A Vegetable By Any Other Name
Sea vegetables aren’t exactly one of the most-consumed foods in America, but perhaps they should be. After all, they pack a powerful nutritional punch, as well as adding a salty flavor to anything you care to put them in.
With the number of seaweed products on the market, it’s not always easy to know what’s best for any given application, so I’ve got some ideas for you!
Why Eat Sea Veggies?
Sea vegetables, also known as seaweed, grow in both saltwater and fresh water seas and lakes. They usually grow close to the surface of the water, near reefs and rocks. They’re not plants or animals, but rather have their own classification as algae.
They contain high concentrations of vitamins A, B, C, E, K, calcium, folate, phosphorous, magnesium, sodium, iron, iodine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, protein and chlorophyll. Those of us who have ditched iodized salt will want to be sure to add seaweed to our diets.
Sea veggies also contain all of the trace minerals and micronutrients found in the ocean, like chromium, zinc, potassium, copper, sulphur, silver, tin, zirconium, silicon, manganese, boron, bromides and other trace minerals necessary for health.
They also contain significant amounts of lignans, which act as antioxidants. Studies have found a positive correlation between high levels of lignans in the body with reduced risks of prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
Specific Conditions Seaweed May Treat and Prevent
Hypothyroidism. The thyroid regulates every cell in the body, and if it’s not working properly, the body doesn’t work properly. The naturally occurring iodine in sea vegetables will help regulate and nourish the thyroid and, in turn, the entire body.
Birth Defects. Seaweed is rich in folate (folic acid), which is crucial to the development of fetuses. Sea veggies can help prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida.
Heart Disease. Folic acid dosen’t only help prevent birth defects, but also heart disease. It breaks down homocysteine, thereby protecting blood vessels. Sea veggies also contain magnesium, which helps lower blood pressure naturally.
Menopausal Symptoms. Magnesium also helps with sleep patterns, which are often interrupted during menopause. The lignans in seaweed also help the body by acting as estrogen-lite, thereby easing hot flashes and night sweats.
Arthritis. Some seaweeds contain fucans, which are sulfated polysaccharides that can help reduce inflammation.
What Kind Should I Try?
Sea vegetables definitely have a distinct flavor, but they don’t all taste the same. Some are light and tender, others are dense and chewy. Some taste super salty, others almost sweet. Here’s the lowdown:
Wakame. If you’re looking for a tender texture, this is your go-to sea green. Wakame should be soaked for about ten minutes, in which time it expands seven-fold. It’s fantastic in soup and stir-fry recipes. If you don’t have texture issues, it’s also nice raw.
Some souls who are braver than I am like to consume sea veggies in their smoothies. While I can’t stomach that in sweet smoothies, it’s not terrible in savory ones. Still not my favorite thing, but easy enough to “plug and chug.”
Dulse. This is probably my personal favorite sea veg because it’s versatile and doesn’t require soaking. You can eat it out of the package for an easy snack on the go, and it’s both salty and chewy. For a real treat, pan-fry it in sesame oil until its crispy, offering a bacon-like salty crunch.
Dulse is wonderful to toast, crumble and place in a salt shaker. It can also be purchased in flakes, but I always think that looks like fish food. Oh wait, it is fish food!
Nori/laver. I’d venture to say that if you’re familiar with any seaweed, it would be nori. That’s because it’s what most sushi rolls are wrapped in. When raw, nori is purplish-black, but when toasted it turns a rich green. Other than with sushi, it’s great to crumble or cut into strips for salads and on rice.
Don’t forget to add soaked nori to your quiches and frittatas, as well as hot and cold pasta salads. You can even add a bit to your pasta/rice cooking water!
Agar agar. You know what they grow cultures on in labs? Yep, that ‘s agar agar, and it’s used everywhere from home kitchens to professional kitchens that specialize in molecular gastronomy. It’s not one type of seaweed, but rather a blend of several kinds.
It’s also a perfect vegan alternative to gelatin and thickens wonderfully. I use it in homemade yogurt sometimes when it just doesn’t want to set up (happens to the best of us).
Kombu. This Japanese word for “kelp” is just flat out pretty. It’s a deep purple that begs to be seen. You can use kombu flakes as a replacement for salt, just like dulse.
The best use that I’ve found for kombu is to cut a 1″ square and add it to a pot of beans. Not only does it add a little bit of salty flavor and great nutrition, it also helps the beans cook faster. It also helps neutralize the flatulence factor, so be sure to give kombu a try!
The Dark Side
There are a couple of concerns with eating sea veggies, as you might expect. Because we’ve done such a fantastic job polluting our water supply, some sea greens have high concentrations of heavy metals.
Arsenic seems to be the most common metal, and hijiki the most frequent offender. If you’re going to eat this particular veg, be sure to buy organic. I prefer organic for all sea vegetables, as you use such small quantities that the cost is relatively low.
Any Easier Alternatives?
If you’d rather not use sea greens in your cooking, that doesn’t mean you have to skip them completely. There are quite a few seaweed powders and capsules on the market!
Personally I prefer either Spirulina Manna or Elixir of the Lake from the same company that makes Vitamineral Green. Vitamineral Green also has spirulina and chollera (both algae), but the first two options are pure sea vegetables and are therefore more concentrated.
If you’d rather not have to taste them altogether, you can take spirulina or chlorella tablets. Keep in mind that chlorella can cause some mild detox symptoms which may be uncomfortable, especially if you’re overdue for a cleanse. If you’re pregnant and new to chlorella, better to skip it for now.
Healthy, tasty (or tasteless), and easy—what more could you ask for? Pick your poison and pick up some sea vegetables today!