Most of us may be well acquainted with the seaweed in our sushi and the accompanying miso soup by the sides. But beyond the delightful taste of this Japanese delicacy, have you ever pondered about the health benefits these edible algae have to offer?
What is Seaweed?
Seaweed or sea vegetables are part of the algae family tree that breed in the sea and is a form of food source for marine life. It grows along the rocky shoreline across continents and ranges from black to green or red in colour. There are believed to be more than 10,000 species of seaweed, reflecting its immense diversity in both nutritional properties and flavour.
Seaweed is extremely versatile in the culinary world and can be utilised in numerous dishes, including salads, soup and stews, sushi rolls, as well as smoothies. It has been globally consumed for centuries but has most notably established itself as a prominent ingredient in Asians’ diet for the longest period of time, predominantly in Japan, China and Korea.
Apart from adding a unique texture and taste to its dishes, seaweeds are generally low in calories and pack a serious nutritional punch that is beneficial to human health. It offers a lengthy list of potential benefits, such as enhanced weight loss and improved heart health, among others.
Read on to determine for yourself whether you should start incorporating this sea vegetable into your meals.
Promotes Weight Loss
If you are looking to shed off some extra pounds, you should consider having seaweed in your diet. Seaweed contains low calories but a bucketload of fibre. This fibre in seaweed breaks down slowly, causing you to feel satisfied for a longer period of time and keeping your cravings or hunger pangs in check.
In addition, several studies have shown that seaweed possesses anti-obesity effects, claiming that fucoxanthin — a carotenoid in seaweed — can effectively reduce body fat and decrease blood sugar levels. Furthermore, seaweed contains alginate, which has been found to suppress the digestion of fat by enzymes in the gut.
Rich in Vitamins and Minerals
Adding a dash of dried seaweed into your food not only adds flavour, texture and taste, but it is also a convenient method to increase your intake of vitamins and minerals. Seaweed contains traces of calcium, sodium, magnesium, zinc and folate, as well as vitamins A, C, E and K. While some of you may think of this as a trivial amount, regularly using it a seasoning, say twice or thrice a week, provides the simplest of ways to add more nutrients to your meals.
Some types of seaweed, such as chlorella and spirulina, contain protein and all of the essential amino acids. This means chomping down that string of seaweed ensures your body obtains the full chain of amino acids. Additionally, seaweed provides satisfactory amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and is an especially potent source of vitamin B12, which is vital for healthy nerves and blood tissue.
Loaded with Antioxidants
Excessive free radical production is regarded to be a fundamental cause of several diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Antioxidants can make harmful free radicals in your body become less reactive and thus, less likely to damage your cells. Additionally, seaweed is loaded with a variety of beneficial plant compounds, including carotenoids and flavonoids. Studies have shown that these compounds help protect the cells in your body from free radical damage.
Apart from fibre and antioxidants, seaweed contains other odd types of carbohydrates that we lack the digestive enzymes to digest, such as galactan, fucan and carrageenan, among others. These carbohydrates then turn into food for the bacteria.
What you consume directly influences the type of bacteria that dominates in your gut. Certain types of bacteria grow better, depending on the kind of food you eat. This explains why some cultures can manage different types of food better than others. In fact, scientists discovered that the gut bacteria in healthy Japanese people are made up of more bacteria that can digest the types of carbohydrates in seaweed, as compared to others living in regions with a different diet.
Minimises the Risk of Heart Disease
Heart disease is, hands down, the leading cause of death globally. Factors that may increase your risk include smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol.
Studies have shown that seaweed possesses the potential to reduce your blood cholesterol levels. Additionally, heart disease can also be triggered by excessive blood clotting. Seaweed contains carbohydrates called fucans, which aid in preventing blood from clotting.
Recently, researchers have started to study peptides in seaweed. Early studies indicate that these protein-like structures may obstruct part of a pathway that increases blood pressure in your body.
Seaweed is a potential wonder crop, with a wide variety of health benefits. For centuries, the Japanese and other Asian cultures have been known to consume foods wrapped in dried seaweed. However, of late, seaweed is seemingly making waves in the west, with a certain Victoria Beckham swearing by seaweed shakes in helping her get slim.
So if Victoria eats it, why shouldn’t you?