You’ve probably eaten seaweed wrapped around sushi or stirred into miso soup, but chances are it’s not at the top of your grocery list – and it’s time to change that! Seaweed is a superfood that’s packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and it’s got a great savory flavor to boot. New to eating seaweed? Read on to learn more about seaweed health benefits & how to eat seaweed!
What are the different types of seaweed?
Seaweed is a member of the algae family. There are millions of types of algae, but the seaweed we typically eat can be broken down into a few categories:
Brown seaweeds are most commonly consumed (and researched) and include kelp, kombu, arame, and wakame (the kind typically used in miso soup).
Red seaweeds include dulse, laver, and nori (the kind typically used in sushi).
Green seaweeds include sea lettuce, and sea grapes. They’re less frequently consumed and researched, though still available and edible!
Vitamins and minerals in seaweed
Seaweed is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and more. However, you’d need to eat much more than the typical 2-tablespoon serving size of seaweed to get a significant amount of most of these vitamins and minerals. Even in small serving sizes, though, seaweed’s claim to fame is its extremely high levels of iodine.
Iodine is a nutrient missing in just about every other food, and it’s critically important for healthy thyroid function. Your thyroid is a tiny gland that controls and regulates hormones, so a malfunctioning thyroid can wreak havoc on your energy levels, weight, mood, and much more. In the 1990’s, the World Health Organization called for iodine to be added to salt to help solve a worldwide iodine deficiency. But if you try to cut back on salt or use non-iodized types like kosher salt or sea salt, your diet could likely use an iodine boost from seaweed.
Seaweed and breast cancer
One study found that women who consumed just 5 grams of wakame a day for a month showed a 50% decrease in breast cancer biomarkers. That finding may shed some light on the low breast cancer levels of Japanese women, who typically consume more seaweed than those in other parts of the world.
Another study found that kelp consumption helped regulate women’s estrogen cycles, which may be a key to reducing hormone-related diseases like breast cancer, endometriosis, and fertility issues.
image: Ken Hawkins via Flickr
Seaweed and diabetes
One study found that when type-2 diabetics supplemented their diets with brown seaweed, their fasting glucose levels and glucose levels 2 hours after eating were both significantly lowered. This may be a result of the high fiber content of seaweed, which helps slow down glucose absorption and keep blood sugar levels more regulated.
Potential risks from eating too much seaweed
Although seaweed has many health benefits, it’s possible to eat too much of a good thing. While iodine is essential for thyroid function, too much can have the opposite effect. If you have a thyroid disease or concerns about thyroid function, work with a registered dietitian to help you incorporate iodine-rich foods like seaweed while staying healthy.
Keep in mind that seaweed harvested from water where toxic metals are present can have dangerous levels of toxic metal. The FDA regulates commercially-sold seaweed, so you aren’t likely to run into an issue when picking up a bag of seaweed at a grocery store, but seaweed supplements and seaweed pills aren’t regulated, so move forward with caution there.
image: Idealisms via Flickr
How to cook and eat seaweed
You might have access to fresh seaweed if you live near an Asian market, but dried seaweed is widely available in grocery stores and online. Heartier dried seaweeds like kelp, wakame, and arame need to be soaked in hot water and rinsed before they’re ready to use, while thinner seaweeds like nori and dulse can be eaten right out of the bag. Here are some of my favorite ways to eat seaweed:
- Straight out of the bag. Nori and dulse crisps are delicious on their own! They’re low-calorie, yet super savory and satisfying. Seasnax is one of my favorite brands for nori crisps – I keep them on hand for grab-and-go snacks!
- In a salad. Most types of seaweed (either fresh or dried and soaked) can be turned into a Japanese-style salad for a delicious side dish. Just toss seaweed with a little rice vinegar, sesame sesame oil, sesame seeds, and grated ginger!
- In soups. One of my favorite ways to add savory flavor to soups is with a strip of kombu. Kombu is heartier and tougher than most other seaweeds, so it usually works better as a flavoring agent than as a salad component. Steep kombu in water to create a flavorful broth as the base of any soup recipe. Add dried wakame to this broth with a scoop of miso and some diced tofu for an easy miso soup!
- Sprinkled on just about anything else. Seaweed flakes can be easily added to any dish. Sprinkle them on rice or quinoa, in tomato sauce, on salad, on roasted veggies, etc.
Do you eat seaweed regularly? What’s your favorite way to eat seaweed?