year olds is already 60 micrograms a day – for both sexes.

After that there are different recommendations depending on gender: Girls from the age of 15 and women can still get by with 60 micrograms of selenium per day. Exceptions are breastfeeding women, they need 75 micrograms. Experts estimate that men over the age of 15 need 70 micrograms of selenium per day.

In order to cover the individual selenium requirement, a balanced mixed diet of animal and vegetable foods is recommended.

If you want to avoid animal products, you should regularly consume plant foods with a higher selenium content, such as peppers, tangerines, white cabbage, Brazil nuts and chickpeas.

Which hinders and promotes selenium absorption

Some substances impede the absorption of selenium in the intestine. For example, high doses of vitamin C (more than one gram) reduce the bioavailability of the trace element. In addition, there can be so-called antagonistic interactions, i.e. a reversal of the effect due to opposite mechanisms of action, with certain heavy metals – including cadmium, mercury, lead and arsenic.

On the other hand, vitamins A and E and vitamin C in normal amounts (< 1 gram) are beneficial for selenium absorption.

Selenium: Food storage and processing

Basically, the biological availability of selenium decreases with the degree of industrial processing of a food. For example, whole wheat flour contains 63.6 micrograms of selenium per 100 grams, while ground wheat flour only has 19.2 micrograms of selenium per 100 grams.

Another factor that reduces bioavailability is heat. Therefore, foods containing selenium should be stored cool and only briefly heated when cooking – so that the selenium and other healthy ingredients are not lost.

Selenium in food: How to secure your needs

Now we know where selenium is and how much we need on a daily basis – but why do certain foods provide more selenium than others? This is because the soils in Europe contain hardly any selenium, unlike, for example, agricultural land in the USA.

For this reason, European cereals and vegetables can usually only store a small amount of selenium. People who eat vegetarian or vegan food should know this and include selenium-rich foods in their diet. Good sources of selenium are vegan foods such as nuts and various types of cabbage, as they accumulate selenium, according to the DGE.

Meat eaters, on the other hand, hardly have to worry about their selenium balance. Because in Europe, animal feed can be enriched with selenium. This is how the essential trace element gets into the human body via meat and sausage products, for example.

In addition, selenium is present in meat in a form that the human body can absorb (resorb) particularly well. Farmed fish, seafood, cheese and eggs are also excellent animal foods with selenium.

Are selenium supplements necessary and useful?

In most cases, the daily requirement of selenium can be covered by a balanced diet with animal and/or vegetable foods containing selenium. However, there is a risk of a deficiency if you have a very one-sided diet – for example veganism or if you eat a lot of heavily processed foods.

A deficiency may also occur in diseases in which the body cannot absorb enough selenium or too much of the trace element is lost. Accordingly, people with:

  • genetic selenium utilization disorder
  • chronic inflammatory bowel diseases – including Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Cystic fibrosis (an inherited metabolic disease)
  • Kidney failure (kidney failure) or kidney disease requiring dialysis

In consultation with the doctor treating you, it can make sense in such cases to take selenium supplements.

Most selenium supplements contain around 200 micrograms of selenium. According to the European Food Safety Authority, 300 micrograms of selenium per day are harmless.

Against this background, an overdose from selenium supplements is unlikely. Nevertheless, you should consult your family doctor before taking such preparations.

The doctor can determine your individual selenium status using a blood sample and decide on this basis whether an additional intake of selenium is recommended or not. In most cases, however, it is sufficient to ingest selenium through appropriate foods.

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