Seaweeds

What are Sea Vegetables?

Sea vegetables, also known as seaweeds, have a long established tradition as a staple and healing food in many parts of the world.

Sea vegetables are wild ocean plants, or marine algae, enjoyed daily as a staple and healing foods in many coastal parts of the world. Small amounts of sea veggies add a rich flavor and enhance the nutritional value of most dishes. These exceptionally vital plants inhabit the fertile, energetic region where ocean meets land; from the very exposed high tide mark to the constantly immersed bottom just below low tide. They inhabit all the world’s oceans.

While there are many species of sea veggies, only a modest number have a history as human food. Sea vegetables are categorized by color group: red (6000 species), brown (2000 species), and green (1200 species.)

Why should I eat sea vegetables? How are they good for me?

Sea vegetables are rich in minerals and trace elements, including calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, iodine, manganese, chromium and more, at levels much greater than those found in land vegetables. Sea veggies also provide fiber, enzymes. Marine phytochemicals found only in sea vegetables have been shown to absorb and eliminate radioactive elements and heavy metal contaminants from our bodies. Other recent research demonstrates the inhibition.

The Nutritional Challenge

Due to the prevalent consumption of highly processed, adulterated food – intensely marketed – much of the population faces chronic nutritional stress, with rising public health effects and unsustainable costs. Nutrition professionals thus have the important and challenging task to provide healthy nutritious food to the institutional and challenging task to provide healthy nutritious food o the institutional client, whether in an educational or hospital setting. The food must be both within budget and acceptable to end user.

Sea vegetables, by virtue of their highly concentrated nutrition, can be used in small, affordable amounts, somewhere between a side–dish and herb; at first they are often “hidden”, unobtrusively (for example in soup stocks), until they become more acceptable and palatable to food service clients – as they have in niche markets, such as the natural foods consumer.

Whole Foods Vs Supplementation

Before we discuss sea vegetables’ specific health benefits as suggested by in vitro, in vivo, and epidemiological data, it is important to emphasize the synergistic effect of all the nutrients presented in this whole food.

Balance of nutritional elements is key here. It is noteworthy that sea vegetables provide considerable potassium, but even better that this chelated, bioavailable potassium is presented in a natural complex including calcium, magnesium, sodium, iron, and many other assimilable micronutrients.

A problem with supplementation (for those who can afford it) as a strategy for meeting micro-nutrient requirements is that too much of one mineral may have an adverse effect on another. For example, too much dietary iron will decrease the absorption of blood levels and bioavailability of manganese. Some people need to be particularly cautious about potassium supplements, including those with conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease that may increase potassium levels, or who are taking medications, such as ACE inhibitors or potassium-sparing diuretics, that limit the kidney’s ability to excrete potassium.

Whole foods, including sea vegetables, usually avoid these problems by providing a synergistic nutrient complex suitable for metabolic processes. Further, sea vegetables’ balanced macro and micro nutrients are accompanied by unique soluble and insoluble fibers with likely beneficial health effects (more detail follows). Indeed, the whole may be much, much more than the sum of its parts.

Mineral and Micronutrient Nutrition

Sea vegetables concentrate minerals and trace elements from the marine environment in levels that generally exceed those of land plants. They transform these into chelated, colloidal bioavailable substances, available in ideal proportions for human physiological needs.

  • An ideal potassium: sodium ratio
  • Anon-dairy source of calcium
  • An impressive amount of iron
  • A excellent bio-available source of iodine

Sea Vegetables and Iodine: The Superstar

The superstar element in sea vegetables is iodine, which occurs in much greater quantities than any land plant.

The normal, healthy thyroid gland has a protective mechanism, limiting the uptake of peripheral (unneeded) iodine. A very small % of adults are sensitive to iodine intake – thus the UL of 1100 mcg – and may develop iodine-induced goiters that are reversible (that is, eliminate the increased dietary iodine and the goiter goes away).

Because iodine can stimulate and increase metabolism, sea vegetables, with high amounts of iodine and other trace elements, are a traditional weight loss herbal remedy. Dietary sea vegetables could be part of a strategy to deal with the national obesity problem and the resultant huge public health costs.

Who can ingest seaweed?

The Elderly

Osteoporosis and related fractures are noted public health problems. A 1999 study “investigated associations between dietary components contributing to an alkaline environment (dietary potassium, magnesium, and a fruit and vegetables) and bone mineral density (BMD) in elderly subjects.” The study supported the hypothesis that alkaline-producing dietary components, specifically, potassium, magnesium, and fruit and vegetables, contribute to maintenance of BMD.

