Sea Vegetables

May 1, 2009

By johnmac

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I have recently returned from a glorious trip to Japan. I was there for just over 2 weeks and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the country, culture and people. Every experience I had there was amazing….including the fact that when I stepped on my bathroom scale when I got home, I had lost weight!

This is the first time I have taken a vacation, enjoyed all the foods I wanted and actually lost weight. When I reflected on the foods I had eaten in Japan, one thing was definitely unique compared to the foods I eat at home or any other place I’ve traveled too and that was that I ate sea vegetables every day.

Sea vegetables have been a staple of the Japanese diet for more than 10,000 years and are also gaining popularity in North America. One of the most common associations with sea vegetables in North America is their use in sushi. You know that green stuff that is wrapped around sushi/maki rolls? That’s a sea vegetable called nori.

Sea vegetables provide all 56 minerals and trace elements required for the body’s physiological functions in quantities greatly exceeding those of land plants. Since they grow in the ocean, sea vegetables contain virtually all the minerals found in the ocean – which is a very close match to the mineral composition of our blood and the saline fluid that surrounds our cells.

Sea vegetables are an especially excellent source of iodine, providing the daily requirement in a 1/4 cup serving. Iodine is essential for proper thyroid health and function. Hormones produced by the thyroid gland have an impact on just about all of the body’s physiological functions, including the regulation of metabolism, which affects energy and weight.  Note: It is possible to get too much iodine, especially for nursing mothers, postmenopausal women or individuals with certain thyroid dysfunctions. If you have any concerns, speak to your health care provider. 

Sea vegetables are also an excellent source of vitamin K and a very good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, folic acid and possibly trace amounts of vitamin B12, which rarely occurs in land vegetables.

Health benefits of sea vegetables which have been noted in research include:

  • Cancer prevention
  • Prevention of birth defects
  • Prevention of cardiovascular disease/high blood pressure
  • Anti-inflammatory action
  • Joint health/reduction of joint pain
  • Relief of symptoms associated with menopause
  • Weight loss/management
  • Radioactive/heavy metal detoxification

Sea vegetables also offer a very unique form of dietary fibre, which is proving to have very significant health benefits, including anti-oxidant, anti-mutagenic, anti-tumor, anti-cancer and anti-viral activities. The fibre also plays an important role in proper lipid and glucose metabolism in the body, which contributes to weight management, cardiovascular health and blood sugar balance.

While sea vegetables have an excellent ability to take up the minerals from the waters they grow in, they can also take up heavy metals (just like fish can), especially arsenic. The one variety of sea vegetable which seems to have the highest risk of arsenic contamination is hijiki; therefore, it should be avoided unless it has been certified organic. If you are going to consume sea vegetables on a daily basis, you should consider purchasing organic for all varieties.

There are many varieties of sea vegetables that you can explore and enjoy. Some of the most common ones are: dulse, kelp, nori and kombu. These come in many forms, e.g. fresh, dried, powder, flakes, sheets and strips. I often use dried kelp or dulse flakes as a seasoning in sauces, soups, salads, eggs and more. You can buy them in a shaker container – they are a great salt substitute. Making your own sushi is also really easy and fun. Just cook up some sushi rice, spread it on a sheet of nori, add your favourite vegetables, roll it up and enjoy! You’ll want to invest in a sushi mat to make the roll-up part easier.

For more information on sea vegetables, including a nutritional profile, health benefits, research and great recipes, visit: www.seaveg.com

Enjoy!

References:

  1. TheWorld’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the Healthiest Way of Eating, 1st Edition, George Mateljan, 2007
  2. Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, Inc. (http://www.seaveg.com)
  3. http://www.mitoku.com/products/seavegetables/sea_vege_nutritional.html
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