If you do not eat seaweed on a daily basis, you definitely should. Learn here about the incredible health benefits of this marine “vegetable” and why it can be referred to as a “supreme” food.
Find below delicious recipes that will help you to incorporate seaweed into your diet and take advantage of its health benefits.
Seaweeds are marine, photosynthetic algae that are abundant in every ocean. There are three main classes of seaweed: Phaeophyceae (brown algae), Rhodophyta (red algae), and Chlorophyta (green algae). Thousands of species comprise each phylum. The smallest seaweeds are only a few millimeters or centimeters in size, while the largest routinely grow to a length of 30 to 50 meters.
Superfood? No. This is “supreme” food!
For centuries, it’s been treasured in kitchens in Asia and neglected almost everywhere else.
It’s probably fair to say that for lots of you, who are reading this, seaweed is not a regular staple of your diet. While it is consumed worldwide in many coastal cities and particularly in Asian cuisine, many of us in America do not ordinarily come across seaweed in our food except when it is used to wrap up sushi rolls or flavor rice crackers.
We definitely should change this.
Originally, seaweeds intended for human consumption were collected along the seashore or picked in the sea. It was mainly eaten fresh and consumed in short order.
However, seaweeds can be dried and, in that form, kept for a long time. It made their transportation easy. They were recognized early on as valuable foods and became trading commodities.
Over time, the demand for seaweeds, because of a multiplicity of purposes, grew so great that for many centuries they have been actively cultivated, especially in the Far East.
In the last three decades, interest has grown in seaweeds as nutraceuticals, or functional foods, which give dietary benefits beyond their macronutrient content.
Seaweeds are made up of a special combination of substances very different from the ones typically found in terrestrial plants (growing on land). It allows them to play a distinctive role in our nutrition.
The composition of the different types of seaweeds can vary a great deal, but the approximate proportions are about 45–75% carbohydrates and fiber, 7–35% proteins, less than 5% fats, and a large number of different minerals and vitamins.
Carbohydrates in seaweeds
Three groups of carbohydrates are found in seaweeds: sugars, soluble dietary fiber, and insoluble dietary fiber. Many of these carbohydrates differ from plants growing on land, and furthermore, they vary among the red, green, and brown species of algae. The sugars, in which we include sugar alcohols such as mannitol in brown algae and sorbitol in red algae, can constitute up to 20 percent of the seaweeds.
The seaweed-derived carbohydrates are classified into different classes depending on their chemical diversity: carrageenan, fucoidan, alginate, cellulose, ulvan, and laminarin.
Edible Seaweeds: A Potential Novel Source of Bioactive Metabolites and Nutraceuticals With Human Health Benefits
Nutritional value of seaweeds and their potential to serve as nutraceutical supplements
Seaweeds as nutraceuticals for health and nutrition
Seaweeds as a Functional Ingredient for a Healthy Diet
Carrageenan is extracted from red seaweed species that grow along the coast of North America and Europe, making up between 30% and 80% of the cell wall constituents. These concentrations are influenced by the season, species, and growth conditions of red seaweeds.
In addition to the antilipidemic effect, numerous benefits to human health are attributed to carrageenan as antioxidant, immunomodulatory, antiviral, and digestive health support, thus revealing its high bioactive potential.
Because of the complexity of the chemical compositions and structures of fucoidans from brown seaweeds, no commercially available method can directly quantify the actual amount of fucoidan from a crude extract. Its biological activities ranging from helping the body recover from minor illnesses to protecting the body from major diseases are considered to be beneficial as a future therapy.
Alginate compounds have valuable properties such as biocompatibility, nontoxicity, biodegradability, and functional versatility. The properties of alginates prove that they are efficient candidates to be used in various applications ranging from additives to food and beverages to scientific applications. In recent years the results of clinical trials on heart patients showed that alginate appears to improve patient quality of life.
Laminarin, or β-glucan, from brown seaweed, has industrial importance as it can be fermented to make alcohol. Recent research on the antioxidant, anti-tumor, anti-coagulant, and immunomodulatory activities of laminarin have shown beneficial effects in preclinical and clinical studies. The studies also supported other potential activities, including anti-obesity, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, wound healing, and hepatoprotective functions.
More information on common sources, structure, extraction method, and food utilization (or potential utilization) of carbohydrates from seaweeds can be found in the book “Seaweed Sustainability” by Laurie-Eve Rioux and Sylvie L. Turgeon.
Fibers in seaweed
Seaweeds contain a high proportion of soluble fiber with an average content of 24.5 g to 21.8 g per 100 g of insoluble fiber. In general, seaweed dietary fiber is somewhere between 25-75% of its dry weight.
