Sea vegetables are neither plants nor animals but classified in a group known as algae. Sea vegetables like seaweed offer some of the broadest range of minerals (all 56 essential elements for human health) of perhaps any food available to us. It is an ancient super food and has been used for over 2000 years in Japanese and Korean cultures to increase overall health. In Korean culture, seaweed is sacred and served like bread. They are served in soup on someone’s birthday and given to women for three weeks after childbirth. According to an ancient Korean folklore, the tradition came about by watching whales eat seaweed after giving birth. Seaweeds contain virtually all nutrients found in the ocean, often very similar to the minerals found in our blood.
Sea vegetables can be found growing both in the marine salt waters as well as in fresh water lakes and seas. They commonly grow on coral reefs or in rocky landscapes and can grow at great depths provided that sunlight can penetrate through the water to where they reside since, like plants, they need light for their survival.
[pullquote]Seaweed- Wakame contains a pigmentation called ‘fucoxanthin’ that burns fat and aids in insulin resistance. [/pullquote]
Why Eat Seaweed?
Cultures that have traditionally eaten seaweed-based diets have historically shown fewer instances of obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative diseases. Additionally, studies of large groups of people who eat seaweed and algae regularly tend to show that they have less breast cancer than those who eat more meats. Women in Japan, for example, have a lower risk of breast cancer than woman in the United States.
A 25-year study of the longest-lived population, the Okinawans, who have healthy arteries, low cholesterol and low homocysteine levels, showed that sea vegetables were among the seven to 10 portions of fruit and vegetables they eat daily.
Health Benefits of Seaweed
.Seaweed for Sexual Health: All four classes of seaweed can offer sexual health benefits and are shown to have aphrodisiac properties due to their mineral manganese residues. It has been linked to an increase in libido and energy levels in both men and women. Additionally seaweed is also high in Vitamin E and assists in producing healthy sperm. Vitamin E conquers free radicals found within the sperm membrane which regulates the overall functioning of the sex glands.
.Seaweed for Menopause: Seaweed has a high B2 content that assists in hormone production. A study that was conducted using the seaweed, Bladderwrack showed evidence of lengthening the menstrual cycle, which would in turn prolong the onset of menopause. This is due to the anti-estrogenic effects that seaweed exerts on pre-menopausal women. Refer to the study here-Effects of brown seaweed on menstural health.
.Low Calorie: Seaweed is low in calories and fat making it a highly effective snack. A cup of Wakame or Kelp contains less than 20 calories and Nori contains 22 calories.
.Burns Fat: Wakame’s pigment, ‘Fucoxanthin’ is known to improve insulin resistance, and a 2010 animal study found that Fucoxanthin burns fatty tissue.
.Blood Purifying: The chemical composition of seaweeds is so close to human blood plasma, that they are excellent at regulating and purifying our blood.
.Contains Protein: Green algae contains 20% protein and spirulina contains 70% protein making it a good addition to your morning smoothies.
.Aids Digestion: Scientists at the University of Newcastle have researched alginate, a substance in brown seaweed, and found that it can strengthen gut mucus (which protects the gut wall), slow down digestion and make food release its energy more slowly. It’s also high in fibre. Refer to the study here- digestive benefits of seaweed.
.Increases Good Bacteria: A study of the faecal flora of Japanese women showed that high seaweed intake increases the good bacteria in the gut. The enzymes in kombu helps pre-digest pulses, which in turn reduces wind.
.Cancer-Protection: Seaweed contains significant amounts of ‘Lignans’, which are plant compounds that have cancer-protective properties.
.Contains Folic Acid: Seaweed is a good source of the B-vitamin folic acid. Studies have shown that diets high in folate-rich foods are associated with a significantly reduced risk for colon cancer.
.Prevents Birth Defects: Studies have demonstrated that adequate levels of folic acid in the diet are needed to prevent certain birth defects, including spina bifida. Folic acid is also needed to break down an intermediate dangerous chemical called homocysteine which can directly damage blood vessel walls.
.Prevents Cardiovascular Disease: High levels of homocysteine is associated with a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Folic acid helps in breaking down this chemical and magnesium prevents heart attack. Refer to the study here-Heart health peptides in macroalgae.
.Natural Diuretic: Seaweed is a good source of Magnesium which helps in flushing excess fluid from the body, therefore reducing bloating.
