In many coastal cultures, most diet staples come from the sea. Asian cuisine depends heavily on ingredients from the sea, including fish, shellfish, and a variety of seaweeds. Types of seaweed commonly used as food sources include dark green kombu, red dulse, bright green wakame, dark brown nori, and light green, leafy sea lettuce. Much like leafy land vegetables, each offers a variety of nutrients and health benefits.
Edible seaweeds are a great source of vegetable protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, a healthy diet addition for anyone, especially vegans and vegetarians.
Most seaweeds are high in essential amino acids, which makes them valuable sources of vegetable protein in a vegetarian or mostly meatless diet. Other nutrients include vitamins A, C and B-12, potassium, iron, calcium, iodine, and magnesium.
Seaweed is used in many ways, to wrap sushi, in stir fry, added or substituted for noodles, in soups and vegetable dishes.
It has also been dried, ground, and tested as a salt substitute for packaged snacks and other processed foods in the U.K. Substituting seaweed for salt would significantly increase the nutritional value, lower the sodium, and add fiber.
Health Benefits of Seaweed
Fiber is a well known diet aid. Many of the most popular diet products on the market are fiber-based. Fiber is a diet friendly solution because it makes you feel full and aids digestion, At the same time it relieves bloating. A study released in 2010 found that incorporating seaweed into your diet slows the rate of fat absorption by 75% due to a high concentration of lipase (a digestive enzyme).
An extract made from brown seaweed fiber is particularly helpful. The soluble fiber, called fucoxanthin, pulls in water and swells, turning into a gel-like substance. Fat cells become trapped and are dragged through the digestive system and out of the body as waste.
The digestive effects of soluble fiber have several beneficial effects on the body. It lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol, and raises good (HDL) cholesterol to help lower blood pressure and keep your heart healthy.
Soluble fiber also slows digestion so you feel more full for a longer period of time. As a result, it helps stop cravings and helps you eat less overall. In addition, slower digestion means better control of bloods sugar.
Seaweed extracts tested on lab rats have resulted in anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects, but much more testing and human trials are necessary before conclusions can be reached.
Researchers in Newcastle, England are set to begin clinical trials to test the weight loss benefits of a bread made with seaweed fiber. If it works, it could turn out to be a real wonder bread!
Caution for People on Medications
Seaweed is very high in iodine and may contain phosphorous and other minerals that should not be part of your diet if you suffer from kidney disease.
People with kidney disease, anyone on a special diet or under a doctor’s care, and pregnant or nursing mothers should always consult a doctor before taking any supplement or making significant dietary changes.