The greens of the sea are rich in flavor and nutrition, and it’s good for almost everybody to include some sea veggies as part of their daily diet.
Most of us are familiar with nori, the flat seaweed wrapping outside of sushi, but there are literally dozens of varieties of seaweed that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. And there are so many seaweed health benefits!
Seaweed Health Benefits
Seaweed is a great source of fiber, calcium, iron and other minerals. Calcium is a super important mineral for bone and teeth, cellular function, and more. Calcium from plant foods is more bio-available (better used by our body) that dairy-based calcium, and it’s overall more beneficial. Countries that have the highest rates of dairy consumption also have high rates of bone issues like osteoporosis; dairy is also linked to chronic inflammation, heart disease and cancer.
Seaweeds offer a much healthier alternative to get calcium into your diet. Arame and nori have the highest rates of calcium, coming it at about 10%. Another way seaweeds are great for us is because of the high fiber content: 1/2 cup arame has about 7 grams of fiber, and wakame has about 4 grams. Seaweeds are also high in magnesium, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, and dulse turns out to be a great plant-based source of vitamin B12.
Overall, it looks like arame and dulse have the best nutrition content of the seaweeds, but both wakame and nori have a lot of nutrition too. All of this nutrition information from Eden Foods, which offers a variety of edible seaweeds.
Other Seaweed Health Benefits – and Some Words of Caution
In addition to fiber and other macronutrients, sea vegetables offer a wealth of other health benefits!
Iodine: Iodine is an essential nutrient, important for fetal/ infant development and thyroid hormone production, and seaweeds are the best foods for getting natural iodine into our diet. Seaweeds are variable in their iodine content though. While too much iodine can be problematic, a small amount every few days (like the amount found in seaweeds) will keep your thyroid and other organs working well. Note that dietary iodine is different that potassium iodide, which is used to prevent radiation damage to the thyroid.
Trace minerals: Sea vegetables contain high amounts of trace minerals, those that our body needs but in very small amounts. And it turns out that seaweeds are one of the best sources of trace minerals: “Seaweeds provide all of the 56 minerals and trace minerals required for your body’s physiological functions in chelated, colloidal forms. Most enzymatic functions depend on minute amounts of bioavailable trace minerals. The major minerals are instrumental in all kinds of life-sustaining activities in your body: magnesium is crucial in calcium absorption, iodine in thyroid function, iron in blood oxygen exchange, and chromium in blood sugar regulation. All of these functions are facilitated by the presence of chelated, colloidal minerals.” You can learn more about trace minerals here.
A note about arsenic: Hijiki is the only seaweed we recommend in moderation due to the naturally high concentration of inorganic arsenic, which can be toxic in high amounts. Many countries have strongly advised against its consumption, but other advisory boards suggest that it is fine to eat on occasion. The Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety explains: “safety assessment showed that occasional consumption of small amount of hijiki is unlikely to cause adverse health effect. However, people who are fond of hijiki are at greater risk [for gastrointestinal effects, anaemia and liver damage]”.
A note about radiation: As much of our seaweed comes from the Pacific, students and friends often ask about the radiation in seaweeds as a result of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster a few years ago. It is really unclear what the answer is to this troubling question.
This post from 2012 shares measurements of nori seaweed, but in this 2013 article, the author explains that while there was Fukushima radioisotopes present in the kelp off the California coast, just one month later it no longer present. Eden Foods says none of their foods have tested contaminated, and so does Rising Tide Sea Vegetables. Main Coast Sea Vegetables also tests their products, and have found no detectable levels of radiation. And seaweeds can actually help fight radiation poisoning. To learn more about radiation in our world, check out this detailed post from The Holy Kale.
7 Seaweed Recipes to get You Started
1. Vegetable Broth with Kombu
Kombu or kelp is a very thick seaweed, one that’s not often eaten alone, but is boiled with grains, beans or vegetables as a flavoring and mineral-rich component. Sneaking a 1-inch square pice of kombu into your homemade broth is a great way to get the benefits of this green.