Most of this fiber is in the form of polysaccharides, a type we can not digest but the bacteria in our gut can. Thus, fiber acts as a prebiotic, a food source for our beneficial gut microbes. The prebiotic effect of unique seaweed polysaccharides that are not found in land-based plants, has been demonstrated in trials revealing positive impacts on the beneficial gastrointestinal microbiota.
Protein and amino acids in seaweed
Protein concentration in seaweeds ranges from 5% to 47% of a dry volume. Its value depends particularly on species and environmental conditions. Seaweed protein is a source of all sorts of amino acids.
Red seaweeds tend to have the highest protein levels, which is actually responsible for the red color.
The protein in seaweed has some unique advantages for making meat alternatives. Developing functional foods using proteins derived from seaweeds has become more popular in the last decade.
Seaweed protein contains a number of bioactive components, including all the important amino acids, especially the essential ones such as taurine and laminine, that cannot be synthesized by our bodies and that we, therefore, have to ingest in our food. The list also includes peptides, phycobiliproteins, and lectins. Porphyra has the greatest protein content (35%) and members of the Kelps (orden Laminariales) have the lowest (7%). These bioactive compounds have many health benefits, including antihypertensive, antioxidant, antidiabetic, antiatherosclerosis, anti-inflammatory, antitumoral, antimicrobial, antiviral, and neuroprotective effects, among others.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids in seaweed
Seaweeds are also rich in essential polyunsaturated fatty acids Omega-6 and Omega-3 with a ratio of about 1.0. This ratio is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be less than 10 in order to prevent inflammatory, cardiovascular, and nervous system disorders.
Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids are called polyunsaturated fats because they have many double bonds (poly=many). Your body doesn’t have the enzymes to produce them, so you must get them from your diet. If you don’t get any from your diet or an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio that is too high, you develop a deficiency and potentially raise the risk of various diseases. That is why they are termed “essential” fatty acids.
Vitamins and minerals in seaweed
Seaweed is one of the earth’s most nutrient-dense and diverse foods, with dozens of the vitamins and minerals we need, including calcium, potassium, vitamin C, folate, beta carotene, and vitamin K , which is essential for blood vessel health reducing the risk of high blood pressure.
Seaweed is also one of the few plant-based sources of vitamin B12, an important nutrient that assists in the maintenance of nerve and blood cells, helps make DNA, and protects against anemia. The list also includes vitamins A, B (B1, B2, B3, B6), and E, (but no vitamin D).
Seaweed vitamins are important not only due to their biochemical functions and antioxidant activity but also due to other health benefits such as decreasing of blood pressure (vitamin C), prevention of cardiovascular diseases (β-carotene), or reducing the risk of cancer (vitamins E and C, carotenoids).
What are the health benefits of seaweed?
As we showed above, seaweeds are rich in proteins, essential fatty acids, fibers, vitamins, and minerals, which makes them not only an excellent alternative food for vegans and vegetarians but also a valuable “supreme” food for everybody.
Seaweed-based functional food products and supplements have great potential health benefits and can help to improve malnutrition.
Skin health and detoxication
The Ancient Greeks used seaweeds in their heated baths to remove toxins from the body and rejuvenate their skin. This was known as Thalassotherapy (Thalasso is Greek for ‘sea’), and the Greeks believed it could restore good health and cure illness.
Today, many spas offer thalassotherapy and use seaweed in their treatments to rejuvenate the body and achieve glowing skin. Beneficial trace minerals from seaweeds, such as zinc, calcium, magnesium, copper, and iodide can be absorbed through the skin and will keep it resilient and elastic.
Moreover, seaweed can provide an exceptional tool for helping detox your body. Similar to absorption substances from ocean water, it can bind heavy metals to help eliminate them from the body. Seaweed also removes fats and toxins from the body and helps protect the liver from toxic damage.
A Canadian study from McGill University found that seaweed absorbs cadmium and lead from inside the body, which can accumulate from cigarette smoke and industrial waste in the environment.
Interesting facts about seaweeds
The list of seaweed facts is quite long. Here are just few of them:
Most of the world’s oxygen comes from seaweed! Researchers say that roughly 70% of the world’s oxygen is produced by sea species including phytoplankton, kelp, and algal plankton. In comparison, rainforests make up 28% of oxygen production, while 2% comes from other sources.
There are 9 times more seaweeds in the oceans than plants on the land.
- There are over 12,000 species of seaweeds, all with different sizes and colors.
All seaweeds need sunlight to survive. That’s why they usually grow mainly at the edges of oceans.
- Seaweeds are not plants – is seaweed a plant? No, they are a type of algae. They have no roots, leaves, or stems to transport water or nutrients. Instead, each cell derives what it needs directly from the seawater around it.
- Giant kelp is the largest algae and can grow over 100 feet.
