Is seaweed a ‘superfood’ ?
From a nutritional point of view, we should be considering the humble seaweed as the superfood of the ocean. They contain an exceptional level of minerals, proteins, dietary fibre, electrolytes and vitamins, as well as being very low in calories- making them a very tasty way to nourish your mental and physical health. The micronutrients and electrolytes in seaweed are bioavailable, in a form that human cells need to mesh with their metabolisms.
Integrating seaweeds into your diet has long-term benefits for your overall health: Seaweeds can help to regulate your metabolism, cleanse your blood, calm your digestive tract, boost your dopamine levels, and support your immune system, to list only a few! And if you are into the science behind it all, I have written a little more detail about the health benefits of seaweed below.
Bursting with Vitamins and Minerals
Sea-vegetables are rich in vitamins A and C - vital nutrients to strengthen your immune system - and vitamin E which is known for its antioxidant activity.
Plus, seaweeds are a great source of vitamin B12 which is an essential nutrient for healthy nerve and blood cells and DNA synthesis. Vitamin B12 is recommended in the treatment of the effects of ageing, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and anaemia. Did you know that terrestrial vegetables rarely contain any vitamin B12? Most B12 is found in animal based products. Seaweeds are real super-(sea)-veggie's, and if you are vegetarian or vegan you should definitely be considering these as a vital part of your daily nutrition.
Accounting for over one third of the sea vegetables' dry weight, seaweeds are incredibly wealthy in mineral elements that they absorb from the ocean. Most seaweeds are much richer in calcium, iron, magnesium and iodine than terrestrial vegetables. In fact, Alaria contains x3 times as much magnesium as the superfood kale.
You may know that minerals are involved in a great variety of biochemical reactions in your body. They contribute to the proper functioning of your nervous system, your muscles, your heart, your bones and your blood production.
Let’s look closer at Iodine
Iodine accumulates in seaweed from the nutrient rich seawater and it is essential for our body to produce thyroid hormones which regulate the human metabolic rate and consequently, affect almost every cell.
Important to note for pregnant woman is that iodine is essential for the early development of most organs, in particular that of the brain. So if you are expecting a baby, make sure you get a daily intake of about 250mcg in your body.
Because most people's diet is rather poor when it comes to iodine, most countries enrich salt with iodine as a strategy for combating deficiency disorders. However, we all know that salt is not great for our health, right? In fact, consuming too much salt may elevate your blood pressure, which can lead to strokes and coronary heart diseases.
And so using seaweed flakes can be a very creative substitute for iodized salt! Since iodine is rarely found in plant foods, seaweeds are certainly a valuable ingredient for a vegan diet.
However, it’s important not to overstretch your iodine intake and when you have thyroid issues, you should check with your physician before adding more iodine to your diet. You can read more about how much seaweed you should eat daily here.
Omega 3 & Omega 6
These omega fatty acids work in synergy in our bodies to help regulate a multitude of body functions. Together they’re crucial in maintaining healthy joints and regulating blood clotting and blood pressure; whilst Omega 3 helps maintain the normal function of the heart, nervous system and vision. And seaweed is jam packed with omega3s and 6s. Especially the Dulse species which are particularly high in omega fatty acids. No more need to take fish oil tablets every morning!
The great thing about seaweeds is that they are packed with proteins containing all fundamental amino acids. Foods rich in protein are filling and help control your appetite during the day. Plus, they have a positive impact on bone health, muscle strength and blood pressure.
Green and red seaweeds contain a protein ratio of around 10% - 30% (in relation to dry weight matter). With levels up to 45%, the red algae Dulse is a real protein rockstar.
Seaweeds are rich in dietary fibre which is great for your digestive health because fibre supports a health-promoting gut micro-flora. To dig a bit deeper, some seaweeds are rich in soluble fibre - a component of fibre which is not digested and benefits the regulation of the intestinal transit.
Seaweeds contain a high level of bioactive compounds which means they can produce a great variety of secondary metabolites. These compounds give seaweed a broad range of biological effects such as antioxidant, anti-microbial , antibacterial, anticancer and anticoagulant properties.
Whether you are a serious athlete, in training for Ironman (good for you, by the way!) or a weekend walker who takes the dog to the park to keep fit, seaweed can be very beneficial for you. The high content of electrolyte minerals - calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium means seaweed is a super natural way of replacing the electrolytes lost during your training sessions.
Also high in protein, and packed with anti-oxidants which are proven to help reduce inflammation in the body, seaweed is a fantastic re-fuel for your body immediately post training. Try adding Alaria or Dulse flakes to your post-work out drink.
For regulating your blood sugar levels
Scientists have demonstrated that seaweed can naturally help regulate the release of sugar to the bloodstream, which could be a help in managing diabetic conditions.
How much seaweed should you eat?
See our section on how much seaweed you should eat for further information on daily intake.