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Hey there, how’s your thyroid?

Posted Mar 27 2012 4:30am

What, you mean you don’t ask people that question every day? Ok, probably not. But let me explain. A couple of weeks ago, I talked a bit about sea veggies in my list of pantry staples and some of you may be wondering what the heck to do with them and why I buy them in the first place. Since March is Nutrition Month, how about a little Sea Veggie 101 class today?

What are sea vegetables?

They’re just what you think – vegetables that grow in the ocean! My childhood self loathed going into the sea in case some big seaweed monster tried to wrap its slimy seaweedy arms around my leg and pull me into a deep dark black hole…. kind of like this…

(Source)

….so I never expected that I’d turn into a seaweed loving foodie. However, these seaweeds aren’t quite the same ones that you’d find washed up on the beach in Mexico or any other sunny tourist destination. They’re carefully grown off the coasts of Japan, harvested, and (in most cases) dried and shipped around the world.

Why are they so awesome?

Well for starters, they’re the most concentrated source of vitamins and minerals on the planet. Quite the claim to fame, isn’t it? But that’s not all. I think you’ll appreciate this more if we have a quick anatomy lesson. Quick! Point to your thyroid gland. Err…. not sure where it is? I’ll give you a hint.

Ok, a very big hint. Why should you care? Well, the thyroid is super important to our existence, and more specifically, metabolism. Our thyroids need iodine in order to make hormones and send them around our bodies, and if this isn’t happening properly, metabolism slows down, we don’t burn fat efficiently, we feel lazy, tired, and well, just gross. Clearly iodine deficiency sucks, but the good news is that consuming more iodine actually boosts metabolism and makes you more of a lean, mean, fat burning machine!

Ok, got the whole thyroid-metabolism-iodine thing. What else?

Well, in addition to iodine, sea veggies contain other minerals like calcium, sodium, zinc, iron, and potassium – all of which we cannot live without! Our bodies need them to create electrical impulses (hence the name ‘electrolyte’) for communication within our nervous system. Vitamins-wise, these slimy specimens pack vitamin A (as beta carotene), various B vitamins (especially important for vegans and raw foodists that tend to be vitamin B-12 deficient), C, and E.

All of them contain protein (depending on the type, almost 50%!), including one particular amino acid called tyrosine which is a precursor to dopamine. You’ve probably heard about dopamine before, but if you need a refresher, it’s the neurotransmitter that motivates you to get up and get going! And we could all use a little bit of that, especially just after turning the clocks forward an hour, right? Thought so!

Ok, I’m almost done. Get even more nerdy with me for a second, ok? As great as foods like whole grains and beans are, they contain an acid called phytic acid. This messes up our ability to fully absorb nutrients from them, but you can overcome this conundrum by soaking beans and grains for a long time prior to cooking. Another way to do this? Add about an inch of dried seaweed to the pot you’re cooking in. This will neutralize the phytic acid in the beans/grains, leaving more goodness for your body to soak up!

Finally, two varieties, wakame and kombu, contain alginic acid which helps to remove nasty heavy metals from our digestive tracts. Gotta love foods that clean out your pipes! ;)

What kinds of seaweed should we eat?

Oh I’m so glad you asked! There are several, and these are some of my faves:

Arame: This is a brown algae, although in dried form it looks like thin, shredded black strands.

Of all the sea veggies, it has a more mild taste so if you’re new to these weeds, I’d recommend starting with this one. It comes from Ise Bay in Japan and is cooked, sun dried, and packaged. Suggested uses: Soups and stir-fries.

Dulse: Also known as sea parsley, this is available in whole, dehydrated leaves or flakes. Like most other seaweeds, it’s low in sodium so it makes a good substitute for salt in some recipes. Suggested uses: Flakes can be sprinkled over salads, stir fries, pasta dishes, or anywhere else you might use salt (although it looks like pepper!)  Whole pieces can be toasted in the oven to make crispy snacks – kinda like kale chips. I have a bag of dulse flakes that I toss in with some of my Asian-inspired salads and the taste isn’t very noticeable.

Kombu/Kelp: Kombu, or kelp, grows off the coast of northern Japan in super chilly seas. It’s a brown algae and can grow up to 30 feet tall.

