Yes, apparently it’s true: seaweed is the new kale. From dedicated health bloggers to major websites in the wellness game, people are singing the praises of the ocean’s produce and calling seaweed the next big thing superfood.
As someone who routinely deals with seaweed in unpleasant ways (pulled a nice chunk out of my hair last night post-surf), I found this a little surprising, but the reality is that seaweed has been a staple of various diets around the world for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. It’s very commonly used in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisines, and for a long time, it was eaten in Europe and the British Isles as well.
The thing is, seaweed is super good for you. Most kinds of seaweed contain high levels of iodine, which the human body needs to regulate and produce thyroid hormones, but the body can’t produce itself. Additionally, most seaweed is rich in vitamin A and B, the B vitamins, magnesium, fiber, iron, amino acids, calcium, and healthy fats. As a bonus, seaweed has anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties that help the body stay healthy. Studies have also demonstrated that seaweed can be helpful for regulating estrogen, which can help ease PMS symptoms and prevent breast cancer in women. Who knew the slimy stuff could be so good for you?
Maybe the best thing about seaweed? Growing it is about as sustainable as it gets. For one thing, seaweed grows incredibly fast. For example, kelp, probably the fastest growing seaweed can grow a foot or more in just a day and reach up to 100 feet in length in a number of months.
Additionally, unlike most terrestrial plants, seaweed requires little to no added resources. Once the seeds attach to a rock or base on the seafloor, they simply use the sun and water around them to flourish. No freshwater, pesticides, or herbicides are required. In fact, many kinds actually clean the water around them as they grow by removing nutrients that can lead to algal blooms.
Although there are dozens of kinds of seaweed, four are probably the most popular for eating: kelp, nori, dulse, and wakame. Kelp is frequently consumed as a noodle. Nori often comes in dark green sheets (hello, sushi roll). However, it can also be served as a veggie bed for rice or fish. Dulse is typically sold in some kind of a dried form, either powder, flakes, or whole leaf. It’s used as an herb or topping. Finally, wakame is the seaweed typically used in traditional seaweed salads. You’ve likely encountered this type of seaweed before either as a sushi side dish or atop a poke bowl.
There are a few things you should keep in mind if you decide to start incorporating seaweed into your diet. For starters, most people can consume seaweed regularly no problem, but you should consult a doctor if you are pregnant or if you have kidney or thyroid problems. Secondly, treat seaweed as you would your normal produce. Make sure it’s good quality. Look for kinds that keep additives and preserves to a minimum. Also, check to find out where your seaweed is coming from. Hopefully, it comes from somewhere exotic and, more importantly, clean. If your seaweed says grown in the Port of Long Beach, reach for a different brand.