By Kim Robson:
Humans have been harvesting and eating sea vegetables for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence suggests that Japanese cultures have been consuming sea vegetables for more than 10,000 years. In ancient China, sea vegetables were a noted delicacy, reserved particularly for honored guests and royalty. Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, and other Asian countries incorporate sea vegetables into their cuisines.
But don’t think sea vegetables are limited to Asian food. In fact, most regions and countries located by seas, including Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, and coastal South American countries have been consuming sea vegetables since ancient times.
Sea vegetables are defined as any type of edible seaweed and are classified as algae. They go by many names, including kelp, kombu, nori and wakami. Seaweed has been used medicinally in China for centuries to treat liver problems, swelling, phlegm, cysts and enlarged thyroid glands.
Dietary researcher Dr. Weston Price found several decades ago that natives of the high-altitude Andes mountains carried around their necks a small bag containing a greenish-brown powder, a bit of which was consumed every day. It was seaweed obtained with much difficulty from coastal Indians, but which these healthy dwellers of the high Andes would not do without.
In the 18th century, kelp was discovered to contain iodine. It was used to treat enlarged thyroid glands, or goiter, which is often caused by iodine deficiency in the diet. Several types of algae have been marketed for use as supplements since the early 1980s, when spirulina and other types of blue-green algae that grow in ponds and lakes became popular. Since then, an ever increasing variety of seaweeds from ocean sources have been sold as dietary supplements in the United States.
All of the 56 elements essential for human health, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, iodine, iron, and zinc, are present in sea vegetables. They also contain measurable amounts of important trace elements such as copper, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, selenium, and vanadium that are often lacking in land vegetables due to soil demineralization.
Even better, the minerals in sea vegetables exist in a chelated, colloidal form that makes them readily “bioavailable” for uptake to crucial bodily functions. Sea vegetables also lower cholesterol, contain antioxidant alkaloids, and have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anticoagulant, antithrombotic, and anti-cancer properties.
Dr. Jane Teas of Harvard University has published a paper proposing that kelp (specifically kombu and wakame) consumption might be a factor in the lower rates of breast cancer in Japan. She now is researching the effects of sea vegetables as a natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Sea vegetables are very high in lignans, plant substances that become phytoestrogens in the body, meaning that they help to block the chemical estrogens that can predispose people to cancers such as breast cancer.
Want to start adding sea veggies to your diet? The trick is to use just a small amount (such as a sprinkle of dulse or kelp flakes) so you don’t overstimulate your system with the iodine and other minerals in the plant. A little goes a long way.
If you’re on a low-salt diet or are salt sensitive, you can use sea vegetables. For example, flavor your food with umami instead of salt, and get more trace minerals in addition. Not all sea vegetables smell like the sea, by the way.
Add a sprinkle of sea vegetables to soups or salads and to various vegetable dishes. You don’t have to cook sea vegetables that are already chewable. Just slice them up into bits. Dried sheets can be soaked or cooked until they’re chewably soft. Use in moderation: up to one teaspoon of sea vegetables daily or even every few days is a balanced amount.