Seaweed for a Healthy Diet
Approximately 6 percent of the world’s seaweeds come from the seas of Britain, with over six hundred different types of native species. From its tiniest microalgal form, phytoplankton, to the dense forests of kelp, algae is a nutritious food source for many species and serves as a home for many marine animals, like crabs, starfish, and seals.
With various celebrities, such as Christiano Ronaldo, reporting their success since introducing seaweed into their diets, it is no wonder it has become a Reddit meme for weight loss and a healthy diet. With an increased interest in using local raw products, seaweed together with some other forgotten foodstuffs is seeing a revival.
So, why is seaweed good for you?
Nearly all types of seaweed found along British shores are edible. Seaweed is a nutrient-dense vegetable that can be a good source of vitamins and minerals such as iodine, calcium, and iron. It also contains antioxidants and has been linked to various health benefits, including improved gut health and lower risk of certain chronic diseases.
Kelp is particularly popular, boasting over 60 minerals and vitamins, improving digestion, heart health, blood pressure regulation, weight management, immune system support, and detoxification. A one-ounce serving of dried kelp contains 5 grams of protein, 178mg of potassium and 4-134mg of omega 3’s!
Who should eat seaweed?
Suitable for vegetarians, raw vegans and perfect for those on a keto diet, seaweed will benefit any diet, detox or daily eating habits. Containing a few calories, filling fibre, and fucoxanthin, which contributes to increased metabolism, a small amount of seaweed is also a tasty snack that won’t break a fast.
Seaweed is also great to eat when you’re sick. Some studies have suggested that compounds in seaweed may lower the viral load and potentially reduce the duration of a cold, reducing the risk of a secondary infection. Many seaweeds can also help with diarrhoea, constipation, hyperthyroidism and even with the treatment of cancer.
Although most seaweeds that are eaten are generally safe from dangerous allergies, those who are sensitive to crustaceans should be careful when consuming seaweeds like dried nori, as there is a chance for shellfish allergens to be present in the harvesting or preparation process.
Iodine and sodium are both abundant in seaweed. Those who have heart disease or hypertension, or women who are breastfeeding should limit their intake as it contains 13.5% of the recommended daily sodium allowance and 6,720% of the iodine allowance!
Which types of seaweed are edible, and how is it prepared?
The most familiar to Westerners is probably nori, a mild-tasting seaweed pressed into flat sheets, roasted and used to roll sushi. Kelps Wakame and Kombu are popular macrobiotics in Japan, most commonly served with noodles or in soups where long cooking helps temper their intense flavour, making them tender and more digestible. One sea vegetable that you have probably eaten without realizing is agar, a red marine algae that contains a complex starch widely used as a gelling agent in yoghurt, jam or candy.
In Europe, during the Roman Empire, they mainly used sea vegetables as an ingredient for medicine. In the UK, seaweed harvesting became popular in 1200 AD, mainly in Scotland and Ireland. For example, Palmaira Palmata, a type of red algae given various names such as duileasc, dillisk, Creathnach and dulse. Along with the brown seaweed sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima), dulse is one of the main seaweeds currently in the limelight of the sea vegetable renaissance.
While all seaweed species are edible in Britain, good ones to look out for are dulse, kelp, carragheen, laver and sea lettuce. In Europe, seven out of fourteen kelp species can be found in the UK, our most common kelp species is oarweed, otherwise known as tangleweed or sea ribbon.
If you’re still not so keen on eating seaweed, endless products are reaching the shelves of health shops. Extracts, tablets, powder and supplements all with high concentrations of the incredible benefits seaweed provides.
As the world prepares to transform our agricultural industries, we should all get used to seeing more seaweed on the menu, whether it’s dulse served with potatoes and a lob of butter at a Nordic restaurant or a Japanese seaweed salad recipe your housemate cooks for you after a trip to forage kelp at the local beach!