Blog Nutrition How To Improve Your Health With Foods Rich In Selenium And Zinc

How To Improve Your Health With Foods Rich In Selenium And Zinc

When it comes to healthy eating, most people are often concerned about how many macronutrients they ingest per day and completely overlook the multitude of micronutrients found in different kinds of food.

While watching your protein, carbs, and fat intake goes a long way in controlling weight, if you want to stay healthy and stave off diseases, understanding your micronutrients (aka minerals and vitamins) is also essential. Two such important micronutrients are zinc and selenium.

In today’s article, we’ll outline the benefits of these two micronutrients and explain why eating foods rich in selenium and zinc could be good, not only for your health, but for your overall appearance too.

What Are Selenium and Zinc?

Of these two important nutrients, zinc is probably the most well-known. According to the National Institutes of Health, zinc is an essential nutrient all humans need so their bodies can function normally (28).  

Once consumed, zinc’s benefits in the body range from wound healing, development and function of immune cells, DNA synthesis and protein production, and the activation of enzymes necessary for metabolism. This nutrient can also help with digestion, nerve function, treating diarrhea, improved reproductive health – especially in men, bone formation and strength, and much more (28, 7, 30, 29).

Like zinc, selenium is also a nutrient that is important for human development and general health. In the same way our bodies don’t make zinc and we need to get it from foods, they also don’t make selenium so we need to actively get it from food sources and spring water, where selenium naturally occurs.

Once ingested, selenium acts as a powerful antioxidant that helps combat cell damage and all illnesses related to cell damage by preventing and fighting oxidative stress (26). 

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Although more research is needed, scientists have linked the presence of high selenium levels in the blood and body with a reduced risk of certain cancers, diabetes improved thyroid function, improved heart and cardiovascular health, better brain health, improved immunity, the prevention and progression of HIV to AIDS, and improved reproductive health (15, 25, 17, 26).

food rich in selenium and zinc  

Selenium: Vitamin or Nutrient?

Selenium is classified as an essential mineral (15) that is classified under the nutrient or rather the micronutrient umbrella. Micronutrients come in two main forms, vitamins and minerals (27).

  • Vitamins are organic substances that are generally fat or water-soluble, which refers to the substance they need to dissolve in before being absorbed and stored by the body. Fat soluble-vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K, while water-soluble vitamins include vitamins C, B6, B12, and folate (27).
  • Minerals are inorganic elements that are found either in the soil or in water. These elements are absorbed into plants or consumed by animals and when we consume plants and animal products such as meat, eggs, and milk, our bodies absorb the minerals from them. Examples of the most common minerals are selenium, zinc, potassium, copper, and iron(27).

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Should You Eat Foods Rich in Selenium and Zinc Together?

Yes, if you can, you should try to eat zinc- and selenium-containing foods together. The reasoning behind this is that when combined, these two chemical elements may have a synergistic effect. A study on nutrient synergy published in Frontiers in Nutrition listed zinc and selenium as minerals with synergy, together with calcium, magnesium, and potassium (12). 

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For those who may be unaware, a synergistic effect is a situation where the combined effect of two chemicals is far greater than the sum of the effects of each agent alone (21). In this case, ingesting selenium and zinc together may make the nutrients work far better than ingesting each one by itself, as several studies have suggested.

  1. An animal study published in the Biological Trace Element Research journal in 2021 found fish that were fed a diet enriched with both selenium and zinc had higher immunity, faster growth rate, better weight gain, and higher hemoglobin, red blood cell, and globulin levels than those that were only fed either selenium or zinc or those that weren’t fed these micronutrients at all. 

The fish that were fed these two micronutrients also had better blood and gut health, in addition to better oxidative stress responses than the fish in the other groups (22).

2. A human study published in 2019 by the Journal of Cancer Prevention stated that these two chemical elements play a vital role in the alleviation of oxidative stress and in protecting DNA from the attack of reactive oxygen species. 

Due to this finding, scientists believe that adding more animal or vegetarian food that is rich in selenium and zinc could help protect against cancers that originate from DNA damage (9).

3. In a more recent study published in Nutrients, researchers found the supplementation of both zinc and selenium in a hypocaloric diet (i.e. a diet low in calories) to potentially be good for obese and overweight people.

In the study spanning 8 weeks, researchers found that participants who took zinc and selenium supplements each day (25 mg and 200 mcg, respectively) recorded an increased RMR (resting metabolic rate) of 22.9% which helped burn an extra 441 kcal a day, promoted better functional capacity in the timed up-and-go test, and ensured better selenium levels in the body than those who took the placebo (24).

