When taking care of our health and the immune system is more necessary than ever, there’s one superfood we may be neglecting: Sea vegetables. Sure, we’ve eaten those bits of seaweed wrapped around our sushi roll or in our miso soup.
However, there is a wide variety of brown, green, and red seaweed or edible marine algae that fall into the sea vegetable category. And they are exploding with nutrients, some of which we just can’t get from land veggies.
What are sea vegetables?
Sea veggies and their various incarnations go way beyond the dehydrated seaweed snack packs we may find at the neighborhood store.
The term relates to edible marine algae, which includes some of the most primitive life forms on Earth and can be microscopic (unicellular) or multicellular. Seaweed is a subset of this vast category of hundreds of species .
Curiously, these organisms aren’t plants, even though they mirror them. They have no root system because they can absorb water and nutrients directly into their tissues. Seaweed can be further classified as red, green, or brown. Non-seaweed vegetables include single-cell algae like chlorella and spirulina .
While you may not see these as often as other vegetables in your local mart, they do come in powdered and dehydrated versions. Or we may be able to find new varieties at Asian markets or our health food stores. Either way, you’ll reap all the benefits and nutrients.
Types of sea vegetables.
There is immense diversity in the edible seaweed family. The several available varieties come with different nutrition profiles and use. The red algae—nori—might be the most recognizable because it’s typically used as garnish or sushi wrap.
However, as seaweed becomes more popular, seaweed snacks, seasonings, oils, and even jerky are popping up in stores.
There are roughly 30 varieties of this large brown alga, called colloquially “seaweed.” This is the version of sea veggies we are most likely to feel clinging to our legs while in the ocean. But we’ve probably also encountered kelp in our day-to-day while firmly on land; it’s found in thousands of products.
This briny seaweed is often sold in dry, thin sheets, either toasted or plain, and is what we usually find holding our sushi roll together. This is an excellent seaweed for the pantry because it lasts a very long time and can add instant savoriness (umami )due to the amino acid glutamate) to any dish.
A kind of blue-green algae, spirulina is a single-celled cyanobacterium that has been referred to as the most nutrient-rich food on the planet. Initially used by the Aztecs, it was resurrected by NASA to provide astronauts in space.
Full of a similar range of nutrients as other sea veggies, dulse resembles red, leafy lettuce. But we probably won’t find dulse raw. It’s generally dried immediately after harvesting and sold as flakes, whole-leaf, seasoning mixes, or powder.
Try pan-frying little whole-leaf dulse instead and see if you can say the difference between it and bacon!
A brown seaweed, wakame, is another familiar one and is commonly used in cold salads or soup, topping on tofu, sushi, or rice.
This freshwater alga is another powerhouse food. We will only find it as a supplement because its rigid cell wall restrains it from being digested in its natural form. Besides the numerous health benefits it shares with other sea veggies, chlorella has also been shown to absorb heavy metals in the body, assisting in detoxification.
When it’s dreary and cold outside, break out the stockpot and the kombu. This seaweed is used in a traditional Japanese stock (dashi).
Health benefits of sea vegetables.
All sea vegetables tout several health benefits. They are rich sources of minerals, vitamins, fiber, fatty acids, and protein.
What’s more, scientists are demonstrating the vast reach of their therapeutic properties, zeroing in on specific compounds that possibly fight disease, improve heart health, balance blood sugar, and aid in weight loss, to name just a few .
1. They support detoxification.
Unfortunately, we are frequently exposed to heavy metals from the products we use, the food we consume (hello, high-mercury tuna), pollution in our air, and even our teeth’ fillings.
Heavy metals accumulate in your bodies and can leave you feeling run down and awful all around. But algae such as chlorella and spirulina help support the body’s detoxification process. In animal studies, these algae reduced heavy metal levels, such as lead and cadmium.
2. They are a good source of iodine.
Iodine is critical for thyroid health; without adequate, we run the risk of hypothyroidism, which can cause a range of issues, including fatigue, weight gain, and goiter. It can cause complications during pregnancy, affect bone and brain development, and even cause miscarriage.
[Read: Benefits of Iodine]
3. They have beneficial antioxidants.
Excess free radicals cause cell destruction and DNA damage and contribute to severe adverse health conditions. Antioxidants limit this damage by scavenging free radicals.
The term itself can refer to a host of substances, including particular vitamins (beta-carotene and A, C, E, are the most common), carotenoids, and flavonoids, among many others.
[Read: Benefits of Antioxidants]
4. They support a healthy gut microbiome.
Seaweed gives our gut some love. It’s got more fiber than most vegetables and fruits, between 25 and 75% by dry weight, which keeps things moving and helps with digestion.
5. They’re a good source of minerals and vitamins.
In case you weren’t paying attention, sea vegetables are brimming with minerals and vitamins. Besides the antioxidants, you’ll find copper, iron, manganese, zinc, folate, sodium, magnesium, and calcium.
6. They are an amazing source of omega-3 fatty acids
These fatty acids get tremendous attention in health bulletins lately, and with good purpose—they protect against a range of harmful health conditions, significantly benefitting cardiovascular health.
Sea vegetables are seaweed or edible marine algae that can be found in dehydrated, fresh, or powdered versions. They are a good source of minerals, vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and beneficial antioxidants and can help support our body’s detoxification process.
For an easy-to-take form, try supplementing with the tablets or powdered variety; if you feel more adventuresome, you can experiment with cooking different types in soups and salads.