Why can it be beneficial to eat sea vegetables and algae?
In general, these foods can provide you with a slew of nutrients you may not be getting from land vegetables, especially since a lot of the soil that these foods are grown on is nutritionally-depleted due to things like soil erosion or aggressive farming techniques. Since many, many people suffer from mineral imbalances and deficiencies, sea vegetables and algae can come to the rescue by providing our bodies with trace minerals.
Trace minerals (or sometimes called microminerals) consist of elements that come directly from the periodic table. Although our bodies do not need all of these elements, trace minerals are the ones our bodies need in very small amounts, which are ones like manganese, iodine, copper, iron, zinc, fluoride, selenium and chromium. Oppositely, macrominerals are the minerals our bodies need in larger amounts, which are ones like calcium, sodium, potassium, chloride, phosphorus and magnesium.
Because of the minerals in sea vegetables and algae, they may also help with circulation, detoxifying heavy metals, pollutants and carcinogens, balancing hormone and thyroid function, boosting energy levels, promoting relaxation, sleep and bone health, aiding in digestive health and alleviating constipation.
What are some common edible sea vegetables and algae?
- Brown Algae – generally high in iodine
- Kombu/Kelp – Contains the most iodine, dark greenish brown with thick fronds. Kombucha is a fermented tea made from powdered kombu. Good when added to beans to make them more digestible, used to make dashi (soup stock), which is a staple food in Japanese cuisine, good source of fiber, iodine, vitamin B1 and vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium. Contains glutamine, a sweet amino acid that acts as a flavor enhancer. Can get kelp granules for sprinkling on food.
- Arame – ‘Sea Oak’ is a mild, sweet brown species of kelp, good source of Vitamin K, magnesium and calcium.
- Wakame – Large, brown algae, commonly used in miso soup, high in fiber, folate, manganese, magnesium and potassium. Like Kombu, it also contains glutamine.
- Red Algae
- Green Algae
- Sea Lettuce – Can get whole leaf or flakes, resembles land lettuce. Best served raw, but can rehydrate with lemon juice and water. High in iron, protein, iodine, aluminum, magnesium and nickel.
- Chlorella – Rich in chlorophyll, anti-cancer properties, beneficial compounds (antioxidant carotenoids) called lutein, detoxification capacity, protein and vitamin B12. Make sure it’s from a good source! Otherwise they can bring heavy metals and other toxins into your body.
- Spirulina – Blue-green microalgae. Easily digestible, complete protein containing all the essential amino acids, chlorophyll-rich, immune booster, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, ‘brain food’.
What are some good ways to include these foods into my diet?
- As seasonings (dulse, kelp, sea lettuce)
- As snacks (nori)
- They can accompany numerous savory dishes like soups, noodle broths, salads, sauces, omelettes, fish and vegetable dishes, stir fries (arame, wakame, nori, kombu/kelp, sea lettuce)
- With grain or tempeh burgers (arame, dulse, kelp, nori)
- Added to homemade bread, rice, whole grains, pasta, savory tarts, with cheese (kombu/kelp, wakame, arame, kombu, nori, dulse)
- Sushi (nori)
- Added to smoothies (spirulina, chlorella) and other drinks (kombucha, seaweed tea)
- Desserts (agar)
Where can I buy seaweeds like these?
You can find many of these online or at Asian markets or gourmet markets, health food stores, or the Asian food section of your grocery store. Sea vegetables may contain inorganic arsenic or other heavy metals so it is important to buy from a reputable source where the seaweed is grown in areas not affected by industrial waste. Look for organic if possible, and of course, consume in moderation. Also, store tightly sealed in a dry place at room temperature, and they should last for years.