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4. In an older study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers found that the supplementation of both zinc and selenium significantly improved free triiodothyronine (T3), in comparison to selenium alone or placebo. 

This combination was also the only treatment that was found to significantly improve free thyroxine (T4) and TSH levels, with all other test groups eliciting no effect (10).

Read more: A Comprehensive Guide to Zinc-Rich Foods for Vegetarians

What Foods Are High in Zinc and Selenium?

Now that you understand the benefits of these two micronutrients and how consuming them, especially together, can benefit your health, here are some foods that are rich in both elements that you might want to consider adding to your weekly meal plan (28, 15):

  • Meat – Beef, pork, and lamb
  • Poultry – turkey and chicken
  • Fatty fish and other seafood – Shrimp, lobster, sardines, salmon, oysters, clams, halibut, and crab
  • Legumes, lentils, and chickpeas
  • Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Eggs
  • Whole grains, especially oats
  • Leafy greens and vegetables such as mushrooms, spinach, and kale
  • Nuts and seeds such as Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, and hemp seeds

food rich in selenium and zinc  

Which Fruits Are High in Selenium?

While they may be some of the best healthy salt-free snacks, fruits are not the best sources of selenium. An older study published in The Journal of Nutrition noted that most fruits and vegetables contain less than 0.01 μg/g of selenium (18). 

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The only fruit that appears to have significant amounts of selenium is bananas. Even then, they only have a trace of it at just 1 mcg per half-cup serving (15). 

To counter this problem and increase the consumption of selenium in both humans and livestock, researchers have suggested that selected crops, especially fruits and berries, should go through the biofortification process (1, 5). If this process is successful, then selenium-enriched fruits may be a quality source of this nutrient.

What Are Some Selenium Benefits For Hair, Skin, and Nails?

If you read the ingredient lists of your hair, skin, or nail supplements, you may have seen that selenium is often listed among a multitude of other ingredients, but does it truly work? Due to this trace mineral’s ability to support your immune system, protect against oxidative stress, and fight against inflammation, selenium may also work to improve the health of your skin, hair, and nails.

 Benefits of Selenium for Skin 

When it comes to the skin-related benefits of selenium, it may be helpful for those who suffer from skin disorders. Studies have found that adding foods rich in selenium to their diets may be beneficial for people suffering from psoriasis or epidermolysis bullosa (11, 16).

It has also been suggested that the mineral may protect against skin cancer as it has cellular antioxidant defenses and protective effects against UV radiation-induced damage to skin cells. Furthermore, a selenium deficiency may be associated with an increased risk of skin cancer (11, 14, 16).

Benefits of Selenium For hair 

For those who suffer from dandruff, using selenium sulfide as a topical treatment, especially in shampoo, can help relieve itching and flaking of the scalp and remove dry, scaly particles (6). It also promotes hair growth, although too much may lead to hair loss (13).

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Benefits of Selenium for Nails 

Both fingernails and toenails rely on this trace mineral for growth (20).

The recommended amount of selenium per day is 55 micrograms for adult men and women (above 19 years), while pregnant women need 60 micrograms and lactating women need 70 micrograms a day. Ensuring you consume these amounts can help you experience the various benefits we previously mentioned (15).

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What Are Zinc and Selenium Good for?

As seen in the section above, our bodies need these two trace minerals to function at their best. Both zinc and selenium influence complex bodily processes such as reproduction, boosting immune system and metabolism function, DNA production, wound healing, enzymatic reactions, growth and development, thyroid function, and much more.

food rich in selenium and zinc  

FAQs

  • What foods are highest in selenium?

At 537 µg of selenium per 28 grams and 2,550 µg per 1 cup, Brazil nuts are the top food with the highest amount of this nutrient (4). 

If you can’t find these nuts, don’t fret; just turn to other easy-to-find selenium sources such as tuna, sardines, and shrimp. These kinds of seafood are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which can support weight loss. (31)

Organ meats such as liver and more common meats such as chicken, beef, pork, and turkey are also excellent sources of selenium.

  • Which is better, selenium or zinc?

As illustrated by the studies mentioned above, these two nutrients appear to work better and produce greater results when combined. Instead of trying to pick one over the other, you should combine both for better health.

  • Do zinc and selenium help you sleep?

Yes, they do. Studies on zinc alone, selenium only, and a combination of zinc and selenium together have shown that these two minerals can help improve sleep amount, duration, and quality and may even decrease the likelihood of some sleep disorders whether used individually or together  (8, 23, 2, 3).

