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Is seaweed healthy for you? Learn about different seaweed health benefits and the challenges of consuming it.
Is Seaweed Good for You?
Is seaweed as healthy as others say it is? First, learn about the health benefits of seaweed when you include this nutritious food in your next meal and find out why seaweed is awesome here!
What Are Seaweeds?
Seaweeds are ocean plants containing high amounts of various 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 unique needs.
Your thyroid function and the species of seaweed also factor into the effectivity of this superfood for your overall health.
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. 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 8,165 mcg/g for Icelandic fingered tangle!
Variety really does matter. This is great if you’re one of the savvy folks who have given up iodized table salt in favor of natural salt alternatives like sea salt or pink Himalayan salt.
What is pink Himalayan salt? Known as the cleanest and most beneficial salt on Earth, it contains 98% sodium chloride with trace minerals making up the remaining 2%. It’s a healthier alternative to chemically processed table salt.
It has a significantly higher iodine content than other vegetables. The daily intake guideline for iodine for adults is 150 to 1,100 mcg per day.
Depending on the type of seaweed you’re eating, you may not be hitting this target or you can be surpassing it!
Chock Full o’ Goodness
Seaweed really is a superfood. It’s 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 folks are often deficient in, such as chromium, magnesium, selenium, manganese, bromine, and boron.
Considering you can consume very little to get great value from it, this makes 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 cavities
- Protects against influenza B virus
- Beneficial for cardiovascular and digestive health
- Helps keep skin and hair healthy
- Helps maintain electrolyte balance in the body
- A natural diuretic that can help reduce bloating from edema (swelling from excess water in certain tissues of the body)
- 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 it is easy to include it in your diet that way.
However, supplementation in capsule form is not always the best way to go, unless you are very 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 benefits of the seaweed. They may contain types of seaweed not good for you personally.
They may even be unbalanced in nutrients for your needs, leading to other problems down the line.
Whole foods in their natural state are more bioavailable. 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 excess when foods are 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 (an extract) from kelp may help block fat absorption in the body by up to 75% (sounds great, right?), but the process is quite unhealthy.
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 later in life.
Some other types of seaweeds are shown to be beneficial for the digestive system and improve the production of enzymes and fat metabolism. Once again, it’s really important to know which type of seaweed suits your nutritional needs.
Laminaria digitata, another form of kelp from the French coast, can suppress the appetite. While that may be helpful to those prone to overeating, it’s not going to trick you into eating a salad when you normally eat a burger and fries.
It can, 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 seaweed or algae. Spirulina and chlorella are both highly acclaimed supplements (and don’t we all know someone who swears by them?), but they are algae.
Chorella is the cousin of spirulina. They both help in strengthening the body’s cardiovascular system.
People with autoimmune diseases need to be very cautious with algae as they stimulate the immune system, which isn’t 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.
For those with thyroid dysfunction or under chronic stress, which places a 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.
What is hyperthyroid? It is a thyroid condition wherein the glands produce more hormones than they should.
If you have any form of a chronic health condition, especially related to cardiovascular or thyroid health, please seek sound advice from a healthcare professional before adding seaweed to your diet.
Should you eat seaweed? 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:
1. 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.
If your genetic lineage is from Central Africa, it’s not likely your body will handle seaweeds daily. But then, the only way to be sure is to try it out, starting with small amounts and build from there.
If you start to notice negative effects, reduce your consumption.
2. Consider What Health Benefits You Are Looking for in These Plants
Carefully select the right types based on their nutritional profile (the info is freely available online) and health benefits. Listen to your gut.
Only choose ones 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.
3. Know the Taste
Do you like the taste? 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 negative hormonal cascade in your body that depletes you of many vital hormones and nutrients. If you think you can 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 Like 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 savory foods
- Eating nori seaweed-wrapped sushi or sushi rolls
- Adding seaweed kombu (edible kelp) 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 main part of your lunchtime salad
Is Seaweed Healthy for Pregnant Women and Children?
The needs of our bodies when it comes to nutrition change from time to time. It depends on what season we are in.
If a woman plans to get pregnant or is already bearing a child, they can benefit from iodine. Although it is a trace mineral, it is vital for the pregnant mother and the baby’s health.
