One food above all others that I encourage my clients to eat on a daily basis is seaweed. A rich source of all the trace minerals we need to sustain life, the valuing of seaweed nutrition is missing from our western culture. People from coastal Asian cultures know the importance of edible seaweed as a staple of their diet, and as an island country with so much accessible coastline and a huge fishing industry, it makes little sense that we’ve largely ignored our abundant sea vegetables for so long.
Seaweeds come in red, brown or green varieties and are all forms of marine algae. Some familiar common names are kelp (a.k.a. bladderwrack), karengo (our native purplish variety), nori, kombu, wakame and arame (all Japanese varieties).
Because it absorbs all the nutrients present in its ocean environment, all the minerals necessary for human life are present in seaweed. This remarkable vegetable contains vitamins, amino acids and around 70 minerals and trace elements, including good levels of iodine, zinc, copper, manganese, magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium. Vitamin B12 and fibre are other important constituents.
Kelp forests are recognized as one of the most productive and dynamic ecosystems on Earth. Some fast growing kelp plants increase by half a metre a day and reach 80 metres in length. In New Zealand, these forests are protected and no kelp can be cut from the wild natural supplies in our waters. Instead it is collected by hand when it detaches from the kelp forests during storms.
Our bodies’ production of thyroid hormones, important regulators of normal metabolism, depends on iodine. In the past high use of iodised table salt ensured adequate dietary levels, but at the cost of developing arteriosclerosis due to excess sodium intake. With many people now removing salt from their diet to prevent these hardening processes, iodine deficiency can become an issue. Seaweed is an unrivalled healthy source of iodine, with kelp being the primary medicinal herb for treating thyroid imbalance.
How do you eat it? You can add a small handful of dried seaweed to rice as you cook it, or to stir fries, soups, casseroles etc. Make sushi using nori, or soak dried arame and add it to salads. If you haven’t yet acquired a taste for edible seaweed in its natural state, kelp powder is another easily available way to optimise your seaweed nutrition. Use it as a condiment to replace salt. The important thing is to get into the habit of having a small amount every day in some form, so you are meeting your iodine needs.
As well as being a thyroid balancer, kelp is an effective weight management food, helping to re-establish normal weight in two ways. First is through balancing thyroid function, which has a direct influence on metabolic rate and helps normalise blood sugar levels. Secondly, kelp is a natural fluid balancer, helping the body redistribute excess fluid build-up in the tissues. This coupled with kelp’s demulcent action also has a regulating effect on bowel and digestive health. The algin in kelp is a highly absorbent substance which helps remove toxins and heavy metals from the body.
The general tonic effects of this super food from the oceans include improved hair condition for both yourself and your pets. Giving cats, dogs and horses a kelp supplement improves their nutrient uptake from food sources and therefore their overall health. This is evident in shiny coats and enhanced performance.
By Carolyn Simon ND, DipMedHerb
See also these other interesting NZ articles about edible seaweed:
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