The Japanese incorporate seaweed into their daily diet but in the west we choose in the main to reject it. Are the Japanese right to embrace this food and are we ignoring it at our peril?
Seaweed has been a staple in Asian diets since ancient times. Seaweeds are among the healthiest foods on the planet, packed with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Adding seaweed to your diet will not only enhance your intake of all of the necessary micro-nutrients but may also provide health benefits.
A really comprehensive nutrient spectrum is difficult to obtain from land grown and manufactured foods where the effect of soil deficiencies and nutrient imbalances are well documented.
Very different from the land, the ocean is a rich and consistent growing medium where abundant seaweeds feed a multitude of species. Brown seaweed is a complete, primordial food which, having no roots, absorbs and converts nutrients directly from this great ‘soup’ which covers 70% of the planet.
The seaweed, which is also a rich source of protein, is able to transform these into a unique wholefood with not only all the trace elements like selenium and zinc, but also the entire B group and other rare vitamins including B12, D, and K. In addition to chlorophyll, there are other rare elements like astaxanthin and violaxanthin.
In China, Japan and Korea seaweed has for centuries formed part of the daily diet. Kombu is the most consumed seaweed in those countries.
Despite the west embracing sushi, our consumption of seaweed is minimal. However, research suggests that it’s time to embrace seaweed as an important food.
The medicinal powers and benefits of seaweed have been used for centuries because of their potential to prolong life and enhance health and beauty. Over the last decade, continuing worldwide research has shown brown seaweed to be the most beneficial of all seaweeds. These seaweeds (Laminara Japonica or Kombu) are rich in iodine, fucoidan, alginates, fucoxanthin, laminarin and other minerals. It also contains all the different trace minerals which are often lacking in people’s diet in the west.
10 health reasons to eat seaweed
- A range of indigestible polysaccharides may help to protect the gut wall against cancer causing bacteria and bind for elimination through the bowel, pollutants and toxic metals like lead and mercury.
- Wakame has good levels of calcium and magnesium. Wakame’s pigment, fucoxanthin, may also improve insulin resistance.
- Nori, is the richest in protein and one sheet has as much fibre as a cup of raw spinach. Nori contains both vitamin C and B12 and the compound Taurine, which helps control cholesterol.
- Kombu is high in iodine which is needed to produce the two key thyroid hormones that control metabolism. It is also rich in fucoidan, a phytochemical that may act as an anticoagulant and help to prevent blood clots.
- Arame provides excellent levels of potassium, a mineral known among athletes to prevent muscle cramps. It is also known to contain anti- viral properties.
- Seaweed also contains Fucans, which assist in reducing the inflammatory response and may also inhibit the development of tumours.
- Evidence that seaweed could reduce the risk of breast cancer is primarily based on the studies of brown seaweeds. It has been shown that the consumption of these has favourably altered estrogen metabolism in women. Kelp has also shown to inhibit the binding of estradiol to estrogen receptors and progesterone to progesterone receptors. The specific unique composition of fucoidans, and alginic acid has been shown to inhibit cancer cell proliferation.
- Various types of seaweed have been found to be a good source of melatonin and therefore promote sleep.
- Therapeutic levels of folic acid and magnesium in seaweed may provide protection for the heart and cardiovascular system.
- Seaweed also contains a high level of lignans which are a major class of phytoestrogens. These can act like estrogen when the body’s store of this hormone is low. Therefore, seaweed may assist in reducing menopausal symptoms.
Weed or superfood?
So, to answer the initial question posed, seaweed is most definitely a superfood and not just a weed to be scorned upon.
The nutritional and health benefits of seaweed means that in the West we should try to incorporate this green ‘superfood’ into our diet on a regular basis.
Seaweeds are ready available in most health food stores and are also very reasonably priced. They do not require cooking. Simply soak the seaweed in cold water for twenty minutes and then they are ready to be incorporated into any recipe. They are great in salads, soups or can be sprinkled over many dishes and used as a condiment.