Seaweed is a form of algae and grows in freshwater and seawater. For the preparation of food, most freshwater varieties are usually toxic, so seawater algae are utilized. While seaweed is a high nutrient food, it also presents some challenges in ensuring high quality, good source, and can sometimes cause adverse reactions when consumed.
Why Try Seaweed?
Considering the challenges in getting good seaweed, why bother? Seaweed has a high level of minerals. Seaweed contains iodine, vitamin K, vitamin B9, B2, B5, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, calcium, vitamins C and E. The vitamin C helps the absorption of iron, making seaweed an excellent plant based source of iron. Iodine supports thyroid function which is essential for maintaining a good metabolism. Seaweed is also high in anti-oxidants, giving it anti-inflammatory qualities.
On the negative side, seaweed is very high in sodium. So if you are on a low sodium diet, use with caution.
How to Add Seaweed to the Diet?
If you have access to high quality seaweed of different varieties, it’s a good idea to do some research on how best to prepare them. Otherwise, most health food stores will carry some basic forms of seaweed that can be incorporated into every cooking. Some varieties of seaweed have little flavor, while others have a very strong fishy or salty taste.
- Keep a container of kelp flakes on the dinner table. This can be used instead of table salt for seasoning foods. Kelp is lower in sodium than table salt, so this can be a good alternative if on a low sodium diet.
- Add kelp or another seaweed to vegetables dishes and in salad
- Seaweed is a common ingredient of miso soup, which can be healing and restorative in its own right.
Common forms of seaweed are:
- Agar-Agar – used in cooking as a gelling agent and has almost no fishy taste and no smell
- Arame – a dark, thin seaweed thread that can be used in rice, soups or salads.
- Dulse – high in salt and has a strong fishy flavor. It can be rinsed to help remove some of the flavor and salt, and can be used fresh in salads or cooked into soups.
- Hijiki – very similar to arama, with a very high mineral and fiber content.
- Kelp – generally best used as a seasoning
- Kombu – high in sodium, this is a rich seaweed which is also high in protein, and if often used in soup stock
- Nori – has a slightly sweet flavor and is one of the most commonly used seaweeds, used as a wrap for sushi
- Wakame – a flat, thin seaweed that is often used in soups
Adding seaweed to the diet can help provide essential nutrients the body needs – experiment and have fun!
For those with hypertension or thyroid issues, discuss with your health care professional before making big changes in the diet.
Sources for this article include:
- Staying Healthy with Nutrition, Elson Haas