Homemade vegetable broth is great for all your soups, but it’s also a great cooking liquid for grains, beans, and pasta. I like to save all my veggie scraps like carrot tops, celery bottoms, peels, stems and such in a container in the freezer, then cook them up all at once. It’s also just delicious on its own. It only takes an hour, and the broth can be frozen for future use.
Learn how to make homemade vegetable broth here.
2. Miso Wakame Soup
We love miso soup here on VWJ for so many reasons: it’s comforting, healing and delicious. Classic miso soup can be made into wakame soup anytime you need a bit more greenery in your bowl. Just let the wakame soak in the miso broth until it’s soft, about 10 minutes.
Get the recipe for Miso Wakame Soup here.
3. Seaweed Stir-Fry
Cooking seaweed can take away some of the strong flavors, and helps make it a little more palatable to sea veggie newbies. Either arame or hijiki can be used here, and while arame is more mild, both will benefit from the quick cooking. Arame and hijiki need to be soaked before using. Simply add a handful of seaweed to a bowl, cover with water, and let rest 10 minutes (it will double or triple in size). You can then toss into your favorite stir-fry, or use one of the following recipes below.
4. Arame Rainbow Salad
Salads are better when they have more colors! Not only are a rainbow of foods good for you health-wise, visually appealing foods make us more likely to eat them. This salad contains red (purple) cabbage, red pepper, carrots, greens, and dark green arame seaweed, a long, thin seaweed that is an excellent source of calcium and fiber. Arame is sold dried, and needs to be re-hydrated before using.
Find the recipe for my Rainbow Arame Salad here!
5. Super Green Rolls
Think outside the sushi box! Sure, rice and nori seaweed is great, but what about using nori seaweed for all sorts of wraps? My favorite combo is cashew cheese with fresh veggies, or baked tofu, shredded veggies and a smear of ume paste, dipped into a soy-sesame sauce. Swapping out grain-based wraps for nori is a no-brainer way to get your sea veggies into your week.
Find the recipe for my Super Green Sushi Rolls here!
6. Homemade Furikake (Seaweed Sprinkle)
Furkake is really popular for sprinkling on rice and veggies, but it’s pretty good on everything. The sweet + savory combination is really at work here: salty from the nori, sweet from the pinch of sugar and umami from the toasted sesame seeds and the seaweed itself. You can certainly buy it in a jar, but if you have the ingredients it takes just a few seconds to make at home.
7. Wakame Salad
Wakame, also called alaria, is a Pacific and Atlantic seaweed that is mild in flavor, and pleasant in texture. It’s great as a little side dish dressed with some toasted sesame oil and some sesame seeds for crunch. You can serve this recipe warm or cold. The health benefits of wakame are enormous: it’s high in magnesium, iodine, calcium, iron and lots of vitamins (A, B2, C, D, E and K) and high in folate.
Get my recipe for Wakame Salad here from Down to Earth!
8. Dulse Sandwich
Remember a few months ago when everyone was freaking out about how you can make vegan bacon from seaweed? Well, dulse is the answer. This mineral-rich red seaweed can be purchased in crinkled strips, which can then be fried and eaten on sandwiches, crumbled into salads or eaten out of hand.
Get the recipe for Dulse Lettuce + Tomato Sandwiches from Down East!
9. Dulse Salads
Not only does pulse come as strips, it can be purchased as small pulse sprinkles, which is how we usually eat it at home. I think it’s the most affordable way to get seaweed into your diet, because it’s really nutrient dense and it’s super easy to use. Buy a big bag or find it in bulk, and then sprinkle it on everything. If you sniff the bag it’s going to smell like fish food, but in small doses it doesn’t taste like much at all.
10. Seaweed bacon Crisps
My friend shared these little snacks with me a few weeks ago, and while I’m not so sure how much they really taste like bacon, they are totally delicious with a great sweet + salty flavor. These are a great new addition to your snacking situation! Is it going to fool anyone into thinking it’s real bacon? No, of course not. But it’s so stupid good, who cares?! Other great options are those nori snack packs, but the packaging is super wasteful, so choose mindfully.
Seaweed drawing pattern, kelp image, nori image, dulse images from Shutterstock; arame image, by Maša Sinreih, via Wikimedia Commons. All other image from Vibrant Wellness Journal, unless noted.