Seaweed – Superfoods from the Sea

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Seaweed is the common name for large marine plants growing in the shallow water along ocean shores. These ocean plants (algae) are the ancestors of land plants, and there are more than 20,000 species. More than 160 species of algae / seaweed are consumed throughout the world. These seaweeds are nutrient dense containing high amounts of essential minerals, trace minerals, chlorophyll, iodine, protein, essential fatty acids, calcium and vitamins.

Seaweeds are grouped into three common types; brown, red and green. Brown algae thrive in cooler, deeper water. Red algae including dulse and nori provide us with gelling agents such as agar agar and carrageenan. Their colour during cooking can change from red to green.  Green algae such as sea lettuce are the most similar to land plants with their chlorophyll and carotenoids, and storing energy in the from of starch. Brown and red algaes grow almost exclusively in seawater, whereas green algae also live in freshwater ponds and lakes.

No other type of food is as rich and complete in the minerals it provides. Seaweed is high in fibre and low in calories and is naturally fat free. It contains significant amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, iodine and Vitamins A, C, E, K and B- complex. Seaweeds have been shown to strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, improve metabolism and digestion as well as have antiviral and antibacterial properties. Seaweed is also high in chromium which helps to control blood sugar levels.

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Iodine

Iodine, which is one of the most commonly observed deficiencies in European populations is essential to a healthy thyroid and must be found in the diet. The World Health Organisation (WHO) Report “Iodine deficiency in Europe, A continuing public health problem”, 2007 estimates that 97million people in Europe suffer an iodine deficiency including a significant proportion of the Dutch and British populations. Whilst for many decades iodine has been added to salt and bakery products, this is not the most healthy way to receive your essential iodine needs. Seaweeds as well as seasalt, spirulina and marine phytoplankton all provide alternative and more healthful natural sources of iodine.

There has been concern about the possibility of having too much, and iodine containing products are widely discouraged for people suffering from Hyperthyroidism. However a Danish study of  8219 people described in Eric A Osansky’s book ‘Natural Treatment Solutions for Hyperthyroidism and Graves Disease’, explains how when these people received higher amounts of iodine the incidences of hyperthyroidism were reduced, indicating that people with hyperthyroidism may also possibly have an iodine deficiency. The author of the book recommends someone in this situation should have their iodine levels checked before supplementing.

Seaweeds and health

Seaweeds also have protective properties which is particularly valuable in these times of environmental pollution. Studies have shown that seaweeds natural iodine can lower the amount of radioactive iodine absorbed by the thyroid as much as 80 percent.

Darker coloured seaweeds including arame, wakame and hijiki, contain sodium alginate which is reported to assist the body in harmlessly removing heavy metals from the body. Dark sea vegetables have also been found to remove radioactive strontium from the body according to researchers at McGill University in Canada,

Researchers at Harvard University Medical Centre reported that eating a diet consisting of 5% kelp significantly delayed the onset of breast cancer in animals.

Researchers at University of California’s Naval Biosciences Laboratory discovered that red marine algae reduced the spread of herpes simplex viruses 1 & 2 by 50%, in test tube studies. Interestingly, when they first exposed the human cells to the red algae extracts and then added the viruses 2 hours later, the pro-herpes activity was blocked 100%.

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Seaweeds in the kitchen

Seaweeds can easily be used added to soups, salads and all types of savoury dishes. Finer seaweed flakes can be used as a condiment, replacing salt. Some types make an excellent pasta substitute, and cooked together with beans they will remove the gassy quality of the beans.

Jelly like extracts from red seaweeds are used as a binder and thickener and setting agent. Agar-agar and carrageenan can be used as an alternative to animal derived gelatine. While there has been some controversy about the healthiness of carrageenan extract this is not true of the whole food source Irish Moss. Irish moss has been a popular ingredient in raw cuisine in recent years adding volume and partially replacing more calorie dense ingredients in desserts. It has a minimally salty flavour and will take on the flavour of whatever it is mixed with.

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A selection of the seaweeds available at this site

Article by Diana Store

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