Seaweeds & sea vegetables, whilst not a common feature in western diets, can certainly become a welcome, and valuable addition, especially for the dedicated plant-based eater. These amazing sea plants can contribute hugely to our intake of essential minerals (i.e. iodine, calcium, zinc, magnesium, selenium and potassium), as well as powerful antioxidants, and vitamins such vitamin C and vitamin A, and the vital “energy” vitamin - the B Complex.
The taste of the sea…
When we think of foods that have grown in, or near waters or oceans, we might think “salty”. Sea vegetables are rich in natural salt, but they contain a wealth of other minerals too. In fact, you won’t find many other types of foods with such a diverse and complete mineral profile that also superbly matches our own. Seaweeds or algaes are therefore a perfect, natural food for the human body. These categories of foods also contain other plant-based substances, healthy fibres, essential amino acids, fatty acids, and chlorophyll.
There is thought to be over 10,000 edible forms of sea vegetables, each having a unique shape, taste & texture. Around the coastline of the UK, we have an abundance of green seaweeds such as sea lettuces, sea grasses, kelp, sea kale, samphire grasses, laver, and the purple-coloured dulse and Irish moss, to name just a few. Asia is of course famous for many seaweed-based dishes, where they use brown seaweeds as flavourings in soups and stews and of course nori that is used in sushi.
Benefits of including sea vegetables in the diet…
Sea vegetables are quite unique when it comes to their nutritional value. As mentioned earlier, they have a very rich and balanced mineral profile, containing minerals such as iodine (important for thyroid function and most often consumed in a less natural “fortified” version – e.g. iodized salt), lots of calcium and potassium, and are also a great source iron. Seaweeds also contain a rather unique set of polysaccharides called fucans. Fucan extracts from brown sea vegetables have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties, and also assist in weight loss.
How to use sea vegetables in the diet…
There are a number of ways of cooking or preparing meals with seaweeds. Always wash them thoroughly in fresh water if you have been foraging for sea plants along the seashore! Dried seaweeds simply need soaking for a few minutes in water and can be used by:
- Soak dried strips in water for a minute or two, slice thinly and then toss into salads and stir-fries.
- Slice seaweed thinly, fry gently in sesame oil or coconut oil, with plenty of vegetables, some chopped ginger root and a splash of Tamari – healthy and delicious!
- Sprinkle seaweed flakes (e.g. nori) into any soup, stew or curry, or simply scatter over salads
- Make your own homemade sushi, using sheets of dried nori. Simply lay flat, line one end with layers of sliced raw vegetables, avocado and cress or alfalfa – delicious, nutritious and very impressive for entertaining!
- Add dried seaweed strips to soups or stews. Seaweeds can effectively thicken liquid meals as they contain natural gelatin-like substances.
- Add them to the blender when you make a morning smoothie!
- If you add dried seaweed to soups or similar dishes, no soaking is necessary. Dried nori sheets need no soaking and can be used straight from the packet.
Concern over heavy metals in sea vegetables…
Sea plants not only have an excellent ability to take up minerals from the sea, they also have the ability to absorb modern-day toxins from the sea like mercury and arsenic. To avoid exposure, simply ensure you buy certified organic varieties. Some seaweed, growing in some areas of the world is particularly hazardous with regard to toxic chemicals (such as hijiki seaweed). It is worth pointing out here, that seaweeds are not an “everyday” food and therefore, provided they are chosen wisely, pose very little threat or risk with regards to heavy metal exposure.
Where can I buy sea vegetables?
If you live near the coast, visit the local fisheries and see if they have any local seaweeds for sale. On the high street, most health food shops sell a range of dried seaweeds (e.g. Nori sheets and flakes, and mixed seaweed strips).