When’s the last time you sunk your teeth into some Irish moss or arame or wakame or mozuku or tengusa?
If you’re not eating these foods from the sea, let alone have never heard of them, then you’re missing out on some of the healthiest foods on the planet.
These foods are types of sea vegetables; seaweeds to be more specific. Perhaps you’ve heard of kelp and algae and, maybe, dulse. But raise your hand if you’re eating these sea vegetables on a regular basis, besides when you eat sushi. Is your hand raised? (Neither is this natural health writer’s! This article serves as a personal reminder to start eating more sea veggies.)
The Benefits of Sea Vegetables: Many Minerals
What makes seaweed varieties extraordinarily healthy? What benefits do they have over, say, land-grown, green-leafy or cruciferous plant foods?
It all starts with minerals. While soil-grown veggies also have the potential to contain minerals, much of the soil is stripped of naturally-occuring minerals and other phytonutrients due to over-farming. This is at least true of large-scale farming operations. If you’re buying produce from a local farmer’s market, the caring farmer will likely take better care of the soil.
But in the ocean, obviously, soil isn’t the problem. Of course, pollution is problematic, however, seaweeds are often cultivated from deeper depths of the ocean, where pollution isn’t as endemic.
So the greatest benefit to eating seaweeds is the mineral content. The following is a list of minerals and trace minerals in which sea veggies are particularly rich:
Sea vegetables contain a full portfolio of minerals and trace minerals. So eating seaweed is like taking the ultimate mineral supplement. Health-conscious people pay attention to consuming protein powders that contain a full portfolio of essential amino acids.
But relatively few people are aware of the critical importance of obtaining a full spectrum of minerals every day. And the great thing about seaweeds is that they are much cheaper to purchase than trace mineral supplements.
The subject of why minerals are important for health is for another article; suffice to say that minerals play vital roles in virtually every bodily function.
The Benefits of Sea Vegetables: Controls Inflammation
Sea veggies such as seaweed and algae contain sulfated polysaccharides (SPs). The most beneficial of these SPs are called fucoidans. Another fucoidan is carrageenan, which is found in red algae. Carrageenan is a controversial nutrient, however, carrageenan that is not highly processed (degraded) should not be considered a nutrient of concern.
In fact, SPs, according to research in Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, “exhibit various biological activities such as anticoagulant, antiviral, antioxidative, and anticancer activities with potential health benefits.”
Fucoidan-rich sea veggies, in general, help control the inflammation response in the body. This is one reason why SPs have been the focus of research studies (like this one) involving people with inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis.
The Benefits of Sea Vegetables: High in Iodine
As mentioned earlier, one mineral that sea veggies are rich in is iodine. Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones regulate your body's metabolism. They also control your heart rate, as well as play a key role in digestive function and other bodily systems.
The Benefits of Sea Vegetables: Reduce Estrogen Dominance
Chemicals, plastics, pesticides, and even tap water contain what are called “xenoestrogens” (say xeno like zeno). Xenoestrogens mimic estrogen and attach to estrogen receptors in the body.
This can cause estrogen levels to become too high, leading to a hormonal imbalance called “estrogen dominance.” Certain cancers such as breast and ovarian may be attributed to estrogen dominance.
Another benefit of sea veggies is lowering cholesterol. What does cholesterol have to do with estrogen balance? The answer is cholesterol is a precursor to sex hormones such as estrogen.
By consuming sea veggies, you may lower the amount of cholesterol in your body that could potentially convert into estrogen. In addition to the possible cancer-preventing benefits, the hormonal-balancing benefits of sea veggies can help regulate women’s menstrual cycles.
List of Sea Veggies To Buy
Sold on the benefits of sea veggies? Wondering which ones to buy?
Many supermarkets sell at least one seaweed variety.
Try one of these:
Wakame: Many Japanese restaurants offer seaweed salad, which most often features wakame topped with sesame seeds. It’s got a very chewy texture.
Dulse: Also known as red algae, dulse is most common as flakes, that can be topped on just about anything, from soup to Miracle Noodles.
- Nori: Ever eat hand rolls of sushi? Then you’ve consumed nori, which is typically roasted. Roasted seaweed is a healthy snack for kids. Although relatively low in nutrients in comparison to other seaweeds, nori is ideal for when you’re craving something crunchy; it’s definitely better for your health than pretzels of chips.
Kelp is perhaps the most abundant sea vegetable. Wakame (mentioned above) is a type of kelp. Kelp noodles have become a popular alternative to regular pasta. Another type of seaweed pasta is Kanten pasta, which is made from the sea veggie called agar agar (a sea veggie so nice they named it twice).
Dry Kanten Pasta is very easy to use. It’s like instant sea veggie pasta. You simply heat water to the temperature of hot tea and then add the Kanten pasta to the hot water and stir for approximately 30 seconds. A serving of Kanten pasta contains 6 grams of fiber.
Sea veggies are very nutrient dense. You don’t need to eat a big bowl of seaweed like you would a salad. Just a small serving is all it takes to get your daily dose of minerals and micronutrients that contribute to optimal health.