The benefits of eating vegetables are undeniable, pretty much everyone agrees on this. I like to challenge myself to try a new vegetable every time I go to a grocery store or farmers market, because there is still so much stuff out there I haven't tried. Mostly I either don't know how to prepare them, or I am not able to get my hands on a wide variety because they aren't available where I live.. I prefer sticking to local produce because I want to support my local farmers and I can actually track where the food is coming from. But honestly, eating only local fruits and vegetables can get a bit boring in the long run, and you can also miss some amazing, nutrient-dense dishes if you avoid all exotic and imported produce. I cant imagine never eating bananas or coconuts, just because they are not grown in my country or even on my continent.
One of these vegetables you definitely don't want to miss out on is seaweed. You probably never thought about sea plants as a group of vegetables, did you? But just like fish and other seafood, seaweed is packed with nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and many health benefits! Seaweed is particularly rich in calcium (1400 mg in 100g in hijiki seaweed, compared to only 113g in 100g of whole milk), Iodine, Iron, and Omega 3 fatty acids. It also contains a lot of protein, but of course, with the amount of seaweed we are likely to consume, we cant rely on it as a substitute for a regular protein source like grass-fed meat or eggs. But it is a nice bonus if you sprinkle some seaweed flakes over your hearty salad.
There are many different types of sea vegetables, so lets take a look at some most common ones and some tips on how to incorporate them into your diet. Seaweed is botanically divided in three main groups red, green, and brown, even though the color of the plant itself doesn't visually match the name of the category. Fortunately the actual color is not as important as other properties of these sea vegetables.
Dulse is a red seaweed that can be eaten right away; no need to soak or cook this vegetable. It has a chewy, salty taste and it makes a great on-the-go snack. You can even find dulse in the form of flakes in a shaker and use it to season salads or just like you would any spice during cooking. It is very rich in iron and has high amounts of calcium and magnesium.
Kombu is also very chewy, but it doesn't taste very pleasant by itself. You can put it in the pot while cooking soup it is very often used in Japanese soups and stocks it adds flavor and minerals to the meal. You can also use it to prepare a tea called kombucha (this is different from the fermented fizzy beverage that is also called kombucha). Packed with more than 70 trace minerals, this brown algae is one of the best anti-aging agents for the body.
If you ever had sushi, you probably ate nori with it. Nori is a red seaweed (even though it is green in color) that is dried and pressed into thin sheets you then wrap your rice and fish (or avocado and cucumber) in. You can also buy it as a pre-seasoned snack, just watch the ingredients list, as it may contain some vegetable oil. It is very easy to make nori chips at home with just some olive oil and salt. What I love to do is wrap scrambled eggs with some smoked salmon in a nori sheet, just like I would do with rice, to make a breakfast sushi roll. Nori is one of the milder seaweeds, it does not contain as many nutrients as other kinds, but it still does have a significant amount of trace minerals.
This green algae is often called sea salad, it is very popular in Japan and Korea, where you can get it as a side dish, tossed with sesame oil and some spices or as a part of sea vegetable soup like miso. It has a bright green color, chewy consistency, and is related to kombu, with a similar nutrient profile. In Asia they believe Wakame has metabolic properties that help people with weight management.
Kelp is probably the most popular brown seaweed. It grows in the more mineral rich parts of the ocean, so it is jam-packed with vitamins and minerals, it has high levels of iodine, which makes it a perfect tool for treating thyroid, pancreas, and digestive system issues. Kelp is usually sold dried, soaking makes it soft and chewy; you can then eat it on its own or add into salads or soups. Kelp is also very often added to salt to naturally raise its iodine levels. If you are trying to limit your iodine intake, avoid this algae and try different ones instead. Using kelp as an iodine supplement is safer than other supplements, as it is not that easy to eat too much of it, while you can easily overdo it with iodine pills or drops if you are not careful.
Irish Sea Moss or Ogonori is also known as carrageenan moss, as carrageenan makes up more than 50% of its composition. When soaked, it turns into a jello-like substance, and its high collagen content makes it a great gelatin substitute for Vegans and Vegetarians. In some countries people just boil Irish Moss until it turns into a jello-like consistency and then sprinkle it with cinnamon, pour some rum over it, and eat it as a treat. In Ireland it is used to make a pudding-like dessert similar to tapioca pudding. This sea plant is very rich in iodine, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and other minerals, so it makes extremely nutritious seaweed pudding! Sweeten it with a little bit of raw honey and you've got yourself a guilt-free super healthy dessert.
