Written by Jackie Stevenson, DTR
Edible Seaweed: Spirulina, Nori, Kombu(Kelp), Wakame and many more. All things I had never considered food, or a very glamorous topic to write about. However, after some prompting and tedious research, there is something to be said about the goodness of seaweed. After reading several articles and comparing nutrition facts though, it’s obvious that there are some over inflated health claims out there. Here’s a summary of the truth.
Claim #1: Seaweed is packed with protein. Seaweed has high protein content as far as vegetables go, but it’s really not much to rave about. The amount varies depending on species (see table above). The same amount can be found in land loving plants like kale and spinach, so choosing seaweed exclusively for this reason adds no health benefit. Neither aqua loving or land loving plants act as a supplement for rich animal sources of protein. You will get more protein from eating sushi wrapped in seaweed than on its own.
Claim #2: Seaweed is packed with vitamins and minerals. True. Depending on species, a wide variety of vitamins and minerals are packed into a small 1-ounce serving. Again however, this isn’t the only group of plants that can claim the same thing. Kale, already labeled a superfood, has the same amount, if not more vitamins and minerals than most species of seaweed researched. Interestingly, many articles claimed that seaweed has more vitamins and minerals than kale, but gave no numbers to back it up. Upon looking at the nutrition facts, as I invite you to do, I found the opposite.
Claim #3: Seaweed contains high amounts of iodine. True. Seaweed, especially Kelp (Kombu) contains high amounts of iodine. Iodine is necessary for proper thyroid function, and plays a role in good mental health, and in prenatal bone and brain development. Most Americans have no issues with iodine deficiency ever since table salt was fortified with it beginning in the 1920’s. However, many people may cut out salt for health reasons but also cut out iodine in the process. Consuming high iodine foods, like seaweed, can help supplement what was lost.
Claim #4: Seaweed has antioxidant properties. True. A study from 2002 shows that seaweed does indeed contain antioxidants that help rid the body of free radicals. No studies were found on how seaweed stacks up to kale by comparison.
- Seaweed can be filled with heavy metals or toxic chemicals if the water it came from has been contaminated. I definitely would not try harvesting it from the Long Island Sound. The FDA regulates where seaweed comes from, but does not control seaweed used in supplements. Make sure to buy supplements from a trusted source. Choose a company that tests for radioactive isotopes and other toxins. Also be mindful of sources coming from Japan, as the nuclear accident that occurred after the earthquake in 2011 contaminated water in that area. Glutathione is a supplement that helps detox heavy metals, but is not a substitute for caution.
2. High potassium and sodium content. See in the table above that Wakame contains 244mg sodium in 1 ounce. That’s equal to the amount of sodium in 6 teaspoons of table salt. People with kidney problems need to be careful as excess of either can cause harm.
What to buy
Seaweed may soon be labeled the new superfood, but with a wide variety of options, what do you buy? Most grocery stores have fresh or dried varieties and, like we’ve said ad nauseum, isn’t that the best way to go? Kelp noodles are probably the most mainstream, but most are processed with sodium alginate, a byproduct extracted from kelp used as a thickener. Basically, seaweed is stripped down, processed and glued back together in noodle shape with its own compounds as thickener. That just seems unnecessary. However, or less adventurous palates, kelp noodles might be a good place to start. They are relatively bland and can be flavored to go with any dish. Once getting used to this, you can upgrade to hard core seaweed (if there is such a thing).
Other ways to get it: Kelp ‘chips’ (dried kelp strips), in soups, seaweed wraps (sushi), and supplements. Again, be careful when choosing a source if buying supplements, the FDA does not regulate seaweed in supplements, only food.