Sea vegetables, rich in these nutrients and generally alkalinizing, could easily be a part of the solution to this public health issue.

Vegetarians

Sea vegetables also hold a special appeal for vegetarians, providing iron and a non-dairy source of calcium without oxalic and phytic acids, compounds which interfere with calcium absorption.

Sea vegetables are especially strong in magnesium, potassium, ion, and chromium. Some species show significant amounts of manganese (note that manganese superoxide dismutase is the principal antioxidant enzyme in the mitochondria), and all the varieties contain a wide array of other trace elements.

Their rich mineral content may also benefit those people on unsupervised weight-loss diets, who may have a higher risk of mineral deficiency, including those sub-groups with higher needs for specific micronutrients, such as folate, iron or calcium, and those participating in diets that promote mineral flushing liquids.

Even a very healthy vegetarian diet can benefit by including sea vegetables.

Diabetes and Sea Vegetable Nutrition

Diabetes represents a major chronic disease where mineral nutrition plays an important part in its treatment. Numerous studies have reported an association between diabetes mellitus and alterations in the metabolism of several trace minerals, specifically chromium, magnesium, selenium, vanadium, and zinc, deficiencies of which are all linked to impaired insulin release, insulin resistance and glucose intolerance in experimental animals and humans with diabetes mellitus.

“Some of these minerals (zinc, chromium, magnesium) are excreted at higher than normal rates in patients with diabetes mellitus, often leading to excessive urinary mineral wasting. If such losses were found to translate to lowered availability of a mineral required for optimal insulin secretion and/or action, then it would be important to correct the altered mineral status. Solving this problem could include increasing dietary intake of the mineral or utilizing supplemental sources of the mineral.”

The five minerals mentioned above (and their co-factors) are critical for adequate blood sugar control.

Chromium

Chromium is a cofactor with insulin and is essential for normal glucose utilization, works synergistically with nicotinic acid and glutathione, and is required for normal fat and carbohydrate metabolism.

Manganese

Manganese is also associated with sugar and fat metabolism. Studies show that manganese-deficient rats exhibit reduced insulin activity, impaired glucose transport, lowered insulin-stimulated glucose oxidation and conversion to triglycerides in adipose cells. Deficiencies in manganese lead to lessened insulin sensitivity in fat tissue and a decreased ability to transport glucose through the blood and metabolize it for energy.

Magnesium

Magnesium is part of over the three hundred enzymes in the body, also helps maintain tissue sensitivity to insulin, helps control glucose metabolism, and participates in the regulation of insulin.

Strangely, although magnesium is available in many foods, Americans seem to be taking in far less than the recommended RDA (400 mg/day). Up to three-quarters of the population may consume less than DV levels (dieters may be even at more risk).

Vanadium

while chromium potentiates insulin, vanadium, in the form of vanadyl sulfate, mimics the activities of insulin and is biologically active even in the absence of insulin. It significantly increases liver glycogen and improves the uptake of glucose by muscle tissues, and inhibits the storage of excess calories from carbohydrates as fat by stabilizing the body’s production of insulin.

Zinc

Zinc is also essential to blood sugar regulation by influencing carbohydrate metabolism, increasing insulin response, and improving glucose tolerance. Zinc influencers basal metabolic rate, thyroid hormone activity, and improves taste sensitivity.

Small amounts of sea vegetables, unobtrusively included in the diet, can improve the magnesium and vanadium intake levels, and to a lesser but meaningful extent address manganese, chromium, and zinc deficiencies.

Minerals and Trace Elements

Sea vegetables provide all 92 minerals and trace elements required for your body’s physiological functions in quantities greatly exceeding those of land plants.

What about Sodium?

Sodium is a major mineral that is essential to human health and life. Along with potassium it provides the electrolytic “battery” that pumps nutrients in and out of cells. It also works with potassium to maintain the proper balance of fluids inside and outside each cell. The evolutionary assumption is that dietary sodium is not easily found in the environment; therefore our bodies are set up to retain scarce and valuable sodium. Sodium’s partner, potassium, was plentiful in the evolutionary diet (found in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruits) and so we do not retain potassium.