.Aids Thyroid Function: Seaweed is nature’s richest source of iodine, which as a component of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), both of which are essential to human life. The thyroid gland adds iodine to the amino acid tyrosine to create these hormones. Without sufficient iodine, your body cannot synthesize them. Because these thyroid hormones regulate metabolism in every cell of the body and play a role in virtually all physiological functions, an iodine deficiency can have a devastating impact on your health and well-being.
.Anti-viral Properties: Seaweed contain anti-viral properties that helps in protecting the immune system and fight off illness.
.Controls Blood Pressure: Seaweed has a high potassium content which helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
.Anti-coagulant Properties: Brown seaweed is rich in a phytochemical called ‘fucoidan’ that acts as an anti-coagulant.
.Contains Iron: A few varieties of seaweed contain Iron. One tbsp of dried sea vegetable will contain between 1/2 milligram and 35 milligrams of iron. A cup of Kelp or Wakame offers 1.1 or 0.8 milligram of iron, while a tablespoon of dried spirulina provides 2 milligrams of Iron. This iron is also accompanied by a measurable amount vitamin C. Since vitamin C acts to increase the bio-availability of plant iron, this combination in sea vegetables may offer a special benefit.
.Boosts Calcium: Seaweed can help you modestly boost your intake of calcium. Smaller amounts of calcium helps your muscles contract, aid in cell communication and contribute to nervous system function. Kelp and Wakame contain around 60 milligrams of calcium and Hijiki contains 1,400 milligrams of calcium per 100 grams.
.Contains Vanadium: As part of their natural defence mechanisms, sea vegetables contain a variety of enzymes called ‘haloperoxidases’. These enzymes require vanadium to function. Vanadium plays a multi-faceted role in regulation of carbohydrate metabolism and blood sugar in humans. Thus vanadium may help to increase our body’s sensitivity to insulin by inhibiting a group of enzymes called protein tyrosine phosphatases. It may also help us decrease our body’s production of glucose and help us increase our body’s ability to store starch in the form of glycogen.
.Controls Cholesterol: Seaweed contains Taurine which helps in reducing cholesterol levels.
.High in Vitamin K: Seaweed is a good source of Vitamin K, a fat-soluble nutrient. When injured Vitamin K sends a chemical signal that tells your platelets to aggregate and form a blood clot, so that your body can stop the flow of blood from your wound. Some types of seaweed can help you reach your RDA of vitamin K intake of 90 micrograms for women or 120 for men. A cup of kelp contains 26.4 micrograms; Wakame contains less vitamin K -2.1 micrograms per cup; while dried spirulina contains 1.8 micrograms per tablespoon.
.Contains Polysaccharides: Seaweed contains polysaccharides that are important in the prevention of degenerative diseases including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. It also helps in increasing the amount of feel-good chemicals in the brain, improves liver function, and stabilizes blood sugar.
.Detoxifying Properties: A study from McGill University in Canada showed that seaweed was great for detoxing the body from the radioactive chemical ‘strontium’. However, seaweed also mops up the toxins cadmium and lead, not only present in cigarette smoke and industry smoke outlets.
.High in Vitamin C: Seaweed contains more Vitamin C than Oranges.
.High in Vitamin B1: Seaweed helps combat depression and fatigue through Vitamin B1.
.High in Vitamin B12: Seaweed is one of the few plant sources that contain Vitamin B12, extremely essential in aiding cognitive functioning.
.Reduces Stress: Seaweed also has been proven to provide support through stressful situations by supplying magnesium, pantothenic acid and riboflavin–two B-vitamins necessary for energy production. Pantothenic acid is especially important for the health of the adrenal glands. The adrenals control many body functions and play a critical role in resistance to stress.
.Rich in EFA and Minerals: Apart from containing Vitamin D and E; it also contains minerals like nickel, bromine, chromium, copper, zinc, nitrogen, boron, sulphur and other soluble fibres.
Despite its potential health benefits, one must exercise caution and eat it in moderation. 10 grams (roughly 2 tbsps.) of dulse (type of red seaweed), has 34 times the amount of potassium in an equally sized serving of banana, a high enough dosage to cause heart palpitations among people with kidney problems.
It’s also worth remembering that if the water the seaweed comes from is contaminated (toxic metals or arsenic), the seaweed will be too. The US Food and Drug Administration regulates commercial seaweed, and have high safety standards, but FDA does not regulate supplements. Speak with your physician before you decide on supplements, the metals in some seaweed pills can be especially dangerous to pregnant or lactating women and babies.
But, eating seaweed in moderation can help you to get additional nutritional benefits and be a great addition to your everyday diet needs.