Nourish - What’s the Scoop On: Seaweed
The Irish are no stranger to the slippery salty earthly tangles of seaweed that decorate the coastal rocks along the shore. After all, seaweed has been part of the traditional diet of coastal culture for decades. Seaweed has a rich history of use, having been used all over the world for thousands of years. It has a long history in ancient medicine, folklore and farming in Europe, particularly in Ireland.
Today’s blog is merely going to scratch the surface of seaweed and why we should be eating more of it. There’s plenty more to learn about this amazing food!
What Is Seaweed?
Seaweed is quite a general term. In fact, the term encompasses over 10,000 different species! You may also hear seaweed referred to marine algae. Essentially, they are plant-like organisms that tend to live attached to rocks or other hard substrata in coastal areas.
Seaweeds use light from the sun, carbon dioxide and nutrients from seawater to grow. They also tend to grow at different levels of the coast, depending on the seaweed.
What Are The Different Types of Seaweed?
Seaweed can be classified as green, brown or red based on their pigments, cell structure, and other traits. These different varieties come with different nutrition profiles and uses. Interestingly, it’s the extreme conditions that seaweeds go through every day, twice a day, thanks to the currents, that are thought to be the reason different types of seaweed species have different and specific antioxidants and nutrients.
Green algae: sea lettuce and sea grapes
Types of Seaweeds
This is not an extensive list but a useful one nonetheless! I’ll cover the most common types you’ll come across, and the ones we stock here in Nourish.
Kelp is the seaweed you are most likely to relate to if you’ve spent time at the beach. It’s the one you feel clinging to your legs while in the ocean! There are actually many types of kelp, so I encourage you to do your own research if you want to find them all. There’s plenty 😊
Kelp is a rich source of nutrients including iodine, vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin B-12, iron, magnesium, and plenty of calcium.
One type of kelp worth mentioning is Bladderwrack. It’s a type of kelp found on the coasts of the North Sea, the western Baltic Sea, and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It offers various health benefits and a whole host of nutrients, just like the other sea veggies.
Fun fact: Bladderwrack was the original source of iodine, discovered in 1811. It was used extensively to treat goitre, a swelling of the thyroid gland related to iodine deficiency.
Bladderwrack can be used in broth, soups and stews, and cooked with grains and vegetables.
Another kelp highly worth mentioning is Kombu. This seaweed is a brown kelp, favoured for its strong, mineral-rich flavour. It’s often used in soups.
This seaweed is actually the first one I came across other than nori. It’s amazing to use when you’re cooking beans because it has enzymes that break down gas-producing sugars found in many legumes and vegetables. Throw a strip into your pot of beans next time you’re cooking them – easy peasy.
Another common use for this seaweed is in dashi, a traditional Japanese stock.
This is the seaweed most people know. Nori is the dark wrap around sushi rolls. It’s often sold in thin, dry sheets, either plain or toasted. This seaweed is one for the pantry because it lasts a very long time and can add instant umami flavour and nutritional whack to an array of dishes.
Nori isn’t just for sushi though. You can buy the sprinkle form, or just blend it up to shred it and sprinkle it over dishes like salt. It brings colour and flavour to foods like ramen, soup, curry, stir-fries or even popcorn!
Dulse or Dillisk is the most popular seaweed produced. This seaweed has a soft, chewy texture and is commonly eaten in dried form as a snack. Use it as a salt replacement, add to meals when cooking or simply add to potatoes, salads, pasta, rice, soups or fish dishes.
As with all sea veggies, dulse is rich in a plethora of vitamins and minerals such as B6, B12, iron, calcium, fibre and protein.
The salty manganese taste is what everyone recognizes right away with this one. Although the natural sodium gives the salty taste, it actually contains very little salt.
The species is not particularly palatable fresh but, when dried, it has a pleasant taste and mouth-feel.
Sea Spaghetti is another brown seaweed/algae from the lower shore. You’ll find it on the European side of the Atlantic Ocean, from the Baltic Sea, through the North Sea down to as far south as Portugal.
It has a relatively mild flavour compared to other seaweeds. In fact, this particular seaweed is a good one to introduce kids to seaweed. It turns a vibrant green during cooking, has a mild taste and can be added to their regular foods, such as a pasta meal.
Add it to your pasta dishes or salads. For some recipe inspiration, check out Irish Seaweed’s Sea Spaghetti, Ginger and Carrot Salad.