Modern humans run into trouble when our modern “civilized” diet reverses the natural availability of sodium and potassium – potassium is leached out of processed foods, and sodium is used extravagantly as a flavor enhancer and preservative. Topsy-turvy! Because this imbalance – and the lack of magnesium and calcium – is implicated in high blood pressure disease, and because unnatural, manufactured table salt is exclusively sodium chloride, sodium has gotten a bad rap!

Sea vegetables provide bio-available, essential sodium balanced with potassium (as well as with calcium and magnesium) at relatively low levels per serving.

What about Iodine?

Iodine is the main component of the hormone produced by the thyroid gland, which regulates our metabolism – thyroid hormone accelerates cellular reactions, increases oxygen consumption and basal metabolism, and influences growth and development, energy metabolism, differentiation and protein synthesis.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sea Vegetables

Sea Vegetables and Fats

Sea vegetables are good for people who are managing their weight. Not only are they very low in mostly unsaturated fat (1% to 2%) their iodine can stimulate the thyroid to increase metabolism and burn calories. Further, their fiber aids digestion.

Sea Vegetables and Cancer

It has been noted that many sea vegetables contain significant amounts of lignans, more than legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. These lignans become phytoestrogens in the body and bond preferentially to the estrogen receptor site. Thus they may have therapeutic and preventative value against cancers in which estrogen plays a part, such as breast cancer.

Sea Vegetables and Heart Disease

The sea vegetable lowers cholesterol and blood pressure is another way of taking care of the heart. High levels of potassium in the blood have been proven to help reduce the risk of high blood pressure. All seaweeds offer extraordinary levels of potassium and the sodium to potassium ratio in most is very similar to our natural plasma levels.

Sea Vegetables and Hypertension

Chloride may play an indirect positive role in hypertension by allowing renal retention of potassium. If this is the case, potassium sources that provide chloride may be more effective in raising blood plasma levels than fruits and vegetables. The high chloride content of seaweed may make them good sources of potassium of clients at risk of hypokalemia (too little potassium).”

Sea Vegetables and Radioactive/ Heavy Metal Detoxification

Sea vegetables’ effectiveness in treating radiation and heavy metal poisoning has been investigated worldwide.

Another very important function of sea vegetables in helping our bodies fight radiation poisoning takes place in the thyroid gland, where radioactive lodine-131 (for example, from nuclear power plant emissions) can accumulate.

If the thyroid is full with “healthy” iodine (Iodine-127), it will not absorb the radioactive contaminant. So it serves us well to keep our thyroids full of natural iodine. Sea vegetables are the best food source of iodine.

Sea Vegetables as an Anti-Viral

The brown algae, has been shown to interfere with every stage of viral attack: cell attachment, cell penetration, and viral intracellular penetration. Certain polysaccharides or glycoprotein from red seaweeds (dulse and laver are red seaweeds) have been successfully used in treating genital herpes and Herpes Zosters. In the seaweed literature that carrageenan derivatives have expressed strong antiviral activity.

Sea Vegetables and the Thyroid

Most seaweeds are a good source of Iodine-127, the biomolecular compound the thyroid gland needs for a proper functioning. Bladder wrack (Fucus species) provides di-iotyrosine (DIT) which is a precursor to forming the essential thyroid hormones Thyroxine (T4) and Thi-iodothyronine (T3). It is effective in treating both hypothyroidism and Graves hyperthyroidism.

 Another important reason to get plenty of sea vegetables’ Iodine-127into the thyroid is to prevent uptake of radioactive and toxic Iodine-131, which in modern times has a background presence in our food and air supply, and which is likely to be a major pollutant of a nuclear accident. By “loading” the thyroid with healthy Iodine, we can maintain our health even if fallout levels increase dramatically.

How do I store my sea veggies?

Sea veggies, dried vegetables rich in mineral salts, keep well unless subjected to a lot of moisture, heat and/or direct light. They have a shelf life at least 2 years at room temperature in tightly sealed container out of direct light. Recommended storage containers are out re-sealable bags or, for bulk amounts, glass jars with screw top lids. It is not a good idea to rinse sea veggies and store unless you’re going to use in 24-48 hours or refrigerate.

  Irish Moss
Fat g 0.29
Carbohydrates g 1.5
Fiber g 0.09
Calcium mg 75
Potassium mg 75
Magnesium mg 27
Phosphorus mg 4.5
Iron mg 4.5
Sodium mg 165
Iodine mg 1200
Manganese mg 0.3
Copper mg 0.014
Chromium mg 22.5
Zinc mg 0.083
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