As mentioned, iodine is critical in the production of thyroid hormones, which regulate the body’s metabolism. These include not only temperature but also heart rate and glucose, among others.
Some studies such as the one published in Endocrine Abstracts showed a link between miscarriages and low thyroid function.
The baby also depends on it to develop a healthy brain and nervous system. Iodine plays a central role in their cognitive growth later.
One of the benefits of seaweed is protein. Like quinoa, with complete amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.
As the fetus grows, their demand for protein will only increase, and it’s important that their moms can keep up with that.
Since seaweed is an excellent source of iodine and protein, it then begs the question: is seaweed healthy for pregnant women and their children? Should they follow a seaweed diet?
Choose the Right Seaweed
The answers still depend on many factors, including how much iodine in seaweed there is. Anything small or excessive can be harmful to the thyroid glands.
So far, most experts believe it’s okay to eat brown seaweed as long as it’s in moderation. Pregnant women should note this sea vegetable can accumulate heavy metals.
Unless they know the source of the seaweed, it’s best to avoid it altogether. Now, is dried seaweed good for you?
As long as it’s good quality, you may obtain some iodine. Remember, though, some of these packs may also have a lot of sodium, offsetting the seaweed benefits.
Which of the Seaweeds Are the Best for You?
Another way to answer the question, “Is seaweed healthy for you?” or “Is nori good for you?” is to compare the different types of sea vegetables.
First, let’s compare algae and seaweeds, as people use these terms interchangeably. Algae are either multicellular or unicellular sea plants, while seaweeds are only multicellular.
In other words, not all types of algae are seaweeds. Seaweeds, meanwhile, are algae.
Seaweeds also come in different forms, sizes, and colors. The big ones are kelp, and they tend to group together to mimic a forest.
Experts, however, classify seaweeds according to their colors:
- Types of red algae include Irish moss, nori, and agar.
- Wakame seaweed, as well as kelp and kombu, is brown seaweed.
- Sea lettuce is a type of green seaweed.
Their colors are due to the chlorophyll present. Chlorophyll is the substance found in plants that allows them to convert light into energy through a process called photosynthesis.
The greener the algae or weed, the more chlorophyll it may have. It will also tell you how close they are to the surface of the water.
Studies showed chlorophyll may help fight against cancer, acting similarly to chemotherapy. It is also known for its antioxidant properties and regulation of certain enzymes.
Brown seaweeds contain carotenoid pigments such as fucoxanthin. Current research suggested it may help prevent or reduce obesity and prevent cancer recurrence through apoptosis or cellular death.
At the end of the day, it’s all about what your body needs and what is right for you. To help you decide, talk about it with your health practitioner.
Can You Buy Packed Seaweed in Health Food Stores?
These days, you don’t need to go to the beach and forage yourself to maximize seaweed health benefits. You can now buy seaweeds in various forms:
- Algae oil
- Seaweed sheets
- Roasted seaweed
- Seaweed pills
- Seaweed supplements
You may also purchase health products such as Alkalizing Greens, which contain spirulina and chlorella, which are both high in chlorophyll.
Each of these has its pros and cons. For example, one of the benefits of dried seaweed is it’s convenient and easy to eat.
Is seaweed healthy in these forms, though? As mentioned before, not all types of seaweeds in the market are great.
Research and work closely with your doctor to figure out the best ones for your health.
Is Seaweed Healthy When Cooked?
There are many ways to eat seaweeds. You can:
- Toast some sesame seeds and add it to your seaweed salad for some crunch.
- Stir-fry sea lettuce flakes with sesame oil and your favorite veggies such as broccoli or cauliflower.
- Place some roasted seaweed or nori on your miso soup.
Is seaweed healthy after you cook it? You can actually eat seaweed raw and since people value them because of their flavor, it’s best not to overdo their preparation.
This means, if it’s possible, don’t cook them or expose them to high temperatures. This is to preserve the taste more than anything else.
Should seaweed salad and seaweed snacks become a part of your diet? They should be, considering all the benefits of seaweeds to your health and overall wellness discussed here!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 27, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.