While you might not order seaweed beyond sushi rolls or stock it in your pantry, you’re probably eating it —more than you know. Edible seaweeds, also known as sea vegetables, are frequently used in ice creams, consumer baked goods, salad dressings -and of course, nut milks (most brands except Whole Foods 360). But, if you’re not intentionally including seaweed in your diet —should you? Maybe.
I’ve been starting to work with edible seaweeds, also known as sea vegetables. Check out these 5 interesting facts about our green, brown and red friends under the sea and ideas for introducing them into your diet. Welcome to Seaweed 101!
5 Reasons to Love Sea Vegetables
- They Provide Protection From Heavy Metals & Radiation
Sea vegetables also contain alginic acid. What is alginic acid and why should you care? This polysaccharide is a chelating compound which neutralizes heavy metals, such as lead and radioactive substances in the body. Alginic acid binds to these compounds and harmlessly excretes them.
- They Are the Iodine ‘IT’ Food
Sea vegetables are an extraordinary source of a nutrient missing in almost every other food: iodine. Maintaining adequate iodine stores is crucial for healthy function of the thyroid, the gland which helps produce and regulate hormones. Low thyroid function can result in a wide range of symptoms such as fatigue, muscle weakness, high cholesterol, difficulty losing weight, greater susceptibility to disease and others. Mild iodine deficiency is becoming more common due to less use of iodized salt and environmental exposure to bromine and fluoride, which block iodine receptors.
- They Are Tops for Nutritional Density (Including B12!)
In addition to iodine, sea vegetables, are known for their nutrient-density and are one of the few vegan sources of B12. They are also good sources of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, sodium, zinc and many trace minerals.
- They Make Beans More Flavorful and Easier to Digest
Adding seaweed, kombu in particular, to a pot of beans will not only enhance their flavor, it will also make beans easier to digest. Kombu is a great source of the enzyme alpha-galactosidase. This enzyme breaks down the oligosaccharides in beans, the complex carbohydrates which give beans a bad name, causing many people gastrointestinal ‘challenges’. Not with seaweed in the house (and in the pot)!
- The Medicine Cabinet of the Sea
Caught a bug? Trying to avoid one? Many varieties of sea vegetables are high in sulfated polysaccharides which have antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory properties while supporting immune the immune and digestive systems.
4 Types of Seaweed and Ways to Enjoy Them
A strip of kombu enhances the flavor of any soup stock. It also greatly improves the digestability of the beans, breaking down the oligosaccharides which would otherwise might ferment in our lower intestine.
If cooked for several hours, it will become mucilaginous and eventually fall apart. Unless you plan to remove the kombu, I recommend breaking it into small pieces. Otherwise, you will find what resembles a pieces of shoe leather at the bottom of your soup pot.
Like all other sea vegetables, wakame is nutrient dense, and particularly rich in calcium. It also acts as a tenderizer, improving the digestibility of beans as well as other fibrous foods. After reconstituting in water, wakame can be used in soups and salads or toasted in a 350°F oven until crisp (about 7 minutes) for a snack or condiment.
Nori is the thin sheet of seaweed wrapped around sushi rolls. When buying for home, look for very dark, almost black nori. Chemical fertilizers are used on the inexpensive and lesser quality green nori.
Nori serves as a great no-carb wrap for appetizers or light meals. Spread some hummus or mashed avocado on a sheet, throw in some leftovers and roll it up for a quick snack. Or, take it up a notch and toast the sheet first by waving it briefly over an open flame. Crush a sheet and sprinkle it over soups or salads for a beautiful garnish. It shimmers!
Believe it or not, dulse was once a tavern snack in Boston pubs throughout the Irish neighborhoods. But today, most Americans are introduced to dulse as flakes sold in a shaker as a salt substitute —great for those wanting to reduce their sodium intake.
Ready to give sea vegetables a try? You’ll find most common seaweeds available dried in the ethnic foods section of larger grocery stores as well as health food stores. Look for hand-harvested varieties. Try consuming a few tablespoons at a time a few times a week. However, if you have a thyroid condition, discuss sea vegetable consumption with your healthcare practitioner.
Are sea vegetables in your diet? If so, how do you enjoy them? Comment below!
Colbin, Annemarie, Food and Healing. New York: Ballantine Books, 1986.
Minich, Deanna, PhD, Whole Detox. New York: Harper One, 2016.
Wood, Rebecca, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, New York: Penguin Books, 2010.
MacArtain, P., C.I. Gill, M.Brooks, R. Campbell, and I R., Rowland. “Nutritional Value of Edible Seaweeds.” Nutr Rev. 007 Dec;65(12 Pt 1):535-43. Accessed March 20, 2016.