by Susan Smith Jones, PhD
Sea vegetables have been commonly eaten in Asian cultures for centuries. But edible seaweed has only recently gained a foothold in America and has steadily increased in popularity since the 1980s—no doubt in large part due to the rise in popularity of sushi restaurants. Ounce for ounce, sea vegetables are a valuable treatment for Candida albicans as well as other immune system-compromising diseases such as chronic fatigue, HIV infection, arthritis, and allergies. My four favorite sea vegetables (and the ones that I use most often in my diet, in my healthful food cooking classes, and in my private culinary instruction) are dulse, kelp, wakame, and nori.
Nori (Porphyra tenera) is my favorite sea vegetable. It has the highest protein content of all the seaweeds—higher than soybeans, milk, meat, fish, or poultry—and is the most easily digested. It is very high in vitamin A (more than carrots), B (B1 and niacin), C, and D, and the minerals calcium, iodine, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and many trace elements. It is also low in calories (only 10 per sheet), high in fiber, and contains an enzyme that helps break down cholesterol deposits. Some of the healing properties of nori include: helping to treat painful urination, goiter, edema, high blood pressure, cough with green or yellow mucus, fatty cysts under the skin, and warts. It also aids in digestion, especially with fried foods, and serves as a diuretic. Certainly, it is an all-around terrific health food.
Also called laver when it is cultivated, Nori is a seaweed that has a sweeter flavor than others. You’re probably familiar with the sheets of nori used to wrap and hold rice, vegetables, and raw or cooked fish in small rolls (sushi) that can be eaten with the hands. I put my salad ingredients in nori sheets and wrap them up like a burrito. You can cut out smaller nori squares (about four inch squares or use the Sea’s Gift Seaweed Snacks sheets I recommend below) and put a dollop of hummus or other spreads in the center along with some julienned vegetables (such as carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers) and sprouts, and eat three or four of these for a meal or snack. Nori also can be crumbled, chopped, broken, or cut with scissors and added to soups, salads, dressings, spreads, stews, or desserts. It’s even a frequent ingredient in my vegetable smoothies.
My favorite nori snack is called Sea’s Gift Seaweed Snacks. It’s a delicious, nutritious snack for the entire family. With fewer than 27 calories per serving, each pack offers an entire DV (Daily Value) of iodine, a mineral, which is sorely deficient in most diets in the United States according to many statistics. Sea’s Gift makes a great, quick snack, and is enjoyed by children of all ages and perfect for lunch boxes. It can be used in a variety of recipes. I purchase the packs by the case and always take them with me when I travel.
Dulse (Palmaria palmata) is an especially rich source of potassium, iron, iodine, vitamin B6, riboflavin, and dietary fiber. It provides a complete array of minerals, trace elements, enzymes, and phytochemicals, as well as some high-quality vegetable protein. My favorite way to incorporate dulse into my eating program is in granule form, which I buy at my local health food store. Whether you buy it loose or packaged, by itself or mixed with garlic and other herbs, it’s a great way to spice up your diet and detoxify at the same time. It’s delicious sprinkled over spinach, popcorn, brown rice, and with walnuts. I also use it in soups, salads, dressings, dips, sauces, tabouli, potatoes, beans, and more. It is a supremely balanced nutrient with 300 times more iodine and 50 times more iron than wheat. Research indicates it may fight the herpes virus. It has purifying and tonic effects on the body, yet its natural, balanced salts nourish as a mineral—amazingly, without inducing thirst.
