8 Reasons to Love Seaweed
Some people are touting seaweed as a super food for 2016, but this treasure from the oceans reached that status before the turn of the new year. In fact, experts have uncovered lots of reasons to love seaweed, so here are some of them plus a few ways to enjoy this sea vegetable during 2016 and many years to come.
First of all, there are many different kinds of seaweed, a blanket term that refers to several species of multicellular, macroscopic marine algae. Seaweed is commonly grouped by color
- Brown algae (Phaeophyceae)
- Red algae (Rhodophycae)
- Blue-green algae (Cyanophyceae)
- Green algae (Chlorophyceae)
and by how it is used (e.g., as food, medicine, fertilizer, fuel, etc.). Here we are interested in the use of seaweed for food and healing.
Seaweed has been given super food status because of its nutritional value, health benefits, and versatility. In fact, the authors of a recent report in Pharmacognosy Review stated that “Seaweeds are rich in soluble dietary fibers, proteins, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and polyunsaturated fatty acids” as well as being low in calories.
These sea vegetable also are “an excellent source of vitamins A, B1 B2, B3, B12, C, D, and E,” and provide a balance of amino acids. Compounds that are isolated from seaweeds have shown anti-cancer, anticoagulant, antioxidant, anti-viral, anti-allergic, and anti-inflammatory abilities as well.
The seaweeds most likely to make their way to your plate include the following:
- Arame is a stringy, dark seaweed that can be added to soups, salads, stir fries, curries, and grain dishes. You will need to soak it for several minutes (it will double in size) before adding it to your recipe.
- Dulse is available whole or as flakes. This red seaweed should be soaked if you use it whole, although you can use the flakes as is. Dulse is an excellent seasoning and can be used in soups, vegetable dishes, and salads.
- Irish moss is a misnomer, since it’s not moss at all but a type of red seaweed. Also known as carrageen, it is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, E, and K, calcium, potassium, sulfur, and antioxidants. It’s frequently used in skin products because it can help with eczema and psoriasis.
- Kelp is a brown algae that has multiple culinary and medicinal uses.
- Kombu is a Japanese favorite and a flavor booster. Some cooks add kombu to beans to reduce gas and make the beans more digestible or to soaking sprouts to enhance their mineral content.
- Nori (laver) is probably the best known seaweed because it is used to make sushi. Choose untoasted nori sheets if you want to get the most from its nutrient content.
- Sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca) is the most commonly consumed green seaweed.
- Wakame is a green seaweed that can be purchased dried or fresh. This versatile sea veggie can be added to stir fries, broths, soups, stews, and vegetable and grain dishes.
Reasons to love seaweed
- Light, nutritious snack. You can bring dried, powdered, or shredded seaweed with you anywhere, add some boiling water, and you have an instant, highly nutritious soup. You also can eat it dried instead of chips or nuts. Make seaweed chips by drizzling olive oil onto pieces of fresh seaweed and baking them on a cookie sheet in the oven until crisp.
- Good source of calcium. Seaweeds are a great source of nondairy calcium. Just 3.5 ounces of Irish moss, for example, contains 72 mg of calcium while kelp provides 168 mg and wakame, 150 mg. Adding these and other seaweeds to your recipes can immediately boost your calcium intake.
- Flavor enhancers. Add a layer of seaweed to the bottom and top of a pot containing vegetables as you steam them and be ready for a real flavor treat!
- Digestive help. The brown seaweeds have been shown to be especially helpful in aiding digestion because they contain bioactive components such as polysaccharides and polyphenols, which contain alginate, fucoidan, laminarian, and phenolic acids, which reduce the activity of digestive enzymes.
- Source of non-animal vitamin B12. People who follow a plant-based diet may have a challenge getting enough vitamin B12 from foods, so they often turn to supplements. However, nori is an especially great source of this nutrient. According to a report published in the journal Nutrients, dried nori “is the most suitable Vitamin B12 source presently available for vegetarians.” Dried nori also contains other nutrients that can help vegetarians and vegans, such as iron and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Help with type 2 diabetes. A study appearing in Food Chemistry noted that certain brown seaweeds (e.g., Ascophyllum nodosum, Fucus vesiculosus Linnaeus, Pelvetia canaliculata) inhibited the effects of two enzymes involved in processing carbohydrates and in turn affected glucose levels.
- Fights obesity. Fucoxanthin, a carotenoid found in brown algae, has demonstrated anti-obesity benefits as well as anti-diabetes advantages. This substance can help with weight loss as well as improve insulin resistance and reduce blood glucose levels. Fucoxanthin is a promising candidate for functional foods. Another seaweed component found in green seaweed, siphonaxanthin, also has shown an ability to fight obesity.
- Multiple benefits. The brown seaweeds belonging to the Sargassum species have shown a variety of potential health benefits, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, neuroprotective, anti-tumor, immune-boosting, anti-coagulant, anti-viral, and antimicrobial, among others.
A little seaweed goes a long way—you don’t need to eat a plateful of these sea veggies to reap the nutritional and health benefits. If seaweed hasn’t been a part of your diet, why not explore this food trend today?
Chater PI et al. The role of seaweed bioactives in the control of digestion: implications for obesity treatments. Food & Function 2015 Nov 4; 6(11): 3420-27
Gammone MA, D’Orazio N. Anti-obesity activity of the marine carotenoid fucoxanthin. Marine Drugs 2015 Apr 13; 13(4): 2196-214
USDA National Nutrient Database
Watanabe F et al. Vitamin B12-containing plant food sources for vegetarians. Nutrients 2014 May 5; 6(5): 1861-73
Yende SR et al. Therapeutic potential and health benefits of Sargassum species. Pharmacognosy Review 2014 Jan; 8(15) 1-7