Seaweeds are ocean plants high in many varieties of nutrients, including some we may not be getting enough of, such as iodine. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your personal constitution. Let’s dive into the good, the bad and the…weedy… of seaweed.
Seaweeds are really high in many of the vitamins and minerals we need for optimum function, and of those minerals a significant one is iodine, a vital component in thyroid health. Iodine values in seaweed vary among species and where it’s grown. It ranges anywhere from around 16 micrograms per gram in nori, all the way up to 8165 mcg/g for Icelandic fingered tangle! So variety really does matter.
This is great if you’re one of the savvy folk who have given up iodised table salt in favour of natural salt alternatives like sea salt or pink himalayan salt. The daily intake guideline for iodine for adults is 150 to 1100 mcg per day. So depending on the type of seaweed you’re eating, you may not be hitting this target, or you could WAY surpassing it!
Chock Full o’Goodness
Seaweed really is a superfood. It’s generally significantly higher in calcium, folate, iron, vitamin B complex, vitamin E and zinc than broccoli, one of the superheroes of the land-veggie kingdom. It also contains many other minerals that folks are often deficient in, such as chromium, magnesium, selenium, manganese, bromine and boron. Considering you could consume very little to get great value from it, it does make it an appealing supplement to your diet.
Here are some of the other purported benefits of eating seaweed on a regular basis:
- Provides healing benefits for diabetes, cancer, radiation poisoning and obesity
- Prevents dental caries
- Protects against influenza B virus
- Beneficial for cardiovascular and digestive health
- Helps keep skin and hair healthy
- Helps maintain electrolyte balance in the body
- Natural diuretic that can help reduce bloating from edema
- Enhances libido and may help improve sperm health in men
- Improves energy levels
- And many more!
Since there are many varieties of seaweed supplements and pills on the market, you may decide that it would be very easy to include it that way. However, supplementation in capsule form is not always the best way to go, unless you are really unwell, in which case it’s always best to work with a qualified and skilled practitioner. Although capsules are more regulated and you can tell how much of each nutrient is present, it doesn’t always play out that way in your body.
You may have gut dysfunction which means you are not absorbing the goodness, or they may contain types of seaweed that are not good for you personally. They may even be unbalanced in nutrients for your needs, and lead to other problems down the line. Whole foods in their natural state are more bioavailable, meaning they contain all the added co-factors your body needs to use them properly, in a format your body understands. It’s also easier for your body to eliminate excesses in their natural form. Extracts and isolates of seaweed are not in their whole state and may either work very inefficiently or have undesirable effects.
What About Weight Loss?
It’s been shown that alginates from kelp (an extract) may help to block fat absorption into the body by up to 75% (sounds great, right?). But the way it does this is not very healthy. Our bodies produce lipase, a fat-digesting enzyme, to help us break down and absorb healthy fats into the body. Fats also signal our gallbladder to release bile, which, if it chronically does not, can lead to gallstones in later life.
However, some other types of seaweeds are shown to be beneficial for the digestive system and improve production of enzymes and fat metabolism. So once again, it’s really important to know which type of seaweed would suit your needs.
Laminaria digitata, another form of kelp from the French coast, is known to suppress the appetite. While that may be helpful for those prone to overeating, it’s not going to trick you into eating a salad when you would normally eat a burger and fries. It could, possibly, help to aid weight-loss as part of a much broader healthy eating and lifestyle adjustment. Remember, seaweed may be of benefit to you, but it will never be a cure-all.
What about Spirulina or Chlorella?
A word of caution is to check whether what you’re buying is actually a seaweed or an algae. Spirulina and chlorella are both highly-acclaimed supplements (and don’t we all know someone who swears by them?). But they are actually algaes. People with autoimmune disease especially need to be very cautious with algaes as they stimulate the immune system, which is this is not a good thing in their case.
Another caveat goes back to the iodine levels in these plants. For many people the extra iodine is beneficial, but for those with thyroid dysfunction or under chronic stress which places strain on the thyroid, it’s not always such a good thing.
A final consideration is the potential interactions between seaweeds and pharmaceutical drugs. Certain seaweed varieties can interfere with medications such as blood-thinning drugs, and those for hyperthyroid conditions. If you have ANY form of chronic health condition, especially related to cardiovascular or thyroid health, please seek sound advice before adding seaweeds to your diet.
So, should you eat seaweeds? Well, clearly it’s not a yes or no answer! Take into account these last few points before you go adding heaps to your shopping basket.
- Consider your genetic background. Those hailing from communities where seaweed has been a staple part of their lifestyles for many generations, like the Japanese, have constitutions adapted to a diet high in these plants. But if your genetic lineage is from central Africa, it’s not likely that your body will handle seaweeds on a daily basis. But the only way to be sure is to try it out, starting with small amounts and building up to where you feel good. If you start to notice negative effects, reduce your consumption.
- Consider what health benefits you are looking for in these plants and then carefully select the right types based on their nutritional profile (the info is freely available online) and health benefits. Listen to your gut and only choose ones that you feel are right for you, not just because they sound like a panacea and you’re in a hurry to feel better. Then follow the guidelines in the above point: start small and work up slowly, working with one type at a time.
- Do you like the taste of them? This one may seem a little irrelevant, but if you are trying to force yourself to eat something you don’t like because you think you should, the stress may totally outweigh the advantage you gain. Stress causes a whole negative hormonal cascade in your body that depletes you of many vital hormones and nutrients. However, if you think you could learn to like it and it’s fun for you to try new ways of cooking and eating it, go for it!
How Do You Liiiiike Your Kelp In The Morning…
Here are a few ways you can try to incorporate seaweed into your diet, from baby steps to big lunges!
- Sprinkling kelp granules onto salads, egg dishes, homemade fries or any other savoury foods
- Eating nori-wrapped sushi
- Adding kombu to soups and simmering bone-broths
- Adding powdered forms to juices and smoothies (be aware they can be quite salty!)
- Get them in ready-to-eat snack form (just be sure to check the ingredients and avoid any that are cooked in vegetable or seed oils, like canola or sunflower, which are high in trans-fats)
- Try them in noodle form with your main meal
- Try them as a veggie side dish or as a main part of your lunch time salad!
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