Seaweed: It’s Not Just Slimy, It’s Good For You!

August 21, 2013

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Greens from the sea? Yes, absolutely. Seaweed, a traditional food throughout much of Asia and around the world, is surprisingly nutritious and very healthy.

Abundant Health Benefits

Historical evidence has shown that diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and obesity are far less prevalent among people who have a seaweed-based diet.

It may also affect the incidence of breast cancer.

Japanese women have a much lower risk of experiencing breast cancer than American women.

In Okinawa, where residents expect to enjoy a healthier, longer old age than anywhere else in the world, seaweed is a diet staple.

Seaweed is nature’s richest source of iodine, which is essential in keeping you healthy. Without iodine, your body cannot create enough hormones to maintain the proper action of the thyroid gland. Since the hormones created by the thyroid gland regulate the metabolism of every cell in the body, as well as affecting all physiological functions, a lack of iodine can have serious consequences.

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Other components of seaweed include vitamins A, B, B2, C, and D. Plus iron, antioxidants, essential amino acids, fatty acids, calcium, unsaturated and omega-3 fats, and large amounts of fiber.

Seaweed also includes significant quantities of myostatin, which counteracts deformities in muscle development.

And seaweed is great for pregnant women – it contains high levels of folic acid.

As an alkaline food, seaweed helps to balance the acidity of other foods. This can help make food easier to digest and reduce your chances of experiencing indigestion and heartburn.

Eating seaweed can help maintain joint flexibility and mobility. It even contains nutrients to promote clear skin!

Seaweed contains large quantities of lignans. These are plant compounds that can provide protection against cancer by inhibiting the blood cell growth required by fast growing tumors.

An unexpected effect of seaweed is its ability to affect the taste of other ingredients.

The Japanese describe this ability as umami, or “the fifth flavor.” It is thought to give a special zing to food. Kombu (or kelp, as it is known in the West) is particularly good at adding an umami kick to food.

How to Eat Seaweed

But seaweed-based food is not limited to the Far East. We all know that it is eaten in Japan, where it is used (among other things) as a structural component of sushi.

It’s the traditional basis for birthday soup in Korea, and Korean women are carefully to eat plenty of it in the weeks following childbirth.

But it’s not just an Asian thing – seaweed continues to be a part of traditional diets around the world.

It’s a breakfast food in Wales, it’s a uniquely important source of vitamin C for Eskimos, and it’s processed into crisps in Ireland.

You can use strips of dried nori – the seaweed typically wrapped around fish and rice at sushi restaurants – as an alternative to tortillas or lettuce leaves in turning meat and vegetables into fun finger foods.

“Sushi wraps” will appeal to your kids as well as your guests.

Wakame and sea lettuce can be sliced up and used as the basis for a tossed salad.

Add cucumber, shredded carrots, maybe a bit of green onion, and toss with your favorite light dressing (or just olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice) for a tasty and nutritious treat.

Wakame is an especially good choice – a 2006 study conducted at Hokkaido University in Japan confirmed that an ingredient in wakame stimulates the production of a protein that increases the burning of fat.

It also reduces LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and improves triglyceride levels.

Many kinds of seaweed are good in soups and stews, too. Add it as you would add cabbage, to lend the pot texture and a bit of subtle flavor.

Carrageen moss, sometimes sold as Irish moss, is a source of carrageenan, which forms a jelly when boiled.

You can use it – or agar agar, which is also based on seaweed – as a healthy alternative to gelatine or cornstarch in fruit pies and other recipes that call for thickening agents.

You may be lucky enough to find sea grapes or green caviar in a specialty market.

This seaweed, which looks like a cluster of tiny green grapes, is a treat in Japan and in the Philippines. Toss it with a little vinegar and enjoy it as a simple salad.

Most seaweed is sold in dried form, and must be soaked in warm water before eating. Read the package directions or consult the Internet for instructions on how to prepare different types of seaweed.


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