Seaweed. Kelp. Algae. There is no denying the potent nutritional value of sea vegetables. And thanks to the modern-day culinary influences of the Japanese on Western diets, you may now include this bizarre green food in your diet – even if it’s only the nori your sushi rolls are wrapped in.
But how did that smelly weed you get tangled in at the beach come to be labeled as one the most nutritious vegetables in the world? Well, seaweed (like many of land-based, leafy vegetables) is absolutely packed with vitamins and minerals.
And believe it or not, you don’t even need to eat a huge amount to obtain certain health benefits. In fact, as few as 10 grams (the size of a seaweed snack pack) can provide a big nutritional kick. And if you consume a more concentrated form — like spirulina powder — the benefits could potentially increase tenfold.
Why Is Seaweed So Good For You?
1. It’s Packed With Nutrients
Seaweed is brimming with nutrients. It’s rich in:
- Omega fatty acids
- Essential amino acids
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
2. It’s Good for Your Gut
For starters, seaweed offers more than just a great dose of both soluble and insoluble fibers. Some studies indicate its consumption (and specifically the alginate in seaweed) may:3
- Increase feelings of fullness
- Slow down digestion
- Regulate gut microflora
- Reduce glycemic response (helping other foods to become low GI)
- Strengthen the mucus protecting the gut wall. (A good thing since gut mucus alone may protect you from a variety of discomforts.)
3. It’s Low In Calories
Seaweed snacks have become popular and it’s little wonder when an entire packet comes in at around 4 calories! 4 Add in all those nutrients listed above and you get a very nutritious snack with enough fiber to keep you feeling full.
4. It’s Good For Your Heart
Some of the oldest living people in the world come from the Southern Islands of Japan – the islands boast more than 400 centenarians!5 Japanese centenarians were found to have clean arteries, low cholesterol, and low homocysteine (heart-damaging plasma) levels when compared to Western control groups. These factors have the ability to reduce the risk of certain heart health issues by a huge 80%! 6 And β-tocopherol (related to vitamin E) was found to be significantly higher in this Japanese population.
5. One word: Iodine
Now, iodine intake in the Japanese population exceeds that of most other countries, and this is mostly due to the consumption of seaweed. Of course, iodine is an essential mineral your body requires in order to synthesize your thyroid hormones. Furthermore, iodine is believed to impart some great antioxidant effects and might even help inhibit certain heart health issues.
And did you know, seaweed has the unique ability to concentrate iodine from the ocean? In fact, certain varieties can accumulate over 30,000 times the iodine concentration of seawater.7
Types of Seaweed
There are literally hundreds of varieties of algae in the oceans of the world, but the most popular edible seaweeds include:
Nori: What you find in most sushi
Wakame: The type found floating in miso soup or found in “seaweed salad”
Dulse: A vibrant red algae also popular in salads
Agar-Agar: Used as a gelatin substitute in vegan foods
Spirulina and chlorella: Usually a supplement, these bright green powders are seen as a potent addition to your diet due to their concentrated amounts of protein, antioxidants, and nutrients.
How To Use Sea Vegetables In Your Diet
If you’re wondering how to start incorporating seaweed into your diet, here are 6 quick ways to get you started:
- Add spirulina to your smoothies and juices
- Sprinkle seaweed flakes over your meals
- Buy Nori sheets and add them to salads, soups, and omelettes
- Purchase pre-packaged seaweed snacks to snack on between meals
- Use kelp noodles to make a salad
- Mix dried seaweed flakes into salad dressings
As one would assume, seaweed is naturally high in salt, so do check the nutritional panels on any packaged varieties to ensure no further salt has been added.
King of the Sea
You’ve been taught to never judge a book by its cover, and seaweed is another fine example. It may not be the prettiest vegetable you’ll see, but it should definitely be given a place at the table.