Sea Vegetables: Why You Should Eat More of This Delicious Asian Superfood
Sea vegetables, better known as seaweed, are the leafy greens of the sea. Though not technically a vegetable (they’re actually classified as algae), seaweed is loaded with nutrition and has a unique, slightly salty flavor that’s been a staple in Japanese cuisine for more than 10,000 years!
In the U.S. seaweed is most widely known for its roll as a sushi wrapper, but it has many other culinary uses as well.
In ancient China, meanwhile, sea vegetables were a delicacy reserved for honored guests and royalty. In fact, numerous cultures that live near their coasts have been enjoying sea vegetables for quite some time. This includes not only parts of Asia but also Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, coastal South America, Scotland, Ireland, and the Pacific Islands.
Seaweed is grown and harvested in the United States as well, and here you can find sea vegetables in health food stores, Asian markets and many local grocery stores, in a variety of ocean and freshwater varieties such as kelp, wakame, arame and dulse. Some of the most popular varieties are:
- Nori: The deep purple type used to make sushi rolls
- Kelp: Light brown to dark green, often in flake form
- Hijiki: Small, black wiry strands
- Kombu: Sometimes used as a flavoring for soups, often sold in strips or sheets
- Wakame: Most often used to make miso soup
- Arame: A lacy, wiry shape and mild flavor
- Dulse: Reddish brown with a soft, chewy texture
Why might you want to think about adding sea vegetables to your family’s dinner table?
Seaweed contains the broadest range of minerals of any food — the same minerals found in the ocean and in human blood. For instance, seaweed is rich in:
- Pantothenic acid and riboflavin — two B-vitamins needed for your body to produce energy
- Vitamin K
- Lignans, which have cancer-fighting properties
The Health Benefits of Sea Vegetables
Sea vegetables contain a unique blend of potent nutrients for your health.
Protect Against Cancer
The lignans in seaweed inhibit blood cell growth, which can nourish tumors and spread cancer cells. They have also been shown to fight breast cancer and other hormone-related cancers. Meanwhile, sea vegetables contain folic acid, which may help reduce your risk of colon cancer.
Promote Healthy Thyroid Function
Seaweed is rich in iodine, which is essential for the proper functioning of your thyroid glands. In short, it helps your thyroid to synthesize the amino acid tyrosine to create hormones.
Prevent Heart Disease and Birth Defects
Folic acid in seaweed is not only essential for protecting against birth defects, it is also needed to breakdown a dangerous chemical called homocysteine. Homocysteine can damage blood vessel walls and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Sea vegetables also contain magnesium, which helps reduce high blood pressure and prevent heart attacks.
Relieve Menopausal Symptoms
The magnesium in sea vegetables can help relieve sleep trouble due to menopause. Further, the lignans are phytoestrogens, which can help to relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes.
Why Choosing High Quality Sea Vegetables is Important
Sea vegetables actively take up minerals from the water in which they grow. Unfortunately, they can also pick up pollutants in the surrounding waters, including heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and cadmium. In fact, sea vegetables are so efficient at absorbing contaminants that some marine ecologists use them as a monitor to determine levels of heavy metal pollution in water.
Sea vegetables come in a variety of forms, such as fresh, powdered, flakes, and sheets.
Because many waters are now polluted, it’s recommended that you choose your seaweed sources carefully. Look for those that grow seaweed in clean waters far from industry, shipping ports or other sources of pollution, and which test the plants for levels of heavy metals, herbicides, pesticides, and microbiological contaminants.
How to Enjoy Sea Vegetables
Sea vegetables are incredibly versatile. Use the flake and powder varieties as a seasoning as you would salt, or try sprinkling them in soups, casseroles and stews. Use the sheet varieties to create homemade sushi or vegetable rolls, or slice it into strips to dress up salads.
Plus, here are some healthy and tasty recipes you can use to give seaweed a try (you may be surprised at how much you like … it’s addictive in a good way!)
- Nori sheets
- Salt, preferably sea salt
- Sesame oil
- Heat a skillet over medium heat
- Brush the sesame oil on both sides of the nori sheet then sprinkle lightly with salt.
- Cook lightly, about 15 to 20 seconds on each side
- Cut ino bite-size pieces
Simple Seaweed Soup
- 3 sheets roasted seaweed
- 1 cup broth (vegetarian or meat-flavored) with 1 cup water
- 3 fresh cilantro leaves (coriander)
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Ground black pepper to taste
- Pour the broth mixture in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Break the seaweed sheets into pieces and add into the boiling water.
- Reduce heat and cook for about 5 minutes until the seaweed expands and the soup starts to thicken. Add sesame oil.
- Remove from heat and pour the soup into your favorite bowl and sprinkle cilantro as garnish.
- Serve hot
Dulse, Avocado and Tomato Sandwiches
A healthy alternative to the BLT!
- 4 slices multi-grain sandwich bread
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tomato
- 1/2 avocado
- 1 handful of dulse
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Bake the dulse for about 8-10 minutes, until it is dried out and crispy.
- Toast the bread slices.
- Slice the tomatoes horizontally.
- Slice the avocado half into thin pieces horizontally as well.
- Spread the mayonnaise on one slice of the bread.
- Arrange the tomatoes in one even layer on the bread, and do the same with the avocados.
- Place an even amount of dulse on top of the avocados. Cover with the other slice of bread, slice in half for easy handling, and enjoy!