If you are the average health-conscious person, then you may have had periods where you fall into a food rut, especially when it comes to vegetables. There are but so many salads and veggie casseroles that you can re-mix to try to fit in your full daily serving, while keeping it interesting at the same time. What you may not have tried are sea vegetables! If you can get your mind wrapped around the idea, you may actually have a new diet staple to experiment with. Beyond the little bit of seaweed wrapped with our sushi rolls, there is an assortment of other sea vegetables to try from, so keep an open mind.
Nori: This may be the most popular as it is commonly found in sushi rolls like the California roll. It is usually a dark purple to deep green color and contains both iodine and Calcium. It can be used in soups, salads, rice and casserole dishes.
Wakame: This sea vegetable is often very tender and has a green-greyish hue. This one contains dietary fiber and potassium. When you soak wakame for about 10 minutes, it expands to almost seven times its original size and can be later added to soups and stir-fries with its velvety texture.
Dulse: This one is packed with both protein and potassium and has a reddish-brown hue. Dulse is chewy in texture and slight salty, so when pan-fried, it has actually been compared to bacon!
There are various other types of sea vegetables and there is also the supplement form of the marine nutrients found in items like Ocean Plant extract and Algae tablets.
Sea vegetables contain something called haloperoxidases. This enzyme requires a mineral called vanadium which is important for carbohydrate metabolism and blood sugar. Although it is a less known nutrient, early research shows that vanadium may help increase insulin sensitivity within the body as well. In addition, sea vegetables may play a role in reducing the risk of estrogen-related cancers, such as breast cancer.
Sea vegetables are especially unique because they contain a broad range of minerals found in the ocean. These same minerals happen to be the ones that are also found in human blood. Another unique factor is that they contain alkaloid antioxidants, so while other land vegetables may contain other forms of antioxidants, sea vegetables have a good source of this additional type. Some other more familiar nutrients found are iron, iodine, Vitamin K, magnesium, calcium and important components of Vitamin B.
Thyroid: The iodine content found in sea vegetables can be important for the production of thyroid hormone. This is especially important for metabolism, so for those with hypo or hyperthyroid conditions, adding in these veggies may help.
Anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties: Brown seaweed especially, contains an element called fucoidan, which affects the inflammatory response responsible for certain chronic diseases and cancers. In the case of estrogen-related cancers, components in seaweed have been found to block estrogen receptors, preventing breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
Heart disease and hypertension: The potassium content in sea veggies is also good for regulating blood pressure. With leveled blood pressure, your risk for later heart disease decreases.
Detox: A component found in sea vegetables, alginates, has been found useful for flushing toxins out of the body, specifically heavy metals. Kelp is a popular sea veggie that contains this detoxifying element.
Sea vegetables should be kept in a low or no-moisture environment; therefore look for tightly sealed packaging at your local grocery store. For some, you may have to go to a specialty store (e.g. vegan or whole foods store) to find sea vegetables available. There also different forms of them, from sheets (nori) to flakes and powders. Depending on how you plan on preparing them, choose the proper form for your meal. After your purchase, sea vegetables can stay fresh for up to several months when kept in a tight, concealed container at room temperature.
As with other vegetables, sea vegetables can be added to salads and other side dishes, and are especially delicious in Asian cuisine like miso soup and stir-fries. They are very easy to add in as they do not always require cooking, so it should not be difficult to add in the recommended 1 tsp per day. Some of the more common sea vegetables eaten are Wakame, Dulse, Nori and algae. You can make homemade sushi rolls with nori as it is popularly eaten. The dulse is also great in dishes like miso soup. You can also combine an assortment of sea vegetables with tofu to make a hearty vegetarian meal.
Because sea vegetables come from the ocean, there is the risk of toxicity. Arsenic is one of the heavy metals that have been traced within the sea vegetables and in particular, hijki, is one sea plant that has been associated with the highest levels of arsenic found. In fact, Public Health agencies in Canada, England and New Zealand have at some point put out warnings not to consume hijki, so it may be a good idea to stick with some of the other types available. If you rely on sea vegetables for a regular component of your diet and are especially concerned (e.g. pregnant women), you may want to check with the USDA or your country’s guidelines on the proper consumption of this food group.
Whether you decide to jump in and create a new dish around some of your newly found sea vegetables, or take it slow with supplements and powders, adding them into your diet is a great idea for many health reasons. Anyone can benefit from them and they are too easy to use not to try! By keeping an open mind, you can keep a healthy body with the help of sea vegetables.