Ocean Vegetables—An Untapped Resource for Health, Longevity and Healing
Ocean vegetables provide ten to twenty times the minerals of land-based plant foods—the complete panoply of 56-64 essential minerals and trace minerals required by the body for its many important functions—all in chelated, colloidal forms that are easy for the body to utilize, and in the ratios found in our blood.1 This is significant because while the body requires a host of minerals and trace minerals to support the vast and complex electrical and neurological functions that are the basis of life, the body is not able to make minerals to supply its needs. For minerals the body must rely on food and other outside sources—something that has become more challenging as decades of over-farming have depleted our soil and robbed land-based plant foods of much of their potential nutrition.
While high in protein and fiber and low in fat, seaweeds are a good source of vitamins A, B, C, and E. They are also loaded with minerals, particularly calcium (bones, teeth; heart and muscle regulation); iodine (thyroid function, metabolism, weight loss, and to prevent goiter), phosphorus (bones, teeth, cellular repair; heart; nervous system) , magnesium (bones, teeth; heart, arteries; energy production), sodium (fluid balance; muscle regulation) , iron (blood; stress; immunity), chromium (weight loss, blood sugar regulation), selenium (tissue elasticity), zinc (digestion and metabolism), potassium (high blood pressure and stroke),2 and fluorine (immunity; strong bones and teeth).
Sea vegetables are also a rich source of alginic acid, a substance that binds toxins and removes heavy metals and radioactive isotopes from the digestive tract, as well as strontium 90 from the bones.3 Their natural antibiotic properties can act against penicillin-resistant bacteria.4 Ocean vegetables are also a good source of carrageenan, a stabilizer and emulsifier added to foods, which is used in traditional medicine for respiratory and digestive issues. Because sea vegetables, unlike grains and beans, contain all the essential amino acids, they are a good addition to grains and beans to build plant foods into complete-protein meals. Brown seaweeds like kelp, kombu, and wakame contain natural glutamic acid (its synthetic analog is MSG) that naturally enhances the flavor of foods, tenderizes proteins in beans, and improves their digestibility.5
Health Benefits. With sea vegetables’ rich array of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, the list of health benefits associated with them is as impressive as it is extensive. In general, sea vegetables are thought to increase longevity; foster glowing skin and thick, shiny hair; and, support the cardiovascular, endocrine, digestive, and nervous systems.6 More specifically, sea vegetables can be used to treat goiter, kidney disease, ulcers, nausea, digestive disorders, obesity, high blood pressure, hypertension, high cholesterol, arteriolosclerosis, hypoglycemia, constipation, bronchitis, metal and radiation toxicity, edema, swollen lymph glands, chronic cough, as well as lumps and tumors and cancer (particularly breast cancer). Traditional Chinese medicine suggests that “there is no swelling that is not relieved by seaweed.”7 Highly alkalizing due to their high mineral content, sea vegetables help to rebalance the blood from acid-forming foods that characterize the Standard American Diet (SAD). They also dissolve mucous accumulation resulting from the SAD diet centered upon meat, commercial dairy, sugars, refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils, and other rich/ fractured foods. And, as one might expect from their high mineral content, they help us feel centered and grounded.
Using Sea Vegetables. Because they are so very rich in minerals, I like to think of sea vegetables as a supplementary ingredient to add sparingly to foods for color, interest, flavor, and nutrition. Sea vegetables are good complements to add extra nutrition to grains, beans, soups, salads, egg dishes, and sandwiches. I always add kombu or kelp when I cook beans, and I add it to most soups that I make. The glutamic acid in kombu/kelp tenderizes beans, aids in their digestion, and enhances their flavor.
Sea vegetables are whole foods; their minerals synergistically complement each other;8 and, the body is generally able to excrete excessive minerals should they be over-consumed. While sea vegetables offer many benefits, moderation is important, particularly due to the high iodine levels found in many of them, especially varieties of kelp. Some people with sensitive thyroids and mothers who are breast feeding and postmenopausal women, may react to excess iodine.9 Consumption of iodine at high levels can actually inhibit thyroid function. Iodine can occasionally cause allergic reactions, mostly in the form of skin rashes in some people, and may also worsen acne.10
To cook with sea vegetables, rinse them well before using, especially if you prefer to avoid extra salt. Increase your consumption gradually if you think your digestive system may need time to adapt, and keep in mind that soaking sea vegetables for longer times will make them easier to digest. Finall, use them sparingly; sea vegetables are best used as a condiment or a side dish. If you do not like to cook, try a kelp and/or dulse shaker at the table to boost the mineral nutrition of meals. If you do enjoy cooking, a good rule of thumb is to consume a total of about 2 cups of cooked sea vegetables per week.11
Some Major Types of Sea Vegetables12
Agar is a delightful way to introduce sea vegetables into your cooking, particularly for savory aspics and dessert gelatins and custards. Agar produces a firmer gel than commercial products and it is less inclined to breakdown. A gelatin made from red algaes, it has no taste, no calories, and no smell so it will not interfere with—it actually enhances—the natural taste of fruits and vegetables. It can be used as a thickening medium in cooking and desserts as a healthier alternative to animal-based gelatins.
Health Profile: High in iodine, calcium, iron, and phosphorus along with vitamins A, B-complex, C, D, and K. It reduces inflammation, aids in digestion and weight loss, is a mild laxative, and bonds with toxic and radioactive wastes to help expel them from the body.
Arame is soft, mild, and sweet in flavor so it adapts to Western tastes. It can be cooked alone, with vegetables or added to salads for color, minerals, and interest.
