The Health Benefits of the Sea
The sea is an excellent source of nutrition. Believe it or not, half of seaweed is made up of carbohydrate and around one third is protein, vitamins and fibre. Even better, seaweed contains only two per cent of fat.
Seaweed is a form of marine algae that grows in the upper levels of the ocean. Out of the hundreds of types of seaweed available, there are around ten different kinds that we can actually eat.
And, according to naturopath Dr Gillian McKeith, author of Living Food for Health, plants from the sea contain more minerals than any other plant source. This is because they contain a variety of important elements. Typical ingredients are calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, potassium and many trace elements.
In fact, one type of seaweed called Wakame contains ten times more calcium than the amount found in milk. There is eight times more iron in Kombu – a type of kelp – than beef.
In addition, Dr McKeith claims the protein in seaweed is more easily absorbed by the body than protein found in meat or fish.
‘This is because protein in meat is a complex structure that the body finds difficult to break down,’ she says. ‘By comparison seaweed has a simple structure which the body can easily absorb.’
Not only this, but the alkaline content of seaweed makes our bodies less acidic. ‘Too much acid in our bodies can make us slow and sluggish,’ she says. But eating alkaline foods such as seaweed speeds up our metabolic rate and gives us more energy.’
Although it is possible to eat too much seaweed because it has a cooling effect on the liver, Dr McKeith recommends eating a small handful of seaweed sprinkled on soups or stews three times a week.
Here, we look at the nutritional properties of four different types of seaweed
Nori for healthy bones and teeth
This popular type of seaweed found along the coast of Japan is an excellent source of nutrition. It contains 48 per cent of protein – the equivalent to meat or eggs. It also has the same amount of beta carotene as carrots and twice as much vitamin C as oranges.
Nori is a rich source of B vitamins and minerals including calcium – used for building bones and teeth, iron – essential for the formation of red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body, phosphorus – for energy metabolism and iodine – essential for the formation of thyroid hormones, which regulate the body’s energy production and promote growth.
It is also said that Nori can reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure due to its high levels of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Essential fatty acids are essential to health because they reduce high cholesterol levels, prevent blood clots and help brain and eye development.
Dulse for joint pain
This reddish purple seaweed found in America and Canada contains eight times the amount of iron as beef – making it the richest source of iron in any food. Its high levels of iron help the body to produce red blood cells and keep our blood healthy.
Dulse is also rich in B vitamins and the minerals calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese. Manganese is important for relieving arthritis, osteoporosis – a bone-thinning disease – and joint pain because manganese is thought to encourage protein production involved in repairing cartilage and bones.
Kombu or kelp for weight loss, thyroid problems and skin problems
A type of kelp that is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, iron and iodine – Kombu – is claimed to improve our body’s metabolism and immune system.
Kelp can also help with obesity linked to thyroid deficiency because it boosts levels of endocrine hormones, increasing metabolic rate, thus helping with weight loss. Kelp is also said to help with skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema thanks to its anti-fungal properties.
Blue-green algae for brain function and preventing hair loss
Although most algae are found in the ocean, edible algae actually grows in lakes. Scientific studies show that this plant vegetable is good for brain function.
Researchers have shown how academic results improved when school children took algae daily. Other evidence published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medical Society, shows that algae can reverse – or even prevent Alzheimer’s from developing into the full blown disease.
According to Dr McKeith, the body finds algae particularly easy to absorb – thanks to its simple molecular structure. Unlike other foods such as beef, of which where we absorb just 20 per cent, the human body can absorb 90 per cent of algae making it a nutritious source of food.
Algae is also a richer source of beta carotene, vitamin B12 and chlorophyll than any other plant. It is also an excellent source of B vitamins – essential for the production of red blood cells and creating energy.
In addition algae is rich in iodine, a mineral that’s crucial for hair growth. According to John Mason, president of The Institute of Trichologists in London, one of the main reasons for hair thinning in women is due to the sluggish working of the thyroid gland, which needs iodine to function correctly.