Over the past few decades, medical research has begun to uncover what Asian cultures have known for over 10,000 years; that sea vegetables (more specifically, seaweeds) are a valuable resource for improving overall health and wellbeing.
Harvested for consumption before the development of agriculture and historically reserved for royalty, seaweed is now widely available and is a delicious way to add depth and character to your meals. And, by integrating seaweed into our diets, we can maximize our health and wellness by taking full advantage of its three important nutritional benefits: nutrient density, disease prevention and body detoxification.
If this isn’t enough to convince you, the curious glances and inquiries about the bushels of sea veg in your grocery cart will be enough motivation to convert you to an avid “seaweed-er” for life!
1. Nutrient Dense
Fat free and low in calories, seaweed is rich in essential vitamins, minerals, protein and trace elements that are often lacking in land veggies. Gaining its nutritional value from the nutrient-rich ocean in which it grows, seaweed is abundant in calcium, iron and iodine, which are considered the essential minerals needed by those who observe a dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan or macrobiotic diet. Also, edible sea vegetables are loaded with important vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12 and vitamin C, which support healthy organ function and immunity. The cherry on this nutritional sundae is that for those watching their weight, the carbohydrates in sea vegetables are comprised of complex fibers, which pass through the digestive tract unabsorbed, cleansing the intestines while adding no dietary calories.
2. Modern Medicine
In addition to being a valuable source of essential nutrients, physicians and scientists are beginning to catch on to the medicinal value inherent in sea vegetables. It has been found that diets rich in sea vegetables are now associated with lower risk for colorectal and breast cancers, improved thyroid function and the prevention of cardiovascular disease. In fact, a few medications derived from seaweed extracts have been developed to treat a variety of modern lifestyle diseases that plague our community. Further, by helping the body to recover from periods of high stress, sea vegetables also support depleted adrenal glands, which often encourage feelings of fear, fatigue and a reduced resistance to allergy and infection.
3. Ancient Detoxification
Last but not least, cultures that regularly consume seaweeds live longer, healthier lives. The profound longevity and health experienced by these people comes from the ability of seaweed to stimulate the endocrine and nervous systems to prevent the absorption of toxic environmental pollutants and help remove those already stored in the body. Specifically, seaweeds that fall under the brown algae umbrella (kombu, arame and wakame) are particularly rich in a substance called alginic acid that is known to be a powerful cleansing agent.
While there is a wide variety of sea vegetable available, I have found that kombu, wakame and dulse are the easiest to find and integrate into my diet. Kombu is often added to soups, stews and vegetable dishes, but is particularly useful when cooking beans as it helps soften them and aids in their digestion. Wakame, the seaweed most commonly found in miso soup, can be eaten in similar ways as kombu, but I also enjoy it when reconstituted and added to salad or rice and vegetable dishes. Dulse, one of the more elusive red algaes, can be integrated in ways similar to kombu or wakame and provides an earthier, more mellow taste than its brown counterparts. Please keep in mind that seaweeds are a rich source of iodine, so there is generally no need for any additional salt when they are used in our cooking. Nutrient dense and medicinally valuable, seaweed is an integral tool to healing our bodies from the everyday stresses of our lives. And, by utilizing this piece of ancient dietary wisdom, we are one step closer to reversing the prevalence of modern lifestyle disease and achieving total health and wellness.