Wakame is a brown seaweed, and an incredibly popular one at that. It’s traditionally used in Japan in cold salads or as a topping in soup, rice, sushi or on tofu. You’ll commonly find it floating in a bowl of miso soup. This seaweed has a mild taste which makes it very versatile.
Although not originally a native of Europe, wakame has come to flourish here in Ireland. It grows in abundance in the extreme lower shore on wave-battered rocks and in rock pools along the coast of Ireland. Atlantic wakame grows quickly during the winter months and is harvested in mid-spring to early summer when it is at its nutritional prime.
When you buy it in dry form, simply rehydrate it by soaking it in water for a few minutes. This also helps remove some of the excess salt. Then toss it into your salads, stews, soups etc. and enjoy!
Caraagheen is noticeable by its delicate fronds and deep pink colour.
This is not a seaweed to eat in the conventional sense. Instead, it’s used more so as a gelling agent or thickener. It’s much too tough, even when cooked to chew on.
However, once you heat it in water it exudes a gelatinous flavourless substance. This is commonly used to thicken soups and stews. If you use it in higher concentrations you can even use it to set jellies and desserts. Many vegans use this in replacement of gelatin.
Here in Ireland, it’s a traditional Irish winter cold buster. Here’s a great brew by Susan Jane White using this super seaweed to fight the coughs and colds.
What is the Nutrition of Seaweed Like?
All seaweeds boast numerous health benefits. They are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and fatty acids. Here’s a small overlook of what they contain:
Seaweeds like Dillisk, Sea Salad, Carrageen, Kombu Kelp and Sugar Kelp have great amounts of B group vitamins. Interestingly, they even contain b12 which is hard to find in our food nowadays. This makes it an ideal addition for veggies and vegans, or for anyone struggling to obtain their b12 levels. The B Vitamins as a whole are very supportive for energy, brain health, the nervous system, creating new red blood cells and keeping your immune system strong.
Vitamin A (Beta Carotene)
Vitamin A is found in Dillisk, Sea Salad, Sugar Kelp and Wakame and is vital in the body for a whole host of things. These include vision, a healthy immune system and reproduction. It also helps with the optimum function of organs such as your heart, lungs and kidneys.
Interestingly enough, seaweed contains more vitamin C than oranges. Carrageen, Sugar Kelp, Bladderwrack and Nori have great amounts of Vitamin C. As we all know, vitamin C is excellent for supporting the immune system, but it’s also vital in many other areas of the body. Since we can’t produce it by ourselves, we need it from our food. Seaweed to the rescue 😊
Vitamin E & K
Other vitamin traces in our Seaweeds include vitamin E and K. These vitamins are antioxidants protecting against cells in the body. Vitamin K is also essential for binding calcium in bones. Atlantic Wakame has traces of both these vitamins.
Iodine is an essential trace mineral. This means that the body cannot produce it by itself. In fact, we must ingest it through our food or supplement it to obtain it.
Did you know that about a third of the world’s population doesn’t get the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for iodine of 150 mcg per day? In fact, the number of people thought to be deficient in this mineral is outstanding. Unfortunately, pregnant women are most at risk for being deficient.
Iodine is critical for thyroid health. Too little and you run the risk of hypothyroidism, which can cause a host of issues. This may be hair loss, fatigue, unexplained weight gain or goitres. Not enough iodine can also cause complications during pregnancy. It can affect brain and bone development, and even cause miscarriage.
Another thing that many people don’t know about iodine is that it is powerful against harmful organisms. Interestingly enough, there is no bacteria, virus or any type of microorganism that can survive or adapt to being in an iodine-rich environment. As a result, it helps to protect you and your immune system from invading microorganisms.
Luckily, seaweed is an excellent dietary source of this essential mineral, with kombu having the highest content followed by wakame and nori.
Overall, seaweeds contain a plethora of minerals. These include but are not limited to, iron, copper, manganese, folate, zinc, sodium, potassium calcium, iodine and magnesium.
Iodine works well when taken with other minerals, so luckily, you’ll find them together in seaweed.
What are the Health Benefits of Seaweed?
On the subject of Iodine, here’s another gem of a health benefit. Iodine actually helps to detoxify toxic metal from the body. Heavy metals accumulate in our bodies thanks to pollution in the air, the food we consume (especially high-mercury fish like tuna) and from our everyday products. Even fillings in our teeth can cause it!
