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Like Grandma Said: Don’t Forget To Eat Your (Sea) Vegetables

Posted Jun 22 2009 11:00am

under-the-sea

Lots of us on the ‘net talk about eating real foods, but sea vegetables are more often than not left hanging. I bet most people have only experienced sea vegetables as part of their sushi and then not as the main star, but only as the wrapper. And that’s very unfortunate because these little creatures (algae exists somewhere between the plant world and the animal world) contain an unbelievable amount of nutrition with no hit to your waistline.

Seriously, they are pretty much carb-free, fat-free, and calorie-free with lots of fiber. If you count anything in your diet ( which I hope you don’t actually have to do ), sea vegetables won’t throw it off.

When you think of sea vegetables, you probably think of Asian cuisine. But virtually every culture that lives near water has been using sea vegetables for thousands of years. It’s definitely a primal dietary addition.

The Types Of Sea Vegetables

Finding sea vegetables in a normal grocery store is likely impossible, though you might check the health foods section. But I’ve noticed several different types of sea vegetables at my local Whole Foods. These marketing terms are mainly broad categories, rather than specific species.

  • Alaria - A black or dark green seaweed
  • Agar-agar - Seaweed-derived gelatin
  • Arame - Dark black and mild in flavor
  • Dulse - A cold-water red algae common in Iceland
  • Kelp - Large brown seaweeds
  • Kombu - A specific class of edible kelp
  • Nori - Dried sheets of red algae
  • Sea Lettuce - Leafy and dark green
  • Wakame - A bit stronger flavor and tougher texture than most

As you can see, there are quite a few options to get your sea vegetable fix, with each having its own particular uses. But first…

broccoli-arame-salad

Why Should You Be Eating Sea Vegetables

Since we’re dealing with potentially thousands of different species, it’s impossible to lay out the different nutrient profiles of each. So I’m just going to go from a high level view of “sea vegetables”. Suffice it to say that all are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. In fact, they are one of the richest sources of several vitamins and minerals and one of the most complete nutritional sources in the food world.

  • Iodine - Very important for proper thyroid function and one mineral that many of us healthy folk that don’t use iodized salt don’t get enough of.
  • Vitamin K1 - Sea vegetables are a pretty good source of this vitamin. While vitamin K 2 is the more important form, both forms of the vitamin are necessary.
  • Vitamin B12 - The only known non-animal source of vitamin B 12.
  • Magnesium - Important for bone density and to regulate muscular relaxation.
  • Fucans - These substances are sulfated polysaccharides, a class of compounds that have been shown to inhibit tumor metastatis (spreading to other parts of the body) and to be potent antivirals.
  • Alginic acid - This gum severely limits the body from absorbing radioactive strontium (by 50-80%). Radioactive strontium can lead to bone diseases, including bone cancer.
  • Near perfect mineral match to human blood - Seaweed contains every mineral that is found in the human body, in nearly perfect proportions to human blood.

How To Use Sea Vegetables

With so many varieties of sea vegetables to choose from, there are naturally any number of ways to use them. Here are a few that I’ve used or read about.

  • Soup/stew - Add kombu or alaria near the end of cooking to increase the mineral content of the soup. A couple strips chopped is all that’s needed as it grows several times it’s size when hydrated. They do not need to be soaked.
  • Salad - Add soaked and chopped wakame (10-15 minutes) to a green salad. Sea lettuce (wherever you get that) can be used in place of or in addition to regular leafy greens.
  • Stir Fry - Arame works really well to add to your stir fries, especially when cooked up with something brightly colored to contrast its blackness. Carrots, green beans, red peppers…all offer a visually appealing contrast. Soak for about five minutes, then add to your dish.
  • Beans - For the bean eaters, kombu helps them cook faster and improves digestibility.
  • Nori Rolls - Toast a sheet of nori over a hot burner. Cut into 3″ strips, then add your favorite meat and vegetables (don’t go overboard) and roll into a cone shape for easy transportability. If you eat rice, you can wrap nori around steamed rice balls.
  • Dulse - Apparently this is a great, “salty” snack right out of the bag.

And of course don’t forget that you can always use the soaking water in your cooking to retain the few minerals that soak out and to add more flavor. In my experience, sea vegetables aren’t going to ruin a dish with their taste, since what I’ve had has all been pretty mild.

wakame

The Dangers Of Sea Vegetables

As with pretty much everything that you put in your mouth, there are benefits and drawbacks. As we saw above, the benefits of sea vegetables are their incredible nutrient profile, especially their mineral content. Well, that’s also the drawback because they have the ability to absorb all kinds of heavy metals from the ocean, particularly:

  • Arsenic - Hijiki is another type of sea vegetable, which is not recommended to be consumed due to a high content of arsenic. This has not been shown to be a major problem with other types of sea vegetables.
  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Cadmium

These dangers can be reduced or eliminated by purchasing “certified organic sea vegetables”. Most reputable companies have test results that are far below accepted safe standards. Fortunately however, there are no known allergies to sea vegetables, so pretty much everyone is safe to incorporate them into the diet.

Do you use sea vegetables and, if so, how?

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