Kelp (Laminaria) is a stellar, nutrient-dense sea vegetable that is especially rich in potassium, iron, iodine, riboflavin, dietary fiber, and vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. It also contains a natural substance that enhances flavor, tenderizes and contains sodium alginate (algin), an element that helps remove radioactive particles and heavy metals from the body. Algin, carrageenan, and agar are kelp gels that rejuvenate gastrointestinal health and aid digestion. Kelp works as a blood purifier, relieves the stiffness of arthritis, and promotes adrenal, pituitary, and thyroid health. Its natural iodine can normalize thyroid-related disorders such as abnormal weight gain and lymph system congestion. As a demulcent, it soothes and protects mucous membranes and even may help eliminate herpes outbreaks. The next time you want a healthful seasoning, instead of salt, reach for kelp granules. I enjoy them plain and mixed with cayenne or garlic (also available in health-food stores).
Wakame(Undaria pinnatifida), in the culinary world, is known for its flavorful contribution to soups, simmered dishes, and salads. Green seaweeds such as wakame are considered rich sources of protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamin C. Wakame’s healthful profile has piqued the interest of the scientific community, with the sea vegetable being featured in several recent studies.
Animal research conducted at Mukogawa Women’s University in Japan and published in Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology & Physiology in 2003 indicated that in spite of their high-salt diet, rats fed wakame had a higher resistance to stroke and an improved survival rate after stroke than animals in a control group. Researchers noted a particular compound found in wakame—a carotenoid called fucoxanthin, which probably contributed to this effect. When they conducted culture tests with fucoxanthin, the compound proved to be protective for brain cells.
Eating wakame may also improve heart health, according to researchers at the National Institute of Fisheries Science in Yokohama, Japan, who noted wakame prevented high blood pressure in animals in their 1999 report in The Journal of Nutrition. Another study, which was published in a 2002 issue of the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism by researchers at Tohoku University in Japan, showed an extract from wakame reduced systolic blood pressure and helped maintain the reduction over the seven-week study.
Mekabu, part of the wakame plant, has also been studied for its health benefits. The ingredient, which has a strong flavor that complements soups, appears to have an anti-cancer effect, according to research published in a 2003 issue of In Vivo by researchers at Japan’s Kitasato University. Their investigation showed mice given mekabu had longer survival rates in the face of cancer, and their immune systems had stronger reactions to the presence of disease. Research out of the Nagoya University School of Medicine and printed in the Japanese Journal of Cancer Research in 2001 showed mekabu specifically suppressed mammary tumors in an animal model of breast cancer, and in vitro, the compound effectively suppressed three strains of human breast cancer cells.
If you want to take advantage of the healthful—and tasty—benefits of wakame, the only necessity is a nearby specialty food store. Most edible seaweeds can be obtained year-round from gourmet shops, Asian markets, and natural food stores. Many Asian or other cookbooks offer ideas for using sea vegetables in all kinds of dishes. One of the ways I reap the benefits of wakame is to simply soak it in purified water and either drink the water or blend it with other veggies for a wonderful, salubrious smoothie. With seaweeds earning the distinction of “the oldest plants on Earth,” it’s no wonder these nutritious algae have come to be featured in dishes across the culinary globe.
Adding sea vegetables into your diet will make a world of difference to your health and well-being. Check out Sea’s Gift Snacks on my website for an easy and quick way to enrich your diet and get your daily supply of iodine. You can’t go wrong with these treasures of the sea.
Susan Smith Jones, PhD, is the author of over 26 books, including the latest bestsellers, “The Joy Factor: 10 Sacred Practices for Radiant Health”; “The Healing Power of Nature Foods”; “Health Bliss”; “Vegetable Soup/The Fruit Bowl”; “Walking on Air”; and “Recipes for Health Bliss”. For 30 years she taught fitness and healthy living at UCLA, and now travels throughout the United States and internationally as a motivational speaker and guest on radio and TV talk shows. For more information on Jones and her work, visit SusanSmithJones.com. Vegetable Soup/The Fruit Bowl, Walking on Air, and Recipes for Health Bliss. For 30 years she taught fitness and healthy living at UCLA and now travels throughout the United States and internationally as a motivational speaker and guest on radio and TV talk shows. For more information on Susan and her work, visit: www.SusanSmithJones.com