What Are the Health Benefits of Eating Seaweed?

Categories: Articles, Cooking tips, Nutritional Information, Phlegm Nodules & Interior Heat, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian, Western Medicine

Overview

Sea vegetables, often referred to as seaweed or algae, are not as common in the Western culture as they are in other areas of the world. Sea vegetables come in a variety of colors including green, red and brown, each with a unique flavor, shape and texture. This exclusive family of vegetables absorbs nutrients from the sea and are, therefore, an excellent source of trace elements, vitamins, minerals and protein. Sea vegetables are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat. Proponents claim that sea vegetables can protect against disease including cancer; however, no scientific studies have been done to confirm this.

Dulse

Dulse is a reddish brown sea vegetable with a chewy and slightly salty taste. It is approximately 22 percent protein, offers more than 100 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin B-6, iron and fluoride in addition to 66 percent of the RDA for vitamin B-12. Dulse is also a rich source of potassium, manganese, iodine, iron, riboflavin, phosphorus, and vitamin A. It offers a variety of trace elements, enzymes and phytochemicals, yet is relatively low in sodium. Dulse is available powdered as a condiment or in whole stringy leaves. One-third cup of dulse contains about 18 calories.

Agar Agar

Sometimes called Japanese gelatin, agar agar is a clear, tasteless alternative to animal or chemical-based gelatin. Derived from red seaweed, agar agar is a natural thickener. You will typically find this sea vegetable used as a gelling agent in desserts, pie fillings, puddings and aspics. Agar agar can also be used to replace eggs and other thickening agents in baking. Rich in iodine, calcium, iron, phosphorus and fiber, agar agar acts as a mild laxative, adding bulk to your diet without the calories. One serving, or 11 g, of agar agar powder has about 40 calories.

Wakame

Wakame, also known as alaria, is a deep grayish green sea vegetable. Rich in dietary fiber, chlorophyll, beta carotene, B vitamins, calcium, iodine, iron, protein, calcium and vitamin C, this is one of the most tender sea vegetables. It has a subtle sweet flavor and slippery texture and is best eaten in soups or salads. Two tablespoons of wakame has about 5 calories Oriental medicine utilized wakame for skin problems, strengthening hair, thyroid disorders, menstrual regularity and blood purifier.

Nori

Nori is 28 percent protein and an excellent source of calcium, manganese, fluoride, iron, copper and zinc. It is the sea vegetable with the highest B vitamins, including B-1, B-2, B-3, B-6 and B-12 as well as vitamins A, C and E. This easily digested, deep purple-green vegetable is sweet in flavor with a slightly nutty taste. Nori is most commonly used as wrappers for sushi rolls. One sheet of nori has approximately 10 calories.

Kombu

Dark purple, kombu is one of the most commonly used and recognized seaweeds. Kombu comes in thick strips or sheets and will add iodine, calcium, magnesium and iron to your diet. It is also a good source of vitamins B, C, D and E, as well as calcium, beta carotene, potassium, silica and zinc. Tough and chewy, kombu contains enzymes that help break down the raffinose sugars in beans, making them more easily digested. One 4-inch piece of kombu has 10 calories.

Overview

A staple of Asian cuisine, sea vegetables are often vastly under-appreciated in the West. Sometimes referred to as seaweed, these vegetables actually include a wide range of different types of algae. Frequently sold dried, most sea vegetables need to be reconstituted before or during cooking. Sea vegetables may also be sold as dietary supplements in powder, tablet or capsule form.

Types

Sea vegetables come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and flavors. The most familiar for most people is nori, the green or dark purple sheets used to wrap some types of sushi rolls. Arame looks like thin black shreds and is cooked in stir fry dishes or used in salads. The brown sea vegetable dulse is frequently served in powdered form as a condiment but its leaves can also be pan-fried. Kombu comes in dark purple sheets that are often added to soups. Sweet and salty sea palm and tender wakame can both be eaten raw or served in salads or cooked dishes.

Nutrients

Sea vegetables are all typically high in iodine, iron, fiber and a wide range of vitamins and minerals. The iodine in sea vegetables is highly concentrated, but may dissipate some when the vegetables are reconstituted in water. The iron in sea vegetables is accompanied by vitamin C, which helps in making iron bioaccessible. Sea vegetables are also a good source of antioxidant micronutrients. In addition, they contain high levels of selenium, manganese, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin E.

Phytochemicals

In addition to the micronutrient antioxidants, sea vegetables also supply phytochemicals with antioxidant properties. Different varieties of sea vegetables contain differing levels of carotenoids and flavonoids. For example, nori contains high levels of beta-carotene, the carotenoid that can be converted into vitamin A and benefits visual health. Sea vegetables also contain alkaloids, compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. Because of the complex interactions between the phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, sea vegetables are best eaten whole instead of taken in supplement form.

Health Benefits

Proponents of sea vegetables promote their consumption as good for cancer prevention, particularly colon and breast cancer, and healing degenerative diseases. Extracts from sea vegetables have been shown to halt cancer cell growth in the lab, but these results have not yet been replicated in human or animal models. Research on the health effects of sea vegetables have been mostly limited to laboratory studies thus far. Human clinical trials are needed to determine the effects of sea vegetables on diseases such as cancer, diabetes or asthma.

Source of Nutrients

Most seaweeds are high in essential amino acids, which makes them valuable sources of vegetable protein in a vegetarian or mostly meatless diet.

Like most land vegetables, seaweeds contain vitamins A (beta carotene) and C. Seaweeds are rich in potassium, iron, calcium, iodine and magnesium because these minerals are concentrated in sea water. They are also one of the few vegetable sources of vitamin B-12.

