The majority of us prefer to associate “plant-based diet” with fashionable meat substitutes or dishes like kale salads and grain bowls. However, seaweed is one non-meat option that is gaining popularity as the newest superfood.
Although edible seaweed may seem like just another culinary trend, mounting evidence points to its potential health advantages for people. Those slimy sea plants, which are in fact a species of marine algae, are brimming with fiber, important vitamins, minerals, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and other bio-active substances.
The most popular and well-known seaweed is probably nori, the papery sheets used to wrap sushi rolls and as a garnish for ramen bowls, but these big, leafy algae exist in hundreds of vibrant variations, including wakame, kombu, red dulse, and sugar kelp.
Because of its potential to reduce the risk of a number of chronic diseases, including as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, researchers are becoming more and more interested in seaweeds. Additionally, research show that some seaweeds include substances with anticancer, antitumor, and antiviral effects.
Benefits of Seaweed
Improves thyroid function
Iodine, a crucial trace mineral that is essential for thyroid function, is abundant in seaweed and is therefore a great source of it. You must obtain iodine from food sources or supplements because the body cannot produce it on its own. Iodine is essential for the normal functioning of your thyroid, which is key to your general health. Iodine deficiency results in hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid is unable to produce adequate thyroid hormone, which controls a variety of biological processes, including metabolism. You risk getting a goiter, a noticeable enlargement of your thyroid, if you don’t consume enough iodine. Iodine deficiency can also affect a child’s development when they are still in the pregnancy or in the early years of life.
Improves Gut Health
Seaweed contains prebiotics, non-digestible fibers that nourish the good bacteria in your digestive tract, such as carrageenans, agars, and fucoidans. Seaweed’s sulfated polysaccharides, which are sugars that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, also aid to enhance the short-chain fatty acids that maintain the integrity of the gut lining.
Strengthens Heart Health
According to several research, eating seaweed may help lower blood pressure. Additionally, it might aid in lowering LDL and total cholesterol levels. Although human study results are encouraging, more research is required.
Maintains Stable Blood Sugar Levels
Fucoxanthin, an antioxidant that gives brown seaweed its color, is present in the plant. Your risk of getting type 2 diabetes may be decreased and blood sugar control may be improved thanks to the antioxidant.
Health Risks due to Seaweed
Given the variable and sometimes dangerously high amounts of iodine and heavy metals (especially arsenic species) in some seaweeds, there are significant safety concerns regarding the potential adverse outcomes linked to seaweed ingestion.
Notably, due to the iodine level of seaweed, pregnant women should be advised to stay away from it. The iodine in seaweed and other heavy metals, such as mercury, may also affect thyroid function. Additionally, even while the levels of heavy metals in edible seaweeds are typically below dangerous levels, people who consume large amounts of them are more likely to develop arsenic bio accumulation.
Although whole seaweeds and their extracted nutrients are a rich and sustainable source of macro nutrients (particularly dietary fiber) and micro nutrients, more human studies are required to establish how regular consumption of whole seaweeds and their extracted nutrients can contribute to future global food security.
Environmental Benefits of Seaweed
Just like our personal health, seaweeds are also very beneficial to the environment as well. Because they are sustainable and don’t require fresh water, additional fertilizer, or land to flourish, seaweeds are attractive to environmentalists. Also, they are a carbon-negative food since they employ sustainable living resources, don’t need pesticides, and absorb carbon dioxide from sea runoffs.
In addition, seaweed contributes to regenerative aquaculture by consuming nitrogen and phosphorus, two substances that, when present in high concentrations, can be harmful to the ocean. Additionally, seaweed gives tiny marine animals a location to hide from predators.
Do we eat all types of seaweed?
Yes, we can eat most of the types of the seaweeds. But the best ones are the those that gives us maximum health benefits in minimal ingestion.
- Wakame: While kelp (laminaria) forests are most recognized for providing habitat for a variety of marine life species in shallow, coastal seas all over the world, they also contain the edible seaweed wakame. The dark green seaweed wakame, commonly referred to as sea mustard, is most frequently used in miso soup. It has a silky smooth texture, a pleasant flavor, and is high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Kombu: One of the most consumed edible seaweeds in East Asia is kombu, a form of kelp. The largest island in Japan, Hokkaido, is one of the top producers of kombu, although it is also widely available along the coast of California. The fundamental component of dashi, the soup stock that forms the basis of many Japanese cuisines like miso soup and ramen, is kombu, which is cooked in water with bonito (skipjack tuna) flakes. Kombu can also be eaten by itself after being softened in hot water and combined with soy sauce and mirin (a Japanese rice wine). Additionally, kombu is steeped in water to create kombucha, a Japanese tea that is distinct from the fermented beverage popular in the United States.
- Nori: When dried, nori, commonly referred to as purple laver, changes colour from a deep purplish-red to a dark green. Similar to the procedure used to make paper, it is then roasted and pressed into dried nori sheets. The most popular kind of seaweed in the west is this one: Nori is used in Japanese restaurants to wrap onigiri and sushi rolls (rice balls). Nori sheets can be used dry, in contrast to some seaweeds that must be reconstituted in water. The powdered version of aonori is used as a seasoning for classic Japanese foods including okonomiyaki (pancakes) and yakisoba (buckwheat noodles).
- Dulse: A reddish seaweed called dulse grows on rocks in the cooler waters of the northern Atlantic and northern Pacific oceans. Dulse has a delicate, leathery texture and was first gathered in Scotland and Iceland over a thousand years ago. Its flavor is similar to bacon, and it can be crisped up in oil to make a favorite bar snack in Canada. Dulse is available in a variety of forms in the food industry, including dry flakes, shredded pieces, and powder. It is used as a flavouring for meat as well as in soups and baked into chips. The renowned soda bread made by the Irish is made with dulse.
- Hijiki: Hijiki is a brown seaweed that resembles tiny, thin twigs and turns black when dried. It comes from China, Japan, and Korea’s rocky coastlines. After being taken from the ocean, hijiki is first cooked, then dried. It frequently comes with fish or is prepared in stir-fries.
- Irish moss: An indigenous purple and red alga to the Atlantic coasts of the U.S. and Europe is called Irish moss. Irish moss has branches that stretch out from the stem, giving it the appearance of a small tree. Irish moss has a lot of carrageen, which are sugar molecules (polysaccharides) that are utilized as thickeners and can be found in desserts like tapioca and ice cream.
- Sea kale: From the genus ulva, this edible blue-green algae is primarily found along coastlines. Also called green nori.
Ensure that the seaweed you purchase is obtained from organic sources. A different strategy is to just consume seaweed three times each week and to switch up the brands you consume.
Seaweed by itself cannot harm our bodies, but when it grows in areas with high levels of pollution or in water that has been contaminated by industrial waste, it poses a risk to both marine life and humans.
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