The Benefits of Seaweed- Inside and Outside

Inside- Edible

As I mentioned in my last blog post there are huge benefits to bathing with seaweed, however there are also has great benefits for inside as well as outside your body as seaweed holds a reputation as a nutrient-rich superfood. Seaweed or sea vegetables are forms of algae that grow in the sea and are found along rocky shorelines around the world. Its full of vitamins and protein as well as been low-calorie, crunchy and salty so is both nutritious and tasty. Seaweed has long been a staple of many Asian diets particularly in Japanese cuisine but has become increasing popular among health-conscious eaters for the fact that it’s plant-based and high in protein, it has as much calcium as milk, depending on the type of seaweed so is perfect for a vegan diet. Seaweed features powerful anti-viral properties that have been shown to guard against the influenza virus so during the cold and flu season it is worth increasing your intake of this marine plant. (Take note, a little goes a long way) It’s extremely versatile and can be used in many dishes, including sushi rolls, soups and stews, salads, supplements and smoothies. In Brittany, in France, an area which has a kelp forest called the Lamiariar, fisherman minced seaweed in butter which they called Beurre des Algues they ate this on bread and used it to cook fish.

Research is underway in using an extract called alginate (taken from types of brown seaweed) to add fibre to junk food favourites such as burgers, pies and cake. Adding the seaweed extract could quadruple the amount of fibre in white bread. A low fibre diet in the western world is seen as one of the most harmful dietary problems in staying healthy today.

While there are more than 100 types of edible seaweed, these are the varieties you’ll see the most often:

  1. Nori, think of this as the gateway seaweed. It shows up on sushi rolls and in sheets as seaweed snacks.
  2. Kelp- also known as kombu, kelp is the primary ingredient in dashi, a Japanese stock that forms the base of miso soup. Kelp powder can be added to smoothie’s.
  3. Wakame-is the main component of most seaweed salads and the wide, slippery seaweed found in miso soup.

There are several ways of adding seaweed to your diet; kombu can be added to dried beans. (It helps break down the sugars in beans that cause gas) Kelp can be added to coleslaw. Furikake is a topping that includes sesame seeds and nori and can be added to popcorn, roasted veggies, cooked fish and omelettes. Spirulina adds more health benefits to a fruit smoothie.

The colours of seaweed range in colour from Red to Green to Brown to Black: Green algae is sea lettuce or ulva, Brown algae is kombu, arame, kelp and wakame, Red algae is dulse, laver, and nori, and Blue-green algae is spirulina.

There are 7 science-backed benefits of seaweed:

  1. Iodine and Tyrosine (an amino acid) is needed by your thyroid gland to function properly. The thyroid gland releases hormones to help control growth, energy production, reproduction and the repair of damaged cells in your body. Seaweed has the unique ability to absorb concentrated amounts of iodine from the ocean. Without enough iodine, you may start to experience symptoms like weight changes, fatigue or swelling of the neck. Kelp is one of the best sources of iodine.
  2. Good Source of Vitamins and Minerals, each type of seaweed has a unique set of nutrients. Seaweed also contains small amounts of vitamins A, C, E and K, along with folate, zinc, sodium, calcium and magnesium. The protein present in some seaweeds, such as spirulina and chlorella, contain all of the essential amino acids helping to ensure you get the full range of amino acids. Seaweed can also be a good source of omega-3 fats and vitamin B12.
  3. Contains a variety of protective Antioxidants, which can make unstable substances in your body called free radicals less reactive which makes them less likely to damage your cells. Excess free radical production is considered to be an underlying cause of several diseases.
  4. In addition, seaweed boasts a wide variety of beneficial plant compounds, including flavonoids and carotenoids. These have been shown to protect your body’s cells from free radical damage too. Fucoxanthin is the main carotenoid found in brown algae, such as wakame. Fucoxanthin, has been shown to protect cell membranes better than vitamin A. While the body does not always absorb fucoxanthin well, absorption may be improved by consuming it along with fats.
  5. Seaweed provides fibre and polysaccharides that can support your gut health. Gut bacteria play an enormous role in your health. You have more bacteria cells in your body than human cells. An imbalance in these good and bad gut bacteria can lead to sickness and disease. Seaweed has a higher fibre content than most fruits and vegetables.
  6. It may help you lose weight by delaying hunger and reducing weight. Seaweed contains a lot of fibre but does not contain any calories. This helps you feel fuller for longer and can delay hunger pangs. Fucoxanthin, contributes to an increased metabolism and may help reduce body fat.
  7. A reduction in the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Seaweed may help reduce your blood cholesterol levels. It also contains carbohydrates called fucans, which may help prevent blood from clotting. Diabetes, occurs when your body is unable to balance your blood sugar levels over time. Seaweed gives additional improvements in controlling blood sugar. A substance in seaweed called alginate prevented blood sugar spikes and may also reduce the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.

N.B- Although seaweed is considered a very healthy food, there may be some potential dangers of consuming too much. As it can contain a very large and potentially dangerous amount of iodine. High amounts of seaweed can affect thyroid function, and symptoms of too much iodine are often the same as symptoms of not enough iodine. Seaweed can absorb and store minerals in concentrated amounts. This poses a health risk, as seaweed can also contain large amounts of toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury and lead. It is best to buy organic seaweed, as it’s less likely to contain significant amounts of heavy metals.

The fact that it’s plant-based and high in protein as well as containing many other nutrients would make it ideal for a vegetarian or vegan to help any deficiencies in their diet. I think it’s a great idea to add seaweed to your diet for extra fibre too which is often too low in the typical western diet. As a healthy, natural, substantiable food it is very on trend at the current time!

I will write about using seaweed, outside or on the body in my next post.