Iodine helps to eliminate toxic metals like mercury, lead and detoxify the build-up of fluoride and bromide from the thyroid gland.
Algae such as spirulina and chlorella also help support the body’s detoxification process to reduce heavy metal levels, such as cadmium and lead.
As mentioned earlier, seaweeds are home to a vast array of antioxidants including beta-carotene, vitamin C, E, flavonoids and carotenoids, among many others.
Antioxidants are compounds found in food that stop or delay damage to the cells caused by oxidants. These oxidants are free radicals found in the environment, and come from things like cigarette smoke, pollution, stress etc. or from normal metabolism in the body.
Antioxidants found in seaweed help to support cellular regeneration and protect against cellular damage, helping to boost longevity and healing.
Supports a Healthy Gut Microbiome
If you’ve read my blogs for a while, you’ll know I’m all about a healthy gut microbiome! Another benefit that seaweed offers if an abundance of gut-loving fiber and prebiotics to support a happy healthy gut microbiome.
Seaweed’s fiber content helps with digestion and keeping things moving through as it should. Plus we all know fiber is great at helping to bind cholesterol and aid its removal from the body. Bonus!
And of course, fiber is also a great help in the battle of the blood sugar. It helps keep us full for longer and lessen the urge to mindlessly snack.
Then you have the prebiotic load. Prebiotic fibres are a non-digestible part of foods that goes through the small intestine undigested. That’s because they cannot be absorbed or broken down by the body. You may think that sounds like a bad thing, but actually, it ferments when it reaches the large colon and this fermentation process feeds beneficial bacteria colonies. Also, these prebiotics help to increase the number of desirable bacteria in our digestive system. These are the ones that are associated with better health and reduced disease risk.
Source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Unlike plants found on land such as spinach or kale, seaweed and algaes contains preformed omega-3 EPA and DHA. This makes seaweed a great source of omega-3 for vegetarians and vegans.
That’s why algae oil omega supplements are a fantastic and reliable alternative to fish oil supplements.
Why Quality is Important
Whether you are purchasing fresh, dried, or powdered seaweed, it is important to look for good quality. Seaweed is naturally absorbent, therefore, as a result, they tend to pick up any contaminants and heavy metals from their surroundings.
That’s why it’s important to make sure you source your seaweed from places/companies that are either wild-harvested in clean waters or ones that are grown in controlled aquacultures. This will ensure quality and purity.
As with your land veggies, you want to look out for seaweed that’s not been mucked about with. Basically, it should be minimally processed, dried without preservatives or additives.
How Do I Get My Hands on This Delicious Seaweed You Speak Of?
We stock Wild Irish Sea Veg by Gerard & Eileen Talty. All Wild Irish Seaweeds grow wildly off the coast of Co. Clare. They are harvested in season to provide optimum nutrition and are organically certified by IOFGA. Here you will find the dried whole forms and sprinkle forms to easily add to your dishes.
And if you want some outer body care, why not give Carraig Fhada Atlantic Seaweed Bath a try?
How do I Incorporate it Into My Diet?
There are many ways to start adding seaweed into your diet.
One of the easiest ways to incorporate sea veggies into your day is to add a sprinkle form—such as Wild Irish Sea Salad Sprinkles. These you can just add to your salads, rice, soup, stews etc.
Then you have the option of cooking them into your meals like we covered earlier. Sea spaghetti goes well with pasta, kombu goes well with beans.
Making a sushi roll with nori at home.
For some recipe ideas, check out the Wild Irish Sea Veg website for ideas.
Then we have chlorella and sprirulina. Although not a seaweed, they are an algae and they are available in powdered form. They can easily be added to smoothies or mixed into juice. Have a read over my blog post here for more ideas.
Can Anyone Eat Seaweed?
For anyone suffering from thyroid issues, you should be careful when introducing seaweed into your diet. Very high consumption of seaweed may actually interfere with normal thyroid function. This is especially true if you’re taking medication for a thyroid condition. Have a chat with your doctor or health care practitioner for some guidance. Hyperthyroidism is no fun.
To conclude, seaweed packs a serious nutritional punch. It’s Incredibly rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and well worth investigating further. I highly encourage you to source out some Irish seaweeds and a recipe or two and get munching 😊
Any questions? Drop into your local Nourish store to chat with our expert team and explore our full range of foods, supplements and skincare. You can also find our full product range in our online store.
*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication