When you were a kid, you were likely told to ‘eat your greens.’ Fast-forward a few decades and all of us in the sustainable wellness community are echoing – and amplifying – that parental sentiment. The difference between then and now is that today more people are embracing diets rich in nutrition-packed plants, enjoying more access to fresh, whole, greens. They now understand that the phytonutrients found in greens play an essential role in helping to support healthier lives, less burdened by disease and chronic illness. And while we’re all pretty familiar with the classic greens like spinach and kale, one of the more recent additions to the healthy greens list is seaweed, an ocean-grown veggie that’s worth getting to know better. Here’s a top line on this health-supporting gift from the sea and of course, how you can enjoy more of it:
1. It’s The New Superfood That’s Anything But New
When you Google the word ‘seaweed,’ you’ll see a lot of headlines proclaiming seaweed the new kale – and they’re right. It’s heavy on nutrition, light on empty calories and comes with an array of superfood benefits. Though some might call it a trendy veggie, in many cultures, particularly those with plenty of coastline, seaweed has been an essential food, and rich source of nutrients, for thousands of years. While it’s been a staple of Japanese and Chinese cuisine, and eaten by many of our ancestors across Europe and the British Isles, until recently most Americans have had little exposure to it, save for the occasional sushi meal or lunchtime bag of SeaSnaks (but that’s starting to change).
2. Seaweed Has Nutrients – And Lots Of ‘em
What’s inside that seaweed? Well, there are many different kinds, each with similar but varying nutritional values but in general, most are good sources of iodine, which many folks are deficient in. This is important because our bodies don’t produce iodine but need it in order to make thyroid hormones. You’ll also find vitamin A and C and the B’s, plus calcium, magnesium, iron, folate, fiber, amino acids and good fats. Add to that antioxidant, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties and this plentiful veggie-from-the-sea is the total package for anyone looking to support their health. Of special interest to women: some studies have suggested that seaweed may be helpful for regulating estrogen, which can help mitigate PMS symptoms and possibly reduce breast cancer risk.
3. Seaweed Is Super-sustainable
What’s also super appealing about seaweed is that it’s fairly easy to ‘farm,’ with nature doing much of the heavy lifting. It’s super-sustainable, growing quickly with some types gaining 5 -10 inches in single a day. Seaweed reaches anywhere from 20 to 100 feet in length depending on the species, so to say it grows abundantly is an understatement. But what’s truly amazing about seaweed is that, despite all that fast and copious growth, it consumes few, if any, natural resources. The seeds attach to rocks on the ocean floor, and the seedlings take off from there, cleaning the surrounding waters as they grow. Look ma, no Round-Up, no run-off!
4. Now, Dive In!
Before you dive in though, do keep in mind:
- Buy the best quality possible. As with land veggies, look for seaweed that’s minimally processed dried without additives or preservatives and harvested from clean waters.
- While most seaweed will arrive at the store dried, the good news is that the majority of the nutrients will remain intact, so you’ll still enjoy the benefits.
- For most people adding seaweed to the diet in moderation doesn’t pose a problem, but check with your doc first particularly if you have kidney or thyroid issues, are pregnant or are on certain prescription medications.
While there are many different types of seaweed, the most commonly used and widely available ones you’re likely to find at health food or well-stocked grocery stores are kelp, nori and dulse. The question is, what to do with them? Here are some simple ways to enjoy them:
Kelp: Enjoy in noodle form and make a meal of them. Rinse off the salty water they’re usually packaged in and add a little pesto, a pile of chopped raw, fermented or sautéed veggies. Top with fish or poultry and dinner is served. Or try adding kelp noodles to add flavor and heartiness to soups.
Nori: Most of us are familiar with those slightly crispy, dark green sheets that wrap our sushi, but you can also use nori as a rice or salad topper or as a veggie bed for fish and poultry. Remember, a little goes a long way so a light touch is best, particularly if you (or finicky family members) are new to the taste.
Dulse: You can find it in dried, powdered form, in strips and flakes, or whole leaf versions, so you can go as light or heavy as you want. Add powdered dulse to salad dressings, marinades. Sprinkle some on your morning eggs or into a smoothie. Or try this idea from Bon Appétit: pan-fry whole leaf dulse in a little olive oil till crisp, and use as a healthy bacon alternative.
For more ideas on how to get more super greens into your life and on to your plate, check out Love Your Leafy Greens.