Weight Control

Seaweed is a “free food” when it comes to weight control because it provides only 5 to 20 calories in a serving and contains virtually no fat. Its fiber content also contributes to a feeling of satiety, or fullness when eaten in a meal.

Japanese researchers at Hokkaido University have discovered that a substance in brown seaweeds called fucoxanthin helps reduce the accumulation of fat in the body cells of laboratory animals–although there is no evidence that these results carry over to humans.

Salt Substitute

Seaweed granules have been tested in the United Kingdom as a flavor enhancer that could replace sodium in snack foods and other processed food products. Cutting back on salt can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, which reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Blood Sugar Regulation

When eaten as part of a meal, seaweed can help balance blood sugar because its soluble fiber content helps slow the rate at which foods are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream.

Digestive Aid

Agar agar is a gelling agent made from seaweed that’s high in soluble fiber. When used as a laxative, agar agar soaks up water in the intestine and swells up. This creates movement in the bowels that helps with elimination of waste.

Other Possible Benefits

Seaweed extracts have been shown to have an anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effect on laboratory animals, though this has not been scientifically proven in humans.

1. Sea Vegetable History

People from all over the world have eaten sea vegetables for centuries. In Boston, years ago, dulse, a purple-colored sea vegetable, was available to purchase in the street markets. Russians and Irish have favorite sea vegetable dishes. Nevertheless, nowhere are sea vegetables as popular as they are in Japan. In Japan, an organization grades sea vegetables for quality as the United States Department of Agriculture grades meats. Sea vegetables are an important part of the macrobiotic diet.

2. Most Nutritious of Food Groups

Due to modern farming techniques and poor topsoil quality, vegetables today are not as vitamin-rich and nutritious as they were in times past. Sea vegetables may be one of the only ways to get precious trace minerals such as cobalt, copper, chromium, fluorine, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc back into our diets. These minerals are necessary in small amounts in our bodies. Of all the foods recommended in the macrobiotic diet, sea vegetables are the richest source of minerals.

3. Sea Vegetable Variety in the Macrobiotic Diet

The most popular sea vegetables used in the macrobiotic diet are arame, dulse, hijiki, kelp, kombu, nori, wakame, Irish moss, and agar-agar for thickening. Their benefits are unmatched. For instance, arame is very high in calcium; dulse is 30 times richer in potassium than bananas and has 200 times the potency of beet root in iron; hijiki has 4 times the amount of calcium of whole milk; kelp has 150 times the amount of iodine and 8 times as much magnesium as garden vegetables; kombu equals corn in phosphorus; nori has as much vitamin A as carrots and twice the amount of protein as some meats; wakame is high in calcium and phosphorus also.

4. Alkalize Acid and Remove Radioactive Substance from the Body

Sea vegetables help alkalize the blood to a healthy pH level. Modern diets and junk food make the blood acidic, which over long periods of time leads to acidosis, which means our bodies do not get enough oxygen. This continued process can lead to cellulite in women, skin disorders and overall unhealthiness. Sea vegetables can also reduce excess fat and mucous. Toxic metals in the intestines turn into harmless salts, thanks to the darker sea vegetables. In 1964 at McGill University in Montreal, an experiment showed sea vegetables removed radioactive strontium-90 from the body.

5. Buying Sea Vegetables

Sea vegetables are in all good health food stories. Usually you will not find the full variety of sea vegetables in one store, but bigger stores may carry most of them. If there is a particular variety, you want talk to the section manager about getting it ordered. You can also order online with Japanese and macrobiotic food outlets.

Overview

Some types of ocean plant life are beneficial for human consumption. Seaweed and other types of algae have been eaten for thousands of years. You can buy seaweed in the dried form or as a supplement at most health food stores. Commonly called sea vegetables, seaweed supplements may also go by other names and address a variety of health concerns.

Types of Sea Vegetables

Seaweed, whose varieties include kelp, kombu, bladderwrack, wakami, nori, dulse and algae, grows rapidly in the cool waters of most oceans, especially along the Pacific coast of North America.

Sea Vegetable Claims

According to The American Cancer Society, some proponents of sea vegetables claim they can prevent or treat myriad physical ailments, from cancer to obesity. They claim that these vegetables contain concentrated nutrients not available in land-based foods, as well as some nutrients that are not available to humans elsewhere. Infomercials and other marketing tactics claim seaweed can help control appetite and aid in weight loss.

Benefits

Seaweed contains high amounts of iodine. According to Dr. Donald W. Miller, the recommended dietary intake of 100 mcg to 150 mcg may be about 100 times too low. Iodine is a crucial element of thyroid hormones and is essential to the proper functioning of the thyroid, the gland located at the base of your neck that regulates your metabolism. Miller says that increased amounts of iodine may protect you from breast cancer and can improve your immune function due to its antioxidant properties.

The “Journal of Nutrition” found that several types of marine algae are also high in iron and vitamin C. Sea kelp may be able to help reduce the uptake of dietary fat by more than 75 percent, according to a 2010 article published in “Science News.”

Some sea vegetables contain varying amounts of carotenoids, flavonoids and alkaloids, which may have anti-inflammatory properties.

The USDA recommends you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Eating sea vegetables counts towards your daily intake of fruits and vegetables.

Sea vegetables can also be used as thickeners in some food, ranging from infant formula to ice cream.

Iodine Deficiency

Too little iodine in the diet can contribute to hypothyroidism, goiter and mental retardation. According to the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, iodine deficiency is the most preventable cause of mental retardation and brain damage in the world.

Supplements

Common sea vegetable supplements include kelp and red, green or brown algae. Some manufacturers combine kelp with marine algae or other ingredients, such as sodium and iron.