Seaweed: A Superfood You Probably Didn't Know About

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Seaweed: A Superfood You Probably Didn't Know About

Sara Menges

Written by Sara Menges

Sara Menges

Sara Menges

Sara enjoys research, art, and seeking a sustainably fun life, balancing physical and mental health.

August 23, 2017 / Read Time 4 minutes

Whether wrapped around my sushi roll or in stringy strips on my plate, I simply called it “seaweed”. Little did I know that in Japan alone, there are over 20 species of red, green, and brown seaweed. And these sea vegetables sure pack the health benefits – high in protein, minerals, and fucoidan, which is known to make cancer cells self-destruct. Read more about how this Asian staple can become a tasty nutrient boost to your diet!

Seaweed for Health: What You Need to Know

Seaweed is really just a large formation of algae. Most species are salty in taste, and can easily be added to recipes dry or after soaking. Generally, seaweed is high in protein and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iodine, and iron. Most brown algae also contain fucoidan that is known to make cancer cells self-destruct. The protein-rich nature of seaweed makes it as a great source for the savory “fifth taste” of umami. Use it as a natural substitute for the synthetic flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) in soups, noodle dishes, and more. Iodine is needed to make the thyroid hormone and to help regulate the thyroid gland, which when it is underactive from lack of iodine can cause fatigue and weight gain. Iodine is also believed to provide antioxidants that may help prevent heart disease and cancer. It should be noted that iodine levels vary considerably between seaweed species, and cooking or processing can have an influence on the levels. Besides nori that is commonly used for sushi, there are other numerous types and ways to cook this delicacy from the sea. Here are some key benefits and tips for consuming three other types of seaweed:

Relax and Sip Wakame Stew or Soup

Wakame is an excellent source of potassium and may improve heart health by keeping high blood pressure in check. It is also used as a blood purifier and valued for its nourishing effect on the hair and skin. The high magnesium levels in this seaweed make it ideal for relief of stress and muscle tension. All in all, magnesium is required for over 600 chemical processes in the body, including those in our nervous system. Green and leafy, Japanese wakame can be soaked and used in salads in place of lettuce. This seaweed is relatively mild in flavor, is traditionally added to miso soups of all kinds, and is popular as an addition to poke bowls. Even on the exposed shores of Europe and North America one can find seaweed, like Irish wakame, which is slightly sweet with golden to greenish-brown color. Wakame leaves hold well in an omelet or can be combined with carrot, kale, beans, and spices for a warm wakame stew. Wakame can also be easily turned into a marinated condiment that pairs well with grilled fish.

Cook Up Beans and Marinate Favorite Proteins with Kombu

Kombu is the Japanse word for a type of dried sea kelp and has one of the highest iodine levels in seaweed. The fiber molecule called alginic acid that can be found in kombu is known to bind to heavy metal contaminants such as cadmium, mercury, and lead, and carry them out of the organs and tissues where they can be stored. This removal of toxins combined with the high mineral content replenishes skin nutrients and has made kombu well known for topical use in masks and creams. Kombu will release up to 99% of its iodine content when boiled in water for 15 minutes making it a nutritious addition to soups, broths, and stocks that become infused with the savory flavors. It also has digestive enzymes that act as a tenderizer; when added to beans, this reduces cooking time and makes them easier to digest. Try for yourself with this Tuscan-Style Beans with Bacon and Kombu recipe. To make a Kombu marinade for other protein dishes, small strips of the seaweed combined with its stock can be mixed with honey, ginger, and lemon. Variations of this recipe include using soy sauce and crushed garlic instead of the ginger and lemon.

Sprinkle on Dulse for Salty and Savory

Dulse is purple-red in color, leathery in texture, and peppery tasting. It is the most iron-rich of edible seaweeds giving it anemia-combating properties. In several European herbal medicine traditions, dulse was used to remove parasites, to relieve constipation, and as a treatment for scurvy. This seaweed also has elements that remove uric acid from the body that can help with problems in the kidney, bladder, prostate, and uterus. Dulse is suitable to be dry-roasted over an open flame and used as garnish or added to salads, soups, and casseroles. When snipped into tiny pieces, dulse can substitute as a salty garnish or seasoning for almost anything. Finely chopped and grated dulse can also easily be sprinkled onto the crust of a quiche recipe before pouring in the egg mixture for an added nutty and savory flavor. It also works well sprinkled onto fries, baked with potatoes, or included in a Scottish potato dulse soup.

Everything in Moderation

Finally although modest amounts of seaweed can generally support mineral needs, it’s important to note that over-consumption of any of the above is not recommended. If you have questions or specific medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, consult a PlushCare Doctor today for further recommendations.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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