(Source: National Geographic)

See? My giant seaweed monster fear might not be so irrational after all. Just think about having some of that swallow you up and suck you into the ocean! ;) But seriously, this is awesome stuff.  Suggested uses: Kelp is used to make a traditional Japanese broth called dashi. You can sprinkle the granules on food, in salads (like my Detox Salad ), or just about any other dish. Oh, and don’t just stop at eating it. You know those seaweed wraps that you see on spa treatment menus? That’s usually kelp too. It heals from the outside-in!

Wakame: This is another brown algae, like kombu. It doesn’t need much cooking at all in order to become reconstituted, and although it looks very dark in colour when dried, it becomes bright green after soaking. Wakame looks like this in the ocean…

(Source)

…and like this when you buy it in stores:

This seaweed is a natural diuretic, so it helps to reduce bloating. Awesome, yes? It’s also one of the very few vegetarian/vegan friendly sources of vitamin B12. Suggested uses: Wakame is traditionally used in miso soup, as well as seaweed salads.

Nori: Even if you’ve never tried any of the seaweeds above before, you’ve probably at least seen this one! Nori is dried and pressed into thin pieces, and it’s what’s wrapping all the veggies and fish into your maki rolls.

It has a mild sweetness, is low in sodium, and like other seaweeds, is full of vitamins (A, B, C) and nutrients. Just 1 sheet has as as many omega-3 fatty acids as 2 avocadoes, so it’s fantastic for improving skin condition.  Suggested uses: Sushi!!

As you’ve probably noticed, most types of sea vegetables can be used in stir fries. This is how I consume them most often, and the following recipe can be tailored for whichever ones you have on hand. They might seem a little pricey (about $8-9 per bag), but you don’t need to use much in order to reap the lovely nutritional benefits. To start out, I’d recommend trying arame, simply because it’s quite mild and it’s my favourite!

Ginger Garlic Stirfry with Sea Veggies

by Angela

Prep Time: 10 mins

Cook Time: 15 mins

Keywords: stir-fry entree lunch dairy-free low-fat nut-free vegan vegetarian vegetables Asian Japanese

6020254

 

Ingredients (2 servings)

Instructions

In a large wok or frying pan, heat oil for 1 minute. Add minced ginger and garlic, stirring constantly for another minute until fragrant.

Toss in the chopped veggies, starting with the hardest ones first (cabbage and carrots). Stir them around the wok with the soy sauce or tamari until just tender crisp and colours are bright. This should only take about 3-4 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add the dissolved miso mixture and seaweed. The seaweed will become re-hydrated by the liquid and soften. Stir occasionally until all liquid disappears. Sprinkle the chili flakes, kelp and/or dulse granules over the vegetables, then remove the wok from the heat.

Divide the vegetables between 2 plates, garnish with spring onion, and enjoy! Serve over rice or noodles for a more filling meal.

Note: You can easily add your choice of protein to this dish – I recommend using chicken, shrimp, tempeh, or marinated tofu. The chicken should be stir-fried in the wok before adding the veggies, and if things start to get too dry, add a little water to prevent sticking. If shrimp are already cooked, they can be added in near the end as too much heat will cause them to shrink and get rubbery.

Nutrition per serving (without any added protein suggested above): 117 calories, 5g fat (1g saturated), 0mg cholesterol, 519mg sodium, 16g carbs, 4g fiber, 6g sugar, 4g protein.

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If you’re wondering “does the seaweed make the entire dish taste and smell like seaweed?”, the answer is no. I actually really love the taste of wakame and arame, and since they’re both a little salty, you probably won’t need to use as much soy sauce as you would normally. The miso (fermented soy beans) also adds a saltiness to the dish, and it’s got the added nutritional benefit of being a fermented food.

I don’t think many large grocery stores sell the Eden Foods seaweeds that I’ve been buying, but I usually find mine at local health food stores or Whole Foods. (If you are local, I know that Fiddleheads and Healthy Foods & More definitely have them.) As for the flakes (kelp and dulse), you can buy them in bulk at these stores, and they’re produced by a company called Frontier Co-Op . Both make all sorts of other healthy foods AND allow for online shopping, so check em out!

Ok, enough from me! Now it’s your turn:

  • Have you tried any of these sea vegetables before?
  • If yes, of all the seaweeds you have tried, which ones are your favourite?
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