Most people are only vaguely familiar with seaweed. They will describe seaweed as green and slimy, some will recognize it as an ingredient in sushi or miso soup, but there is very little knowledge of the health benefits associated with seaweed consumption.
What is Seaweed?
Seaweed, also known as algae, is a group of plant-like organisms that thrive and grow under the sea. Though there are algae which are one-celled and are called microalgae, the types that we consume are those with abundant cells or macroalgae.
Many types of seaweed are incredibly rich in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants and so offer great health and nutritional value. In numerous traditional cultures, seaweed is an integral part of herbal medicine and of a healthy diet.
What are the various seaweed types?
Seaweed is classified by scientists primarily based on its color.
As for the seaweed that we normally eat, they belong to the following groups:
- Red algae such as laver (aka nori) and dulse
- Brown algae such as kelp (including wakame, arame, and kombu)
- Green algae such as chlorella, sea grapes, and Ulva (aka sea lettuce)
- Blue-green algae such as spirulina
How are seaweeds cooked and eaten?
If you have been to Chinatown or if you have stayed near an Asian market, it’s easy to find seaweed. If you would like to prepare seaweed yourself, here are some tips:
- Soak dried seaweed in hot water and rinse well before using.
- If you come across tougher and thicker seaweed kinds, boil it or slice it thinly.
Seaweed can be an ingredient in other dishes or enjoyed by itself:
- Seaweed flakes: Sprinkle on soup, rice, salads, or any food you like.
- Soup: Add seaweed to bone broth for a most delectable seaweed soup.
- Salad: Just add garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and vinegar to seaweed and voila! You have a Japanese-style seaweed salad.
- Snack: Dulse and nori are two of the seaweed type that can be readily eaten out of the bag.
If you are concerned about MSG, check the ingredient list and look for seaweed which has less or no MSG to maintain your health.
6 Surprising Health Benefits of Seaweed
Different types and varieties of seaweed contain a unique set of nutrients, including:
Tyrosine and iodine
- Based on various research, seaweed is rich in an amino acid called tyrosine and also rich in iodine necessary for our thyroid glands to function properly.
- Seaweed is rich in calcium, iron, omega-3 fats, vitamin B12, and a wide array of minerals and vitamins.
- Flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamins E, C, and A can help protect the body from damage to its cells.
- Alginate and other sugars called polysaccharides in seaweed are food sources of good gut bacteria, thus, keeping our gut healthy and nourished.
Fucoxanthin and fiber. This pigment present in seaweed can reduce the person’s blood sugar level, thus, lessening the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Possible Risks of Seaweed
Not that seaweed is an unalloyed good. Too much of anything, even seaweed, can lead to possible health hazards.
Since seaweed is a good source of iodine, taking too much of it can lead to excessive levels of iodine stored in the body and cause a swelling on your neck or erratic weight changes. If this happens, reduce your intake of iodine-rich food and see a doctor.
Since seaweed is rich in minerals, eating too much of it can lead to an intake of toxic metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium. Though not considered a health risk, it is reason enough to moderate your seaweed consumption.
Remember, all things in moderation. At the end of the day, despite the health benefits you derive from seaweed, if you consume more than the limit, you can still end up with an unhealthy body.
Charles L. Watson currently is the head content writer (Texas division) for Sunshine Behavioral Health. A lifelong health advocate, during the Winter months you can catch his at the local Detroit Pistons games. He can be reached directly on Twitter at @charleswatson00.