When I tell people I eat seaweed, the most common response is along the lines of, “Oh yeah, I love that. I always order it when I get Chinese.” To which I try not to cry. The “seaweed” on the menu at takeaways is in fact cabbage fried with sugar and is one of the least healthy things we can eat. What I talk about and absolutely love is the real stuff that floats in the sea—actual, proper sea vegetables!
Seaweed is a bit like algae, except, funnily enough, it comes from the sea (shocking, I know!), and although it might sound like one of these new superfoods, it has actually been on the earth for so long it’s even older than plants and trees! For that reason alone I find it hard to believe it’s not saturating our home cooking and restaurants.
Other than the sugar cabbage that isn’t actually seaweed, the way that most of us come across it is sushi. This type is called nori, a pressed and dried sea lettuce that is one of the things that makes the Japanese diet so wonderfully healthy.
The thing I love most is it’s a fantastic natural supplement for those on a plant-based diet. When I first turned away from animal products I was frequently told I wouldn’t be getting enough iron or calcium and would need to take various pills in order to compensate. However, seaweed is so rich in iron—and actually has more calcium than milk—that I can now confidently laugh at the meat dispute. (Hiziki, a type of seaweed, has around 14 times more calcium than cow’s milk.)
Seaweeds contain trace minerals that aren’t found in land vegetables where the soil is depleted. Kelp, and specifically Kombu, has 150 times more iodine and 8 times more magnesium than any land vegetable. Iodine is important in thyroid function, and magnesium is good for stress reduction and fluid retention. Sea veggies are also more easily digested than land ones!
Sea vegetables also contain vitamins A, B, C and E. They dissolve excess fat and cholesterol deposits from meat and animal food and can help reverse the hardening of arteries, bringing down high blood pressure, and regressing tumours.
Seaweeds are also very alkaline and help balance overly acidic blood conditions. Using alginic acid within the seaweed, radioactive substances and heavy metals that may have accumulated in the body are bound and expelled, preventing potential illnesses. It’s hard to believe seaweed isn’t included in every single meal we come across!
If you’re wondering just how quickly you can get to the health food shop to purchase these wonder-foods, you might want to be aware that most of them are given funny sounding names. These are some that you can expect to find:
Hiziki, Nori (used in sushi), Arame, Kelp/Kombu, Dulse, Wakame (found in miso soups), Sea lettuce, Agar-Agar (used to make jelly), Irish Moss, Mekabu, and Nekabu.
I personally use some of them as dishes on their own. For example, arame is delicious cooked with onion, or kombu as stock in soup (kombu is also great to cook with beans as they help digestion and reduce the gas!!). However, small amounts can just be cooked up with grains and you will still get the benefits of the added minerals. Although they may seem expensive at first glance, most are available in dried form so they keep for a really long time.
So the next time someone asks you how you get all your vitamins on a plant-based diet, give them some seaweed and smile!