Superfood of the Month: Seaweed

seaweedA member of the algae family, edible seaweed typically comes in three varieties even though there are over 10,000 different kinds: brown, red, and green. The most commonly eaten (and researched) are the brown varieties such as kelp and wakame, followed by red seaweed, which includes nori (yep — that’s what most sushi chefs use). Among the marine flora, nori is one of the richest in amino acids (up to 50 percent of the plant’s dry weight), and one sheet has as much fiber as a cup of raw spinach and more omega-3 fatty acids than a cup of avocado. Nori contains vitamins C (a potent antioxidant) and B12 (crucial for cognitive function) and the compound taurine, which helps control cholesterol.

While seaweed-based cuisine has a proud history in many Asian countries, Japan has made it into an art form, employing over twenty different species in their fare. The Japanese have some of the highest life expectancies in the world which may or may not be attributable in part to their seaweed intake. In a restaurant, you’re most likely to consume seaweed in a small kelp (kombu) salad, simmered into miso soup, or wrapped around a sushi roll.

The high vitamin and mineral content in this superfood has led to its association with improved heart health, memory, clear skin, eyesight, immune function, digestion and more.

Minerals: As seaweed absorbs minerals from the sea, it is rich in many minerals and trace elements. Calcium and iron tend to accumulate at much higher levels in seaweed than in terrestrial plants. For example, an 8 g portion of dried kombu provides much more calcium than a cup of milk, and a portion of dulse contains more iron than a 100 g sirloin steak (although it may not be as well absorbed). Seaweed also provides large quantities of iodine vital for thyroid function. Iodine is one of those micronutrients that’s hard to come by in foods, and that’s why it’s added to ‘iodized’ table salt: to help bolster the population’s thyroid and brain health. Eat about a gram of seaweed and your daily iodine needs are taken care of. Finally, the often high sodium content of seaweed needs to be considered by those who have to care about their salt intake.

Fiber: Seaweeds are rich in soluble fibres such as alginates, carrageenan and agar, which are not digested in the gut to any great extent and so can help increase feelings of satiety. Seaweed alginates and carrageenans are also employed to give processed foods (e.g., sausages, croissants) favourable texture and stability. Although seaweed fibre extracts may have some potential as slimming aids, seaweed itself is likely to have an effect on satiety (and weight control) similar to ordinary fruits and vegetables. An 8 g portion of dried seaweed provides about an eighth of an adult’s daily fibre needs, similar to the amount in a banana

Interested in more ways to add seaweed to your diet? Click here!

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