Seaweeds are classified according to their pigments, cell structure, and other traits. The groups of seaweed that are commonly consumed include:
Blue-green algae – spirulina and chlorella
Brown algae – kombu, arame, kelp, and wakame (the miso soup seaweed)
Green algae – sea lettuce or ulva, and sea grapes
Red algae – dulse, laver, and nori (the sushi seaweed)
Below are some of the numerous health benefits you can get from eating seaweed. See if this list can convince you to add more seaweed to your diet:
Seaweed is packed with nutrients – Vegetables are generally good sources of a variety of nutrients, but seaweeds are especially potent sources of vitamin B12, which is needed for healthy blood and nerve tissue. Seaweeds like arame and wakame are great sources of calcium, folate and magnesium, while purple laver is especially rich in B vitamins.
Seaweed is rich in iodine, but watch your intake – Seaweeds like kombu are a valuable source of iodine, which is needed for regulating metabolism and ensuring normal thyroid function. But before you stuff yourself with seaweed, it is important to note that too much iodine can cause thyroid problems. Those with existing thyroid disease (or those predisposed to it) should monitor their iodine intake. It is advisable to limit your consumption of seaweed to one to two tablespoons, two to three times per week.
Seaweed aids in weight loss – Seaweeds like sea kelp contain alginate, which can help suppress the digestion of fat in the gut. Research found that it is possible to prevent obesity through alginates that can block the fat digesting enzymes. Likewise, there is a pigment in kombu called fucoxanthin, which is a carotenoid that may boost production of a protein involved in fat metabolism, which can assist in weight loss.
Seaweed supports bone tissue – Seaweeds, especially the dark green ones, contain high levels of calcium. Moreover, seaweeds contain magnesium, another mineral that supports bone health.
Seaweed promotes heart health – Marine algae contain peptides that effectively lower blood pressure, which is a great way to combat heart disease.
Seaweed balances blood sugar – Adding seaweed to meals can reduce blood sugar spikes and help us feel fuller for longer. Research found that alginate in brown seaweed like arame can strengthen gut mucus and slow down the digestion of carbohydrates. Similarly, previous studies found that alginate can reduce cholesterol and glucose uptake in obese participants.
Detoxify with seaweed – Certain seaweeds like arame and hijiki have plenty of soluble fiber, which promotes detoxification. It cleanses our gut of toxins such as those found in pollutants like cigarette smoke.
Seaweed improves skin condition – Red seaweed is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation. This, in turn, reduces the risk of acne breakouts and other skin problems, leading to smoother, younger-looking skin. Winter is a great time to eat foods rich in omega-3s to help counter the skin-drying effects of central heating.
Add seaweed into your diet by sprinkling dried or fresh pieces into salads or soups; swapping potato chips for seaweed versions; adding shredded seaweed strips in stir-fries; and using seaweed flakes instead of salt for flavoring. You can also try making your own sushi by rolling vegetables and rice in dried nori sheets; or adding seaweed when cooking beans to make them more digestible.