Health Profile: A rich source of iodine, calcium, and iron, as well as vitamins A and the B-complex. It can support thyroid function, soften cysts and tumors, lower blood pressure, strengthen bones and teeth, support hormonal function and may be helpful with feminine disorders and mouth issues. It also contributes to healthy, wrinkle-free skin and thick, lustrous hair.
Dulse is purple-red in color, tender and chewy, with an unusual spicy taste. It goes well with soups, oats and other cooked grains, salads, and vegetables; it also combines well with onions and can be used as a condiment. Rinse dulse well to remove extra salt and the salty flavor.
Health Profile: Of all the sea vegetables, it is the richest in iron, while it also provides iodine, manganese (for enzyme production), phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, and trace minerals. Despite its salty taste, it is relatively low in sodium. With its high iron content, dulse is an excellent blood tonic and is used to strengthen the kidneys and adrenals. It is used to treat herpes, seasickness, and sore teeth and gums.
Kombu, a member of the kelp family (kelp can be substituted for kombu), is easy to use as a complementary ingredient in cooking, much as one would use herbs and spices. “Considered the most completely mineralized food,”13 it significantly boosts the nutritional quality of any dish to which it is added. Kombu enhances the flavor of foods because it is high in glutamic acid, the natural version of synthetic MSG. It adds sweetness, derived both from its glutamic acid and from fucose and mannitol, two simple sugars that do not raise blood sugar, which is a boon for diabetics.14 The glutamic acid in kombu also softens foods so that they cook more quickly and are easier to digest. Kombu is itself softened when cooked alongside other protein-rich foods.
Health Profile: Kombu is high in natural sugars, as well as potassium, iodine, calcium, and vitamins A, B-complex, C, and trace minerals. Kombu (a diuretic) particularly supports the kidneys, hormonal system, and the thyroid. It reduces cysts and tumors; subdues fungal and candida yeasts; treats coughs and asthma while relieving the lungs and throat; and aids in weight loss. Specifically, kombu is used to treat goiter, arthritis, high blood pressure, edema, prostate and ovarian issues, diabetes, and anemia.15
Besides glutamic acid, kombu is also high in alginic acid, the binding medium that holds sea vegetables together and gives them flexibility to withstand strong ocean currents. Its binding ability and indigestible nature act in the intestine to bind toxins in the colon wall for their natural excretion. Kombu is used in Eastern cultures to prevent and cure colitis.16
Due to its mild flavor and multiple uses—especially as the colorful wrap for sushi rolls, nori is the best known and most popular of the sea vegetables. Beyond sushi, nori can be toasted and then torn or crumpled to garnish grains, vegetables, and soup dishes. You do not have to have sushi rice prepared to make a nori roll—anything moist will do. I mix brown rice or quinoa with humus or yogurt; spread it over a nori sheet; add a layer of shredded carrots or other vegetables/fermented vegetables; roll; eat; and enjoy! The combinations are endless; use your imagination with whatever you have on hand.
Health Profile: Nori has the highest protein content (almost 50%) and is the easiest to digest of the sea vegetables. Nori also breaks down fats, so it helps in the digestion of fried, fatty foods. Perhaps most significant, nori is extremely low in iodine. If you want to consume sea vegetables for their many benefits but worry about iodine excess, nori is a wonderful choice. Nori is a good source of calcium, iron, vitamin A, B-complex, C, and D. Like other sea vegetables, nori benefits the kidneys and thyroid, treats goiter, edema, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coughs, and cysts.17
Wakame, the colorful counterpoint of miso soup, is a favorite in Japan, along with nori and kombu. Wakame is mild in flavor, and after soaking, it mixes well with cooling summer vegetables and citrus fruits. In cooking, it combines nicely with onions, other garden vegetables, and boiled or sauted greens. Alaria, another sea vegetable, can be substituted for wakame in many recipes. Like kombu, wakame softens beans and other fibrous foods, enhancing their digestibility and nutrition.
Health Profile: After hijiki, wakame is highest in calcium of the sea vegetables. It is also rich in iodine, iron, and vitamin A, B-complex, C, and trace minerals. Like kombu and other seaweeds, wakame contains alginic acid to bind and help the body expel toxic metals and radiation; it also dispels mucous and phlegm, while it is thought to dissolve masses and tumors.
Peter and Montse Bradford, Cooking with Sea Vegetables.
Shep Erhart and Leslie Cerier, Sea Vegetable Celebration.
Jill Gusman, Vegetables from the Sea: Everyday Cooking with Sea Vegetables
Elson Haas, Staying Healthy With Nutrition.
Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods.
Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia.
Copyright 2011 Pathways4Healt.org
- Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, 306 [↩]
- Potassium combines synergistically with sodium, iodine, and calcium to combat hypertension and support the elasticity of arterial walls…Dr Erick Powel, Ph.D., in Kelp, the Health Giver, 16-17. [↩]
- Erhart and Cerier, 30 [↩]
- Wood, 305 [↩]
- Erhart and Cerier, 23 [↩]
- Susun Weed, “Seaweed Is an Everyday Miracle.” [↩]
- Pitchford, 581 [↩]
- For numerous examples, see Erhart and Cerier [↩]
- Erhart and Cerier, 23 [↩]
- Elson Haas, Staying Healthy with Nutrition [↩]
- Tim Aitken, L.Ac., Eight Branches Healing Arts [↩]
- For more details, see Pitchford, Wood, Erhart and Cerier, Haas, and Bradford [↩]
- Pitchford, 589 [↩]
- Bradford, 60 [↩]
- Pitchford, 589 [↩]
- Bradford, 59 [↩]
- Pitchford, 591 [↩]