Agar is another potent source of collagen, just like Irish Moss, making it a perfect Vegan friendly collagen source. Adding Agar (or Irish Moss) into soup while cooking will work as a substitute for bone broth with similar benefits. Agar can be used to make gravy as well as sweet jello desserts. It should be consumed with care, as it has a mild laxative property. Thanks to high levels of collagen, it is an excellent food for skin and tissue health.
This brown seaweed is slightly sweet in taste and is one of the best sea vegetables to start with if you are new to this food family. You can buy it in the form of dry noodle-like pieces that you can just soak in water and it will expand and get soft and chewy, kind of like chia seeds would do. You can eat it plain or mix into a salad for a mineral rich meal. It is rich in iodine: one tablespoon of dried Arame contains 0.7mg of it. Often used in Japan, China, and Korea, this seaweed should be a staple in your kitchen if you want an easy, quick mineral fix without the need for long cooking times or special seasoning.
There is much more to seaweed, and many more kinds are available on the market! Those mentioned above are the most common and easiest to use. But if you feel adventurous and want to try more, look for Alaria Esculenta, Hijiki, Laminaria Japonica, or Sea Lettuce. Most of them are usually not very fun to eat dry, but they just need a few minutes in water (or soup) to get soft and palatable. Any sea vegetable can be used to sprinkle over salad or a smoothie bowl for an instant mineral boost, and if you avoid animal products, you also have two great collagen sources in the algae family. Doesnt matter if you choose chewing on dry seaweed, adding them to salads, or making a mineral rich seaweed soup, adding sea vegetables in any way or form will boost health in many different ways.
It is not just minerals that make seaweed healthy and potent, even though they are very important in resolving mineral deficiencies and detoxifying the body of heavy metals, and balancing thyroid functions. They also contain DHA, and Omega-3 fatty acid that is not found in many plant based food sources, which can help lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol. Sea vegetables also contain fucoxanthin, a type of carotenoid that helps to reduce liver fat and is involved in lowering the risk of heart disease. Other carotenoids in seaweed help reduce inflammation in the body. Fucoidans are polysaccharides present in seaweed and they have been shown to help kill cells in certain types of cancers and they also have antiviral properties. How cool is that?!
WHERE TO FIND SEAWEED?
We are not going to ask you to go and harvest your own seaweed during your family vacation at the beach, don't worry. Most health food stores carry at least a few kinds of dried seaweed. Eden Foods is a reliable brand that is sold on Amazon these dulse flakes, kombu strips or nori sheets are awesome with no hidden ingredients, ready to eat or easy to prepare. You can try different sea vegetables until your find your favorite and then make a yummy salad or soup.
If you are looking for a pre-made snack option, SeaSnax is the only brand I would recommend, they don't use vegetable oils or any other scary ingredients, and they are Vegan friendly and gluten free.
If eating sea vegetables is simply not your thing, but you still want the benefits, we have you covered! Oceans Alive is an extremely potent natural supplement that is made with nutrient rich fresh harvested plankton, You can add a few drops or a full dropper to your water to increase your energy and performance, add more minerals to your diet, and improve your overall health. I promise, it does not taste like pond water. Sea Plant Minerals are capsules that contain pure organic kombu and they are perfect for keeping your thyroid in shape. Thyrodine is another source of iodine you can use daily; start with a few drops in a glass of water and increase your dose based on your individual needs. And last, but not least, Advancium is the strongest, most energizing formula you can find! It is jam-packed with minerals, vitamins, flavonoids, enzymes, and other trace elements making it the ultimate energy and health boost. Blend it with water or your favorite juice or smoothie to make a wonderful cocktail for improving your immune functions, mental performance, and memory.
If you thought of seaweed and could only imagine green slimy strips you could never put in your mouth, I hope you are ready to change your mind. Sea vegetables are not as pretty as romanesco, but they will make it up to you with nutrient density. Get yourself a pack or two and start experimenting. And who knows, maybe seaweed will become your new kitchen staple! Nature has so much to offer, you just learned about a few hidden treasures in the ocean!