Seaweed is a nutritional powerhouse full of vitamins and minerals as well as other compounds that promote health. These compounds have been shown to reduce inflammation and cancer risk, have anti-viral properties, and contribute to vascular health. Interestingly, some of these compounds are unique to sea vegetables — you won’t find them in veggies grown from the soil.

Seaweed has been a natural part of the diet of many traditional coastal communities. It stands to reason that those who lived close to the sea ate from the sea (including fish and seafood). But even those cultures that did not live by the ocean somehow knew the inherent value of this food and would travel great distances to get it or trade for it. We now know that seaweed contains a rich array of minerals, vitamins, and other health-promoting compounds.

Of note is seaweed’s rich concentration of iodine, which it gets from seawater. (This is why all seafood contains iodine.) Iodine is important for normal thyroid gland function; if you don’t get enough, you are at increased risk of an underactive thyroid gland. White blood cells also use iodine in their fight against invaders like viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells. The body also uses iodine to help eliminate heavy metals like lead and mercury from the body. Iodine intake has actually been steadily declining in the last fifty years or so, likely due to messages about lowering sodium intake; iodized salt is a common source of iodine for most people. In particular, many women aged 25 to 39 are borderline low in iodine. Iodine is critical for fetal neurological development.

Seaweed also contains other valuable minerals like calcium, copper, chromium, iron, lithium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, selenium, silicon, sulfur, vanadium, and zinc. Sea vegetables also offer a rich array of vitamins including carotenoids, vitamins C, E, K1, and many of the B vitamins.

Seaweed comes in many forms, including dried whole, powdered, flaked, and in dried sheets. You may even be able to find it fresh if the time of year is right and you know the right people. Local varieties include dulse, nori, wakame (alaria), and kelp, among others. Seaweed is incredibly versatile and complements a wide variety of dishes. It is a common ingredient in miso soup (especially alaria), but also tastes great in traditional chowder as well as a pot of hearty lentil or bean soup. Kelp is often used to make the broth for these dishes and, when added to the cooking legumes, makes them easier to digest. Other options include fresh seaweed salads, stir-fries, and noodle dishes. If your seaweed is dried, make sure to reconstitute it in warm water in a covered bowl for 15 minutes or gently cook in water until it becomes tender. Save the cooking water, as it will be rich in minerals. Nori sheets can be turned into nori rolls or baked for a tasty snack on their own. Flaked seaweed adds flavor to everything from rice to stir-fries to scrambled eggs. Use your creativity and let your taste buds guide you.

We are lucky to have many different options of seaweed products here in Maine due to our local seaweed harvesters, so keep trying varieties until you find one that you love. Your body will thank you.

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1 cup alaria, soaked and sliced into strips
1 large cucumber, sliced finely
2 medium carrots, grated or sliced into matchsticks
1 daikon radish, grated or sliced thinly
2 scallions, sliced thinly
4 tsp. fish sauce or 2 tsp. tamari
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Juice from 1 inch piece of ginger, grated
1 tsp. honey
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. sesame oil
Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Toss to combine thoroughly. Let marinate 15-20 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

If you would like a nutrition question answered, please send it to the email above.

The information provided in this article is intended for general use only and is not to be used in place of medical advice from a licensed health professional.