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November 20, 2016

A Comprehensive Guide To Seaweed Nutrition And Its Benefits

There are some things we would’ve never thought could ever be on our plates. Decades ago, could anyone have guessed we’d be talking about seaweed nutrition right now? Surely for some of you it still feels surreal to talk about it regardless. Seaweed is a type of sticky, gooey plant that mostly inhabits the bottom of the seas and oceans. That is, until it starts getting cheeky and clings to your bathing suit while you’re trying to enjoy a relaxed day at the beach. In that regard, some may even argue that seaweed is pretty gross.

But you’ll likely be surprised to hear that there are some types of edible seaweed out there. Countries like China and Japan have been fully aware of this market for centuries now. Seaweed nutrition is far from being news to them and the good news is that this industry is starting to take flight in the United States too. As the market grows, seaweed nutrition is starting to become more and more of a hot topic on our health agenda.

Seaweed Nutrition Recipe

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Today, we’ll start unveiling some of the basics of seaweed nutrition. We’ll start with the health benefits that a seaweed-inclusive diet can bring to us and finish with food preparation tips, as well as extensive recipes you can try out yourself.

Types of Seaweed

By a simple definition, seaweed is a type of algae that grows and lives in salty water. Just like any normal terrestrial plants, it still needs sunlight in order to live properly. There are thousands of different breeds of seaweed filling Earth’s seas and oceans. Hundreds of them are edible. There are, however, some that are more popular menu choices.

For instance, nori is a particularly sought-after type of seaweed and it distinguishes itself through its notable red shade. As the name suggests, the peak of its popularity is in Japan, where chefs most commonly use it to wrap sushi. It’s not an ingredient foreign to Europe, though. In Scotland, it’s more typically known by the name of sloke while in Wales it’s known as laver. In both of these countries, it used to be turned into flatbreads.

We also have brown seaweed, two particularly popular specimens being kombu and wakame. It’s an ingredient frequently found in Far-East cuisine, where brown seaweed is used as a flavoring agent for soups and stews.

The most common types are the green seaweeds, plenty of which grows around the shores Great Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia. Sea lettuce and sea grass are popular choices and chefs typically include them in salads, where we consume them raw and fresh.

Seaweed Nutrition Contents

Seaweed nutrition opens the door for a type of regime through which we can acquire an impressive amount of nutrients and minerals, all through these surprisingly versatile and delicious algae. They’re packed with vitamins, but rather than talking about them in general, let’s dive in on a more profound level.

Minerals and trace elements tend to accumulate in much higher quantities in seaweed. This is due to the fact that these plants also absorb the minerals and beneficial contents found in the sea. For comparative purposes, let’s just say that 8 g of dried kombu contain more calcium than a glass of milk. Alternatively, a portion of dulse tops a 100 g sirloin steak in terms of iron contained within.

Seaweeds also contain various types of soluble fibers. We’re mostly talking about the fibers of the likes of   alginates, carrageenan, and agar. Their consistency and texture make them difficult to digest, so consuming types of seaweed rich in any of these nutrients will increase feeling of satiety. This is one of the several reasons why seaweed would make a great diet addition to shed off some extra weight. It works similarly to most fruits and vegetables. Eight grams of dried seaweed provide an average adult with an eighth of the recommended daily fiber intake. This is similar to a whole banana.

Possible Nutritional Risks

Too much of one thing, let it be a generally good one, can end up harmful. A perfect example of that is seaweed’s natural percentage of iodine. All varieties of seaweed are rich in iodine, being able to support through a diet people who need extra intakes. However, there are certain types that contain just TOO much iodine, warns the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment. It was also them who recommended issuing an upper limit for iodine in seaweed products all across the European Union.

Moreover, certain types of brown seaweed can amass heavy metals, the best example being arsenic. It goes without saying that it’s an incredible danger to our lives, not just our health. In fact, several studies have uncovered a worrying truth about hijiki seaweed: a great majority of them accumulate significant amounts of arsenic. Most of seaweed is also rich in sodium, which might pose some issues to those that need to keep their salt intake under check.

Seaweed Health Benefits

Seaweed Tablets

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Nutritionists are still trying to get a grasp of the full extent of seaweed nutrition, but the health benefits aren’t failing to surface. It’s a type of food that’s packed with necessary minerals and vitamins, perfect for creating a foundation for a healthy and balanced diet.

Different types of seaweed bring different types of benefits, so it is possible to alternate between them to create a variety in your meals, as well as in the benefits they can provide.

Benefit #1

At the end of the day, seaweed is nothing but a pretentious form of sea vegetable. And just like any respectable vegetable, it’s really low in calories, making it a perfect inclusion in any balanced diet. A simple cup of kelp seaweed amounts to a mere grand total of 20 calories!

Benefit #2

Seaweed contains plenty of iron, a necessary mineral for us to function at the peak of our energy levels. For women, the daily recommended iron amount is of 18 milligrams whereas men should make sure they get a dose of at least 8 milligrams. Munch on a tablespoon of spirulina seaweed, which provides 2 milligrams of iron all by itself.

Iron is a vital compound which nourishes and helps your circulatory system function better by enhancing the quality of the blood flow to tissues.

Benefit #3

Aside from containing iron, seaweeds are also packed with Vitamin K. Doctors have linked a healthy amount of Vitamin K to prevention against blood clotting and to significant improvements to bone health. Women should ensure that they absorb 90 micrograms every day. On the other hand, men need 120 micrograms of Vitamin K to really get the best of what this compound has to offer. A single cup of kelp seaweed amounts to 26 micrograms of Vitamin K.

This covers just enough to give you a great advantage and to not accidentally intersect with Vitamin K intake from other foods. Mineral excess is a real thing and it can often develop into grave health issues.

Benefit #4

Last but not least – calcium. Calcium covers a myriad of areas that can benefit from its properties. Our teeth need it, our bones need it, but so do our hearts, nerves, and muscles. In other words, it’s a must. And in order to lead a healthy and balanced life, we need a daily intake of approximately 1,000 milligrams of calcium. A serving of wakame seaweed can provide you with 60 milligrams. It may not seem much at first glance, but it’s significantly easier to naturally absorb calcium from other sources as well. Better avoid that calcium excess, folks.

Preparing Seaweed

The basis of seaweed nutrition is to include in your diet. This might seem daunting, especially since it seems like a pretty pretentious type of vegetable. It’s not typical seafood, which any respectable chef around the world knows how to cook like a pro by this point. It’s a sea vegetable and this is still a relatively new concept.

Fear not! We have some general tips for preparation and how to naturally slip these portions of seaweed into your meals. For even better inspiration, we’ll top this all off with some proper recipe suggestions.

Sushi

Sushi is the number one type of food to incorporate seaweed in its creation. Before you venture into the exotic ingredients aisle at your local store to purchase seaweed yourself, give it a taste first. Head to your favorite Japanese restaurant and order a serving of maki rolls.

So you know what they involve, maki rolls bring together shrimp tempura and crab, mix them with cream cheese and cucumber and then roll them in seaweed. The recipe doesn’t end here since spicy tuna, spinach tempura, sriracha, and spicy mayo top it all.

Salads

You can add seaweeds into a salad in one of two ways: make a proper salad or mush them and blend them into a dressing. For the former, consider getting some kelp and wakame types, both of which you can easily find in stores. Toss them into a salad together seeds of your choosing, sesame oil, and some grated ginger. Depending on your personal taste, you can choose to enrich the recipe by adding cucumbers and tomatoes too.

As for the dressing, we prepared a creamy and delicious recipe which you’ll be able to find near the end of this guide.

Smoothies & Soups

Seaweeds high in protein such as spirulina make great additions to healthy smoothies (especially green ones) and noodle soups.

Seaweed Recipe Suggestions

Seaweed Water Fork

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If tired of culinary theory, let’s dive into the application of your suggestions with some incredible recipes to support your seaweed nutrition lifestyle.

#1 Healthy Vegan Seaweed-Avocado Caesar Dressing

  • 4 sheets organic sushi nori (raw, not toasted, if available), broken into 1-inch square pieces
  • 2 cups raw organic apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 small red onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 small ripen Hass avocados, pit removed; flesh scooped out, using a spoon
  • 1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • Juice of 1 lemon (and zest, if organic)
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, optional
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, optional
  • Salt and pepper to taste

As you can see, seaweed is far from being the star of this recipe with all the other ingredients and what not. So even if you’re hesitant about its taste, you will probably not feel it. But, trust us, its mere presence is going to add on the value of a seaweed nutrition plan. All you need to do to prepare this recipe is to blend together all of the ingredients, save for the oil. You must add the oil gradually as you continue to blend on low speed.

#2 Cucumber Seaweed Salad

  • 2 English cucumbers
  • ⅓ cup (80 mL) vegetable oil
  • 3 Tbsp (45 mL) rice vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp (45 mL) cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) sugar
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) jalapeno, minced
  • 1 6-inch square sheet dried seaweed
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) roasted white and black sesame seeds

Cucumbers, seaweeds, and sesame seeds go together perfectly, so this recipe is going to bring out the best kind of experience with this sea vegetable.

To prepare this recipe, start by slicing the cucumbers in two lengthwise. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and then proceed to diagonally cut ¼-inch slices. In a large bowl, stir the vinegar, cilantro, sugar, and jalapenos together with the oil. Cut the seaweed into 1-inch strips, which you then throw into the bowl. Lastly, add the cucumbers and seeds and then toss the salad to blend the flavors.

#3 Nori Crust Salmon

Nori Crust:

  • 2 nori sheets, toasted
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 ½ Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Thai chili, sliced
  • salt

Salmon:

  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 4 5-6 oz salmon fillets, skin removed
  • nori crust
  • salt

Sea and sea go best together, so there’s really no way you could ever fail at a recipe that mixes seaweed with the delish that is salmon. In fact, you will see even more benefits to your seaweed nutrition plan if you include the addition of omega-3 fatty acids that come with fish.

This recipe is quite lengthy, so for accuracy purposes, we’ll direct you here to follow the instructions directly.

Final Words

Seaweed nutrition is still a relatively novel concept in our lives since the market is merely getting started in the Western society. But this kind of lifestyle has been popular in the East for a very long time and it’s hard to contest the general healthiness found in countries like Japan. Perhaps this is a sign to start relying on seaweed more, so get cooking!

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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