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Health Benefits of Seaweed and How to Cook & Eat Sea Vegetables

By Heather Levin

seaweed plateAs I write this, I’m munching on a square of roasted nori seaweed. It’s crispy, lightly dusted with spicy wasabi powder, and delicious! Seaweed has become one of my favorite snacks. The tasty and low-calorie snack has many healthy vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting phytochemicals.

In the United States, seaweed seems like a “foreign food.” You can’t find it in the regular grocery stores, and you don’t usually cook with seaweed. For most of us, we only see and eat seaweed, and other sea vegetables, when dining at a sushi restaurant.

However, if you want to live a healthy lifestyle, or lose weight, you may benefit by working more seaweed into your diet.

Health Benefits of Seaweed

Most chefs and experts use the term “sea vegetables” to describe this superfood. Sea vegetables include red, green, and brown algae found both in water and along the coast in tide pools.

The term “sea vegetables” has grown in popularity, because the term “weed” has negative connotations for many people. People see the word “weed” on a package or a menu, and steer the other way. The term “sea vegetables” refers to marine algae varieties like nori, dulse, kelp, kombu, and wakame.

Sea vegetables are the oldest plant family on Earth, and ounce for ounce, they have more vitamins and minerals than any other plant. Sea vegetables have plenty of vitamins, especially B-vitamins, which help regulate your mood.

What exactly can you find in sea vegetables?

  • Sea vegetables give you all 56 minerals and elements you need to survive. No other plant contains all 56.
  • Sea vegetables have a surplus of iodine, a hard-to-find element necessary for healthy brain and thyroid function. This iodine, along with other amino acids in sea vegetables, helps stunt tumor growth, and reduces breast and uterine fibroids.
  • Sea vegetables are rich in vitamin A, which helps keep your skin clear, and eyesight sharp. They’re also rich in vitamins C, E, and B vitamins.
  • Sea vegetables have antioxidants, which boost your immune system, and help fight off disease.
  • The sea vegetable nori is 28% protein. This makes it an excellent, zero-fat source of protein. Many other varieties of sea vegetables are also high in protein.
  • Sea vegetables have extensive detoxification properties. They can remove toxins, metals, and radioactive elements from the body.
  • Sea vegetables are rich in magnesium, which reduces blood pressure.
  • Hijiki and kelp are sea vegetables high in calcium. Gram for gram, hijiki has 14 times more calcium than milk.
  • Sea vegetables also have strong antibiotic properties. They are even effective against penicillin-resistant bacteria.
  • Because of the phytochemicals in sea vegetables, eating them regularly helps reduce the signs of aging, and keeps your body healthy over the long-term.
  • Sea vegetables are a good source of fiber. This keeps your body healthy with the regular removal of waste, and also helps prevent the formation of kidney stones.
  • Nori has twice as much vitamin C as an orange.

I could keep going; sea vegetables have incredible health benefits, almost too many to list here!

seaweed nori

Finding Affordable Sea Vegetables

Now that I’ve sold you on sea vegetables, you’re probably wondering, where can I buy them? How do I eat them? Your local Asian grocer should have affordable, high quality sea vegetables. Sea vegetables are cheap at Asian grocery stores, but pricey at high-end health food stores like Whole Foods.

In fact, I started out buying Annie Chung’s Roasted Seaweed Snacks at my local health food store. I bought several, at $1.30 per package. Since I eat a package in one sitting, this favorite snack quickly became too expensive to eat every day.

Then I stumbled upon my favorite Asian grocery stores, and found the best deals on sea vegetables. My local market sells three packages of seaweed snacks for $1.30. You can also buy much larger packs of seaweed sheets, or sliced seaweed, for much less.

Start by purchasing a few packages of seaweed snacks. The snack packages usually contain small sheets of roasted sea vegetables, brushed with sesame oil, and sea salt. The addictive snacks make a great entrance into the world of sea vegetables. Once you fall in love with brushed seaweed, you can move on to using seaweed in your regular cooking.

Cooking and Eating Sea Vegetables

The thought of cooking with sea vegetables may seem intimidating, but it actually isn’t difficult. Most of the time I don’t “cook” with sea vegetables at all; I just add a sheet or a handful of shredded seaweed to whatever I’m cooking. Most sea vegetables, such as wakame, kombu, kelp, and agar-agar must be soaked in water before eating. Only nori, the kind of seaweed used to wrap sushi, can be eaten dry.

Here are some ideas for working sea vegetables into your diet:

1. Make Sushi Bowls
Making sushi is both time and labor intensive. When I’m running short on time, I use a shortcut to make awesome sushi: I make a sushi bowl. Instead of chopping up avocado, cucumber, crab meat, asparagus, and whatever else I want into super thin slices, I make bigger slices. I make some sticky sushi rice, and then I dump it all into a bowl.

Then, I grab handfuls of small sheets of nori, or a few handfuls of sliced nori, and place them on top of the bowl. Doing this saves time and effort. You get to enjoy all the ingredients of sushi, without all of the fuss. It still tastes just as good, especially when you drizzle soy sauce and freshly made wasabi over the bowl. Yum!

2. Add Sea Vegetables to Your Salad
You can easily work sea vegetables into your diet when you include them in green salads. I have several bags of sliced seaweed in my pantry, and I often sprinkle nori on top of a green salad. With the mild dressing I use, nori adds crispness and flavor, and I get all the benefits of the healthy vitamins and minerals in the sea vegetable. You can also pair nori with vegetables, including carrots and cucumbers.

3. Add Wakame to Soups
Although any sea vegetable makes a wonderful addition to soups, wakame works well when paired with other flavors. Japanese restaurants use this deep green sea vegetable to make “seaweed salad.” Wakame is especially tasty in miso soup.

4. Stir-Fry
You can soak many sea vegetables in water, and then toss them in a wok or pan to stir-fry with other vegetables. Arame and hijiki varieties taste wonderful when cooked this way. You can add any number of oils or condiments, but I always use sesame oil and a bit of soy sauce. To me, when used sparingly, these sauces help the flavor of the sea vegetables really shine!

Final Word

Discover a whole new world of seaweed by experimenting with different varieties of sea vegetables and different methods of preparation. The various types of sea vegetables taste wonderful, and they provide a number of healthy vitamins and minerals. They can also serve as great snacks or vegetable portions with meals. When you first venture into the world of sea vegetables, start with something simple, like nori, and then work your way up to the more exotic types of seaweed.

Do you eat sea vegetables regularly? If so, what are your favorite recipes?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • http://www.quickquote.com/ Tracy

    I love wakeme and miso soup! I also use nori sheets to make spring rolls.

    • Heather

      Tracy, I’ve started eating miso for breakfast and it’s a wonderful way to start the day! Thanks for reading. :)

  • Amandamychelle

    I eat the wasabi roasted seaweed sheets everyday as a snak—love them!!!

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