- Before dinosaurs roamed the Earth, there was seaweed in the oceans.
Studies showed that compounds derived from red seaweeds have health-beneficial effects, such as prebiotic and anti-colon cancer activities in humans.
I am sure you have heard of probiotics, the good bacteria found in foods like yogurt that help keep your gut healthy. Well, prebiotics are essentially fuel for probiotics: special plant fibers that nourish the good bacteria that are already there.
Seaweed is rich in such fibers called polysaccharides that function as prebiotics, and therefore it can help keep your gastrointestinal tract happy.
Kidney stone prevention
Polysaccharides from various seaweeds possess broad-spectrum therapeutic and biomedical properties that are known to play a significant inhibitory role in calcium oxalate (CaOx) kidney stones. CaOx stone formation is a multistep process that includes crystal nucleation, growth, aggregation, and crystal retention. Due to the therapeutic mechanisms of action, seaweed polysaccharides inhibit crystal formation at all stages.
Seaweed and soy foods are consumed daily in Japan, where breast cancer rates for postmenopausal women are significantly lower than in the West. Likely mechanisms include differences in diet, especially soy consumption, and estrogen metabolism. Seaweed, however, has also been shown to alter estrogen metabolism favorably.
In a recent review, some of the underlying mechanisms contributing to cardiovascular health are discussed in terms of human nutritional status. Unhealthy plasma cholesterol levels, obesity, nutritional energy imbalances, and inflammatory responses are identified as some of the likely precursors in the manifestation of cardiovascular issues. The favourable therapeutic impact of dietary seaweed by providing robust antioxidant suites, macro- and micronutritional elements, fiber content, and fatty acid profiles makes seaweeds viable and important for healthy strategies related to food manufacturing.
According to a team of Danish researchers, people should be eating seaweed daily to make their meals healthier – and to help reduce the impact of obesity and the conditions that stem from it.
How much seaweed should we eat?
Neither seafood nor vegetable, seaweed is regulated by the FDA as a spice because of its historical use as a dried product eaten in small quantities.
As described above, seaweed offers one of the broadest ranges of minerals of any food, containing virtually all the minerals found in the ocean (calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vanadium, and zinc—to name a few). It is also been touted for its anti-inflammatory, anticancer, anticoagulant, antithrombotic, and antiviral properties and might be considered not just a superfood but a supreme one!
However, it is worth to remember, that while seaweeds can absorb beneficial vitamins and minerals from seawater, they can also take up heavy metals and toxins.
Regulations on allowable levels of contaminants for edible seaweeds and other seaweed-based products vary by country or region. There are no regulations or maximum levels of contaminants in seaweed for human consumption in the US or Canada; there are limited regulations in Europe, where seaweeds can be considered and regulated as novel foods.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have released a report that reviews the current available information about the food safety of seaweed, both harvested from the wild and produced through aquaculture. The conclusion is that “there is currently no Codex standard or guidelines that specifically address food safety vis-à-vis seaweed production, processing and utilization. National regulations on seaweed safety are also generally lacking. Although some private standards have been introduced, they either do not address food safety directly, or do not do so in sufficient depth. There is thus a significant global regulatory gap concerning food safety in seaweed”.
Meanwhile, multiple studies on eatable seaweeds showed the level of potentially dangerous metals quite low. One of the studies, for example, was published in
Maine Coast Organic Sea Seasonings – Triple Blend Flakes, Kelp Granules and Dulse Granules with complimentary leaf saucer
Organic Seaweed Snack, 20 Pack, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Sesame OIl, Vegan, Keto, Gluten-Free, Product of Korea
A 5 g daily portion of seaweeds like agar-agar, dulse, nori, sea spaghetti, and wakame does not present a critical risk to consumers but presents a great deal of benefits.
But still, while levels may be low, toxic metals may build up over time in a person who eats seaweed daily. Though the general risk is low, it may be a good idea to ensure that seaweed is organic and comes from a high-quality source.
Kelp and kombu species were found to contain extremely high concentrations of iodine. Considering the results obtained, an intake of no more than 1 g per week of these seaweeds is suggested; regular consumption of higher amounts may lead to iodine excess disorders. Thus, some precautions are necessary.
The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) recommends an upper limit of 0.6 mg of iodine per day for adults. Preparation and use according to the instructions for use stated on the label.
Typically, it is recommended to eat seaweeds up to 2-3 times a week and soak and wash them thoroughly before use.
How to benefit from seaweeds?
While thousands of species of seaweed exist, only some are actually enjoyable to eat.
Seaweeds such as kombu and nori are a traditional food source in East Asia, with Japan, South Korea and China consuming the most seaweed globally. Nowadays, edible seaweeds and microalgae are gaining popularity worldwide, notably in Europe, where the demand for edible seaweed products is rising due to increased interest in health benefits.
