Seaweed: The other seafood
We all have heard of the benefits of eating fish and taking fish oil capsules. It’s high
source of omega 3 fats, and DHA are good for our brain health, for problems such as
anxiety and depression, and help in controlling inflammation by controlling harmful
eicosanoids and cytokines. Fish oil can also help ADHD, reduce triglycerides, help
blood pressure and eye health. Seaweed unlike land plants has omega 3 fats and DHA
just like fish. They also contain a broad amino acid profile, antioxidants, are a good source of the mineral iodine. Iodine and the amino acid tyrosine are two components to help form thyroid hormone. Although seaweed also contains carbohydrates such as carrageenan, fucan, and galactose which are difficult for our bodies to digest, these carbohydrates are food for beneficial bacteria in our digestive system. Additionally, Asian countries who have a long history of regular consumption of seaweed have a lower rate of certain cancers such as breast cancer.
Fucoidan, Fucoxanthin, and Phlorotannins
It is believed one of the reasons for lowered risk of cancer is different species of brown seaweed such as kelp, wakame and bladderwrack, contain Fucoidan which is a sulfated polysaccharide. Research is ongoing, but a few studies show that Fucoidan can induce cell apoptosis (removal of old cells and cell parts), to modulate the immune
system, and to inhibit the formation of new vessels where tumor cells would receive
oxygen and nutrients. It also appears to activate sirtuin 6 and other sirtuins. Sirtuins
have been looked as antiaging compounds by slowing oxidative stress and diabetes. Fucoxanthin, a carotenoid like what is found in carrots and other vegetables appears to be a promising non-stimulatory fat loss agent that usually sees results in 5-16 weeks. It also reduces blood pressure. Phlorotannins are like tannins found in other plants and they have antimicrobial properties.
In addition to brown seaweeds there are also green and red algae varieties. All seaweeds are algae but not all algae are seaweeds. For instance, blue green algae or spirulina and chlorella (which have their own health benefits) are not seaweeds but are cyanobacteria that exist in the kingdom Monera (bacteria). Seaweeds exist in the kingdom Protist. The protist kingdom is unusual. They are not animals, they are not fungi, and not plants! Interestingly, and confusingly, although seaweed gave rise to the plant kingdom by leaving the ocean leading to all plant life on earth including trees isn’t a plant. But enough about evolution, how do we make use of seaweed to gain health benefits?
Here is a chart of the most common seaweeds you are likely to want to incorporate into your diet and what each seaweed could potentially offer in the way of health benefits.
Kelp, Kombu, Rockweed, Sea lettuce
There are 30 different varieties of kelp. Sea lettuce also comes in green and red varieties too. All seaweeds are high in iodine but none more so than Kombu. Brown seaweed is high in iron, magnesium, riboflavin, folic acid, B12, and fiber. Kelp can be bought in a granulated form or as a noodle that needs no cooking. Simply soaking in water is all that is necessary. Kombu is usually added to a pot of soup or a pot of beans for flavor and to reduce gas.
Irish Moss, Dulse, Nori
There are about 6000 species of red seaweed are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which help the immune system. They promote healthy circulation, regulate blood sugar levels and lower bad cholesterol levels. They are rich in calcium and magnesium and good for bone health. Irish moss is often added as a thickener to ice cream, or smoothies because of its high carrageenan content, however some people with digestive problems don’t tolerate carrageenan well. Dulse can be added to salads, soups, or seasoned with a smoky spice and sautéed to give it a taste of bacon. Nori is usually found while eating sushi rolls. Powdered it is called Aonori and can be used as a condiment for flavoring noodles or pancakes.
Wakame, Sea lettuce, hollow green weed,
There are 7000 species and the first two are the most common they are most predominant in fresh water, high in Vitamins A, C, E, K, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Riboflavin, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Copper and Manganese. Wakame is usually found in miso soups at your local Japanese restaurant. It could also be added to salads, or to brown rice.
*All seaweeds have a high amount of iodine.
An important word of caution:
Seaweeds should not be consumed in large quantities for this reason. A little
seaweed goes a long way in terms of flavor and nutritional punch. If you are concerned about the iodine content, it appears that soaking and boiling seaweed and discarding the water eliminates most of the iodine into the water or air as it boils.
There are many websites with recipes to add seaweed into your diet. Here are two:
Will Seaweed save the planet?
Although seaweed is grown on a small scale for use in food, medicines, and beauty products, scientists are looking at cultivating large industrial sized seaweed farms and using the fast-growing seaweed as a way of capturing carbon in the atmosphere and oceans. Some of this seaweed would be cut and dropped to the ocean floor to sequester the carbon for hundreds or thousands of years and some of the seaweed could be used be sold off as livestock feed which research is showing would drastically reduce methane emissions from burping cows and other grazing livestock. It could be used as an agricultural soil supplement replacing petroleum-based fertilizers or processed into biofuels that could be used to power cars or planes. The seaweed could also provide habitat for marine life. Halley Froehlich a marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara is the lead author of a study in Current Biology that quantifies the global capacity of large-scale seaweed farming to offset land carbon emissions and map areas of the ocean suitable for macroalgae cultivation. She calculates that farming seaweed in 3.8 percent of the federal waters off the California coast could entirely neutralize the state’s 50-billion- dollar agricultural industry. According to scientist and head of the Climate Council, Tim Flannery we put about 50 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Even if we were to plant enough trees on a land mass the size of the United States, it would only remove about 5 gigatons or just 10 percent of the annual amount of carbon dioxide released. Clearly, just planting trees isn’t enough and using the ocean to capture carbon with seaweed is an idea that is worthy of greater efforts for our planet and our personal health.