Seaweed: A Superfood of the Sea
As one of the most common ingredients in Korean, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese cuisines, seaweed, also known as kelp, have quickly gained popularity among American fans of healthy and nutritious organic foods. You have probably noticed nori seaweed sheets while eating that delicious sushi. But did you know that they can be extremely good for your health? However, this is just one kind of edible seaweed. This great nutrition source from the sea includes some of the hottest superfoods available on the market today, including chlorella and spirulina.
To learn more about the benefits of these sea superfoods, check the following science-backed facts about seaweed food.
The definition of seaweed
What is seaweed exactly? According to AuthorityNutrition.Com, seaweed (also called as algae) is a common term for various types of marine plants.
The interesting fact is that despite its name, seaweed may grow in different types of waters, including lakes and rivers. However, seaweed growing in the seas tends to be more edible, while freshwater types can be more toxic. Different types of seaweed also vary in size and taste.
However, the most important fact about seaweed is that all its types contain a lot of essential vitamins and nutrients. This is the aspect of these water forests that intrigues health food junkies and nutritionists alike.
Seaweed nutrition profile
Many nutritionists hurry to call seaweed a “superfood” because it is rich in minerals and contains trace elements in higher than in most other foods. Check the nutritional facts about seaweed vitamins and minerals gathered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Seaweed nutritional profile per 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces):
- Calories – 45;
- Carbs – 10 grams (g);
- Fats – 1 g;
- Protein – 2 g;
- Fibers – about 30% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI);
- Vitamin K – varies from 10 to 80% of the RDI (according to the seaweed type);
- Magnesium – from 20 to 180% of the RDI;
- Folate – from 45 to 50% of the RDI;
- Sodium – from 10 to 70% of the RDI;
- Copper – from 6 to 15% of the RDI;
- Iodine – may reach the level of 65% of the RDI;
- Calcium – from15 to 60% of the RDI;
- Potassium – from 1 to 45% of the RDI;
- Manganese – from 10 to 70% of the RDI;
- Iron – from 3 to 20% of the RDI.
Almost all edible seaweed types also contain the small amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, B-vitamins, choline, Vitamins A, C, E, and phosphorus.
The most popular edible seaweed types
Edible seaweed types can be differentiated by color. The most delicious and least toxic types are of red, brown, green, and blue-green colors. According to the Nutrition-and-You. Com, the most popular types of seaweed in Asian countries and the United States are:
- Nori – red algae that you may have spotted once or twice in your sushi. Also, nori is served as a popular roasted seaweed dish in Korea, Japan and Thailand;
- Spirulina – is an edible freshwater algae that can be recognized due to its peculiar blue-green color. You may find spirulina powder capsule, flake or powdered forms. It is also the base of many Japanese and Korean seaweed snacks;
- Kelp – this is another popular brown algae that is commonly sold in the form of dried sheets added to Asian dishes due to its peculiar taste. One of the most useful kelp benefits is that this seaweed may be used as gluten-free replacement for noodles. In Asian countries, kelp is eaten as delicious seaweed chips;
- Sea lettuce – is basically a type of green nori that really resembles lettuce leaves. This type is hard to find in the form of a seaweed extract or powder because it is commonly eaten raw in soups and salads;
- Arame – a mild, sweet-flavored kelp that has a firm texture. It is mostly used in baked goods;
- Kombu – a strong-flavored kelp that is added to soups;
- Dulse – this red algae has a soft and chewier texture that makes it great as a dried seaweed snack;
- Wakame – this is a brown algae that is widely used in fresh salads. Sometimes, you can find it in traditional Asian stews and soups;
- Chlorella – this is an edible freshwater algae of green color that is increasingly used as a seaweed supplement and mostly added to dishes in powdered form;
- Carrageenan and agar – these are jelly-like substances extracted from algae. They are often used for thickening different food products.
Keep in mind that buying organic seaweeds in fresh or dried form may be best done at health food stores or Asian markets. However, nori, which is popular because of sushi, can be bought in regular grocery stores in the United States.
Health benefits of seaweed
According to the WebMD team and a number of nutritional resources, seaweed may significantly promote your health in different ways. Recent studies held in the United States, Japan, and South Korea have shown that taking seaweed supplements and snacks can deliver health benefits like:
Can benefit the thyroid health
Due to the high levels of iodine, eating seaweed may reduce symptoms of a weakened thyroid gland like forgetfulness, dry skin, low energy, tingling in the hands and feet, depression, and weight gain. The RDI of iodine for a healthy thyroid gland is 150 micrograms per day.
Prevention of heart disorders
Practically all seaweed types contain nutrients that may be beneficial for your heart’s health. The heart-protecting nutrients of seaweed are “good” fiber and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Also, sulfated polysaccharides (sPS), which can be found in seaweed, may reduce high blood pressure and prevent blood clots.
Keeping your blood sugar levels under control
One of the most important seaweed benefits is that most types can aid in preventing type 2 diabetes. This is because seaweeds may stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance. Some studies claim that powdered seaweed can be the best for diabetics.
Can benefit in losing weight
Excess weight can be reduced thanks to fucoidan, a type of sPS found in seaweed. This component may increase natural fat breakdown and prevent its accumulation. Besides, seaweed can be a great low-calorie salad seasoning.
May boost your immune system
A recent study investigated the benefits of taking seaweed supplements for women who have been diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Researchers found that eating only 5 grams of spirulina daily helped reduce HIV symptoms by 27%. Also, spirulina may boost your immune system and protect from the common cold or flu.
Can make your bowel movements regular
Because they are rich in fiber, seaweed can help prevent constipation and support healthy digestion. Also, prebiotics contained in seaweed are known for their powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.
Can protect your skin from sun damage
The damage from ultraviolet rays can make your skin look old and increase wrinkles and dark spots. Seaweed may naturally protect your skin from this damage.
Can strengthen your bones
Most seaweed types are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components. That is why seaweed may decrease the risks of developing osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and strengthen your bones’ structure.
Risks of eating seaweed
Despite all of the benefits of seaweed, the health care specialists from Mayo Clinic recommend being careful when eating seaweed snacks, extracts, or supplements daily. In most cases, eating fresh seaweed is considered to be safe. However, adverse the reactions of eating too much seaweed shouldn’t be ignored. They may include:
- A high content of heavy metals like cadmium, mercury, lead, and arsenic, if seaweed grows in polluted seas and lakes;
- Negative impact on kidney function due to the high content of sodium and potassium;
- Interactions with blood thinners because of the high levels of Vitamin K;
- Eating too much (more than 25 grams per day) fresh Kombu may result in unbalanced thyroid function.
Most of seaweed’s health benefits have been shown by scientific research studies done in the United States, Europe, and Asia. However, it is best to consult a doctor before starting to take any seaweed supplements or eating seaweed containing foods daily.