  • How do I know if I need a selenium supplement?

Determining if you have a selenium deficiency and need supplementation is a complex process that requires a look at a patient’s medical history and a physical examination.

However, some things that may hint at a selenium deficiency include (19):

  • Joint swelling, tenderness, or restricted movement
  • Neurological function problems such as sensory perception, reflexes, and coordination issues
  • Skin pigmentation changes, white spots on nails, or brittle nails
  • Male infertility
  • Menstrual irregularities or other reproductive issues in women
  • Growth disorders in children
  • How do you get 100% of zinc daily?

Adult women and men require 8 mg and 11 mg of zinc daily. You can try reaching this recommended amount by including zinc-rich foods such as meat, fish, and other seafood, beans, nuts, whole grains, poultry, eggs, dairy, and oysters in your daily diet (28). 

These sources of foods also make some of the best frozen meals for weight loss, so if you’re worried about food waste or not eating healthy, you can simply buy meals with these ingredients or make them at home and freeze them.

The Bottom Line

While zinc and selenium deficiencies are not particularly common, ensuring you get enough of these foods that are rich in selenium and zinc will stave off the likelihood of a deficiency and go a long way toward ensuring you remain as healthy as you can be and that your body is functioning optimally. 

If you have any questions regarding your intake or if you suspect you might be deficient in selenium, zinc, or any other nutrient, please speak to your doctor before altering your diet.

DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES

  1. [Enrichment of fruits and berries with selenium and prospects for their using in the preventive nutrition] (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  2. Association between Selenium Intake and Optimal Sleep Duration: A National Longitudinal Study (2023, mdpi.com)
  3. Associations of serum zinc, copper, and selenium with sleep disorders in the American adults: Data from NHANES 2011–2016 (2023, sciencedirect.com)
  4. Brazil nuts (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
  5. Chapter 18 – The importance of selenium in fruit nutrition (2020, sciencedirect.com)
  6. DANDRUFF: THE MOST COMMERCIALLY EXPLOITED SKIN DISEASE (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  7. Designing hydrolytic zinc metalloenzymes (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  8. Dietary Zinc Acts as a Sleep Modulator (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  9. Effect of the Interaction Between Selenium and Zinc on DNA Repair in Association With Cancer Prevention (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  10. Effects of Zinc and Selenium Supplementation on Thyroid Function in Overweight and Obese Hypothyroid Female Patients: A Randomized Double-Blind Controlled Trial (2015, tandfonline.com)
  11. Gastrointestinal complications of inherited epidermolysis bullosa: cumulative experience of the National Epidermolysis Bullosa Registry (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  12. Nutrient synergy: definition, evidence, and future directions (2023, frontiersin.org)
  13. Nutrition of women with hair loss problem during the period of menopause (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  14. Selenium, ultraviolet radiation and the skin (2008, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
  15. Selenium (2021, ods.od.nih.gov)
  16. Selenium and psoriasis (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  17. Selenium and Thyroid Disease: From Pathophysiology to Treatment (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  18. Selenium Content of Foods (1970, sciencedirect.com)
  19. Selenium Deficiency (2023, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  20. Selenium in human nails : a preliminary study using INAA (2013, researchgate.net)
  21. Synergism | Definition, Importance & Examples (n.d., study.com)
  22. Synergistic Effects of Selenium and Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles on Growth Performance, Hemato-biochemical Profile, Immune and Oxidative Stress Responses, and Intestinal Morphometry of Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) (2021, link.springer.com)
  23. The Effect of Zinc Supplementation on Sleep Quality of ICU Nurses: A Double Blinded Randomized Controlled Trial (2018, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  24. The Effects of Zinc and Selenium Co-Supplementation on Resting Metabolic Rate, Thyroid Function, Physical Fitness, and Functional Capacity in Overweight and Obese People under a Hypocaloric Diet: A Randomized, Double-Blind, and Placebo-Controlled Trial (2023, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  25. The importance of selenium to human health (2000, thelancet.com)
  26. The Role of Selenium in Pathologies: An Updated Review (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  27. Vitamins and Minerals (2023, nutritionsource.hsph.harvard.edu)
  28. Zinc (2022, ods.od.nih.gov)
  29. Zinc and its importance for human health: An integrative review (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  30. Zinc is an Essential Element for Male Fertility: A Review of Zn Roles in Men’s Health, Germination, Sperm Quality, and Fertilization (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  31. The effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on weight loss and cognitive function in overweight or obese individuals on weight-loss diet (2022, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) 
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