Seaweed for Dinner, Are You Ready?
As experts explore ways to solve the problem of global hunger and food shortages now and in the future, one solution may be living in the ocean. Seaweed is a not only a rich source of protein but also provides a number of health benefits--and that's no fish story.
Are you ready to eat seaweed?
Various types of seaweed are a common part of the diet among many peoples who reside near the ocean, especially in Asia. Folks in the United States and other countries are no strangers to seaweed if they eat nori, a popular seaweed used to make sushi, rice balls, and as a topping for oriental soups.
In addition to nori, other edible seaweeds that have caught on in Western societies include kombu, dulse (dulce), kelp, and Irish moss, among others. Seaweeds are valued not only for their nutritional content but for healing properties as well.
A recent report from researchers at Teagasc, the national Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland that provides research information to the agriculture and food industry, explained the protein content and health benefits of various seaweeds, many of which have been added to foods such as frozen meat products, sausages, and cheese, just to name a few.
One interesting fact about the protein content of seaweed, for example, is that it can vary depending on when it is collected. The protein content of dulse (Palmaria palmata), for example can vary from 9 to 25 percent, with the highest percentage seen in dulse gathered during the winter. Dulse is also a very good source of B vitamins and fiber.
Seaweed and your heart
The researchers discovered a certain peptide (a chain of amino acids, which make up proteins) in dulse that can act as an inhibitor of renin, which could make the seaweed important in fighting high blood pressure and preventing cardiovascular disease. This is the first time experts have uncovered a renin-inhibitory peptide in seaweed.
The find has triggered an investigation by Teagasc researchers to explore the impact of the seaweed peptides and protein hydrolysates (an amino acid mixture made by splitting a protein with an enzyme, acid, or alkali) in bread products for people. According to Dr. Maria Hayes at Teagasc Food Research Centre, scientists are now analyzing bread products with dulse and hydrolysate.
Other health benefits of seaweed
Previous research by Dr. Hayes and her team found that seaweed can help reduce blood pressure through the aforementioned peptides, some of which act similarly to prescriptions drugs (e.g., enalapril, lisinopril) used to lower blood pressure.
It's also been suggested that a seaweed extract holds promise as a lymphoma treatment. Research presented at the second AACR Dead Sea International Conference on Advances in Cancer Research in March 2010 noted that a substance in brown seaweed called fucoidan inhibited the growth of lymphoma cells.
Seaweed may also help in the fight against fat and obesity. A research team at Newcastle University reported that sea kelp contains a fiber called alginate, which can reduce the amount of fat the body absorbs by 75 percent. Some foods already contain very small amounts of alginate as a food thickener and stabilizer.
Seaweed on your dinner plate
Although you can find small amounts of seaweed in some food items on your grocery shelves and certainly in Asian restaurants, it may be making a bigger splash in the near future. Dr. Hayes noted that "protein isolated from P. palmata as part of this study could be used for technical purposes in food manufacture, for example in the manufacture of reduced fat products."
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Teagasc Food Research Centre
Image: Wikimedia Commons