Is Seaweed Good for You?

Is seaweed good for you? The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets the recommended weekly vegetable intake for women at 17.5 cups and 21 cups for men. Marine vegetables, like seaweed, are often overlooked, but they do contribute to your weekly vegetable intake. Seaweed comes in many types, ranging from larger kelp to smaller varieties. It has been used, particularly in Asian cultures and those of coastal regions, as food and medicine for centuries.

Is Seaweed Good for You?

Seaweed is low in calories and has no fat or sugars. Like other green, leafy vegetables, seaweed can be a good source of calcium, Vitamin C, iron and many other minerals. Seaweed, like many vegetables, is generally good for health, providing numerous health benefits.

1. Promote Digestive Health

Seaweed is high in fiber, which can slow down digestion and make you feel full for longer, making food release its energy more slowly. It was found that seaweed can strengthen gut mucus and protect the gut wall from tears and holes. Some types of seaweed, like kombu, have enzymes that aid in pre-digestion.

2. Low in Calories, High in Nutrients

Seaweed is packed with nutrients in the form of minerals, vitamins and other elements. Some say that this is because it is grown in the sea, which is largely unfarmed or unprocessed. Some examples of nutrients that make seaweed so good for you are calcium, iodine, folate, magnesium, and other B vitamins.

3. Improve Cardiac Health

Diets that are high in seaweeds are related to low cholesterol and low homocysteine levels. Both cholesterol and homocysteine are major contributors to heart disease. In animal studies, seaweed has been shown to reduce risk of stroke and to lower blood pressure.

4. Detox Your Body

Seaweed is good for you in terms of detoxifying your body from natural exposures of cadmium and lead that are present in the environment due to cigarette smoke, factories and transportation. Although it is not common for people to be exposed to radioactive chemicals, seaweed does aid in detoxifying against strontium as well.

5. Regulate Hormones

Seaweed contains lignans which become phytoestrogens during digestion and block oestrogens that can cause predisposition to some types of cancer. A Harvard University professor, Dr. Jane Teas, published a paper saying that the low rates of breast cancer in Japan might be due to their diets high in seaweed. More investigation is underway, linking seaweed to cancer prevention.

Precautions Before Eating Seaweed

Since you've got the answer to the question "is seaweed good for you", you may want to start eating seaweed now. As with most things, especially things related to healthy nutrition, the key is in moderation.

1. Potassium

Some of the nutrients found in seaweed, like potassium, can be present in such high doses that they can cause health complications. For someone with kidney failure, too much potassium can cause heart palpitations. Red seaweed, or dulse is especially high in potassium.

2. Sodium

Seaweed is naturally high in sodium, so if you have high blood pressure, avoid seaweed or talk to your doctor before including seaweed in your diet. Sodium is an electrolyte that attaches itself to water–the more sodium you eat, the more water you retain, which prevents weight loss and increases swelling.

3. Iodine

Although iodine is needed for healthy thyroid function, too much iodine can also interfere with your thyroid. Iodine can be present in high amounts in brown seaweed. Some types of seaweed, like nori (commonly used as a wrap for sushi) are lower in iodine.

4. Contamination

Another consideration is the water in which the seaweed grows. If the waters are contaminated with arsenic or other toxic metals, the seaweed will be contaminated as well. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates seaweed that is packaged as food, but it doesn't regulate seaweed packaged as supplements. Therefore, seaweed taken in the form of pills may contain metals and could lead to a trip to the hospital. This is especially important for pregnant or lactating women and infants.

Healthy Ways to Eat Seaweed

Learning "is seaweed good for you" is not enough. Here are some healthy ways to cook and eat the seaweed.

1. Stir-Fry

One type of seaweed that is good for stir-fry or tofu dishes is hijiki seaweed. It's black and noodle-like, with taste that compliments the other traditional flavors of stir-fries. Hijiki has calcium and phosphorous which are needed for healthy bones.

2. Sushi

Sushi is traditionally wrapped in nori. Nori is also found in Japanese rolls as well as in soup and on rice balls. It is high in fiber, protein and the anti-cancer compounds called lignans.

3. Salad

A heart healthy way to prepare seaweed with less sodium is to make a salad using low-sodium soy sauce, wakame seaweed, sesame oil, sesame seeds and rice vinegar.

4. Side Dishes

Dried seaweed can be crushed and sprinkled on vegetables and salads, roasted with sesame seeds, or stir-fried with mushrooms to add a new flavor to old dishes.

5. Soup

Seaweed can be stewed with meat, garlic, sesame oil and soy sauce to make a really flavorful soup. It is traditionally made for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding because the seaweed is so rich in nutrients.