Seaweeds have a nice flavor and are served as a delicacy in many Asian countries such as Japan, China, and Korea. Nori, kombu, and wakame are some of the most commonly grown and used species in these countries. Famous Japanese sushi roll uses seaweed called nori as an ingredient in rice and with raw fish.
Other than eating lots of temaki rolls and packaged seaweed snacks or adding more nori sheets to your ramen, there are more ways to incorporate edible seaweed into your meal routine. Seaweeds come in a large variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and they range in flavors from strong intense sea flavor to only a mild hint of that salty sea.
Many people all over the world enjoy the amazing taste of raw dulse. However, there are many some simple ways to cook with seaweed at home. You can steam it, stew it, boil it, bake it, or broil it. Even fry it with a little bit of bacon.
Seaweed can be used as an easy addition to enriching dishes with deep and intense flavors, an element sometimes missing in home vegan cooking. It can be integrated into your favorite recipes to add flavor and nutrition or used as a salt replacement.
Seaweed satisfies umami cravings whilst also being good for you. Foods with ‘umami qualities’ have been shown to increase satiety or feeling full. So adding a little seaweed to your meals might lead to weight loss.
Seaweed extracts are also commonly used as thickening agents in food manufacturing for ice cream and salad dressings. Get extract and do it yourself!
Sometimes the most important part of a recipe can be the last 1%. A little sprinkle of special seasoning can make all the difference.
Seaweed seasoning is perfect for sprinkling over rice, noodles, meats, and salads. Whether it is Japanese Nori Komi Furikake, Springtide Seaweed kelp seasoning, Celtic Sea Salt seaweed seasoning, Pacific Harvest seaweed seasoning, or other brands, take advantage of seaweed benefits by spicing your food.
You also can make homemade seaweed seasoning yourself or just top meals with a mix of ground nori, kombu, dulse, salt, black pepper, and sesame seeds.
Also, you can add dried kelp ribbons to your soups, stews, or any dish with leafy greens.
Flavoring bean soups with kombu can reduce the risk of gas due to kombu’s healthful enzymes.
There is no lack of seaweed recipes as well. They are part of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian cuisines. We like a fish soup based on a traditional Japanese recipe that we are sharing below.
You can also make a soup broth with dried kelp or kombu and add your favorite ingredients or add seaweeds to your favorite soup. This is a good option for people who do not enjoy the flavor of seaweed.
Grilling & Roasting
If you prefer your seaweed on the grill, Akua makes kelp burgers, and ground kelp, which can be transformed into meatballs, used in tacos, or anywhere else ground meat usually make an appearance on the menu.
Roasting seaweed with a small amount of oil and salt can satisfy a salty craving.
Make your own chocolate chip cookies by sneaking powdered kelp into the mix.
As we discussed earlier, seaweed offers many benefits, whether you eat it as food or take it as a dietary supplement. The literature is promising about the effectiveness of seaweed consumption. Data indicate that seaweed may have several benefits and no significant downsides.
However, The National Institute of Health (NIH) doesn’t list seaweed as a recognized supplement on their Dietary Supplements Fact Sheets. This demonstrates that insufficient research exists to support recommendations of use.
Use caution when taking supplements and consult a healthcare professional.
Our favorite recipes from seaweeds
Seaweed sauce with garlic
- 1 cup soaked seaweed, cut
- 3 clove garlic, more if desired
- 2 Roma tomatoes, cut
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Put all the ingredients into a blender. You can add your favorite spices as desired. Blend and … enjoy by flavoring your meat, fish, or other dishes.
Tasty seaweed salad
- 1 cup soaked seaweed (we are using dried Wakame soaked in cold water for 30 min )
- 1/4 cup yellow corn
- 1 small tomato
- 2 radishes
- 1 small cucumber
- 1 small carrot
- 2 tbsp teriyaki sauce
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Salt, pepper
- Mix dressing ingredients in a jar.
- Mix all other ingredients in a bowl.
- Combine and enjoy!
Fish soup with seaweed
- 400 g fish fillet;
- 1/4 cup rice;
- 1 medium-sized onion;
- 1 cup soaked seaweed
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp soy sauce;
- salt and pepper
- Cut the onion, put in a jar, pour sauce, sprinkle with spices, and leave to marinate (if desired, it is also allowed to add lemon juice).
- Cook the rice halfway (about 10 min) in 2 liters of water, add the fish, and cook until the rice is done (another 10 min).
- Add seaweed and pickled onions.
- Add the egg and mix thoroughly for a few minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow time to infuse.
What is next?
In our upcoming posts, we will publish information on other superfoods and new revival recipes that will help you to maintain your health towards longevity.
Be sure to check back!
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