Seaweed: Our Strangest Functional Food Yet
The word “seaweed” brings to mind beach memories and getting feet tangled in the stuff as we’d venture out into the deep blue. Until recently, we certainly weren’t thinking about seaweed as a means to tame our growling stomachs. But, did you know? Seaweed is a functional food with a wide array of health benefits.
Seaweed is a type of algae and this impressive plant supplies about 70 percent of the world’s oxygen. As a food, it is a balanced source of soluble fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Some types of seaweed are good sources of omega-3 fats or are high in vitamin B12, all while being low in calories.
Seaweed is particularly rich in the mineral iodine, which the body needs to produce thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones, in turn, play an important role in metabolism, bone and brain development, and cellular repair. Luckily, seaweed is one of the best dietary sources of this mineral. Depending on the type of seaweed you opt for on your dinner plate, you could get up to 2,000 percent of your daily iodine needs (for adults) in a 1 gram serving. One caveat here though—too much iodine may have the opposite effect and actually harm your body’s thyroid gland. However, until this functional food gains popularity, we doubt that many Americans are at risk of overdoing it with seaweed consumption!
In addition to iodine, seaweed contains vitamins A, C, and E, as well as flavonoids and carotenoids. These vitamins and plant compounds function as antioxidants to protect your body from chronic disease.
We know what you’re thinking… That’s all well and good, but what does this stuff taste like? Seaweed is a source of the flavor umami and generally has an intense, ocean-like salty, mineral-like taste. However, different types of seaweed offer varying flavor profiles. Nori, which comes in sheet form and is commonly used for sushi, tastes briny, while dulse, which typically comes in powdered form, has a smoky flavor that works well in salads, sautés, and soups.
In the coming weeks, we’ve prepared some seaweed “starter” recipes for those who are new to using this functional food at home. Stay tuned!
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