Seaweed benefits for health

Busy lifestyles have forced the health-conscious population to bank on different superfoods. While the list of superfoods keeps on changing with recent research and developments, seaweed remains a top contender due to its health and nutrition benefits.

Let us go through all about the possible seaweed benefits for health in this article in detail. Starting with a quick overview of seaweed.

Seaweed- An overview:

Seaweed is the commonly used term for different algae and marine plant species. It can grow in the sea, rivers, lakes, etc. Algae from the sea are edible, while freshwater varieties are not edible. Some of the common edible algae include red, brown, green, blue-green, etc.

Further, seaweed has an important role in marine life and is the primary diet of many sea creatures. Not only this, popular cuisines like Japanese and Chinese are using seaweed in their integral diets.

Nutritional value of Seaweed:

One cup or 15 grams of seaweed contains:

  • Calories: 45
  • Copper: 56% of the daily value 
  • Riboflavin: 22% of the daily value
  • Iron: 21% of the daily value
  • Magnesium: 17% of the daily value
  • Thiamin: 15% of the daily value
  • Folate: 13% of the daily value
  • Carbs: 8 grams
  • Protein: 5 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Fiber: 1 gram

Different types of seaweed:

Before jumping to the top seaweed benefits for health, it is essential to go through its different types of seaweed. Some of its popular types are:

  • Agar and carrageenan: It is widely used in commercially sold food products like thickening agents, plant-based binding products, etc. It is a jelly-like substance.
  • Chlorella: It is used as a supplement in powdered form and is green-colored freshwater seaweed.
  • Dulse: It can be used as a dry snack and add flavor to different dishes. It has a soft and chewy texture and is red-colored seaweed.
  • Wakame: It is used to cook soups and stews or in fresh seaweed salad. It is brown-colored seaweed.
  • Kombu: It is used to make soup stock or is pickled as it has a strong flavor.
  • Kelp: It is used in dried sheets, added to dishes during cooking, and as a gluten-free alternative to noodles. It is a brown-colored algae.
  • Arame: It is used in different dishes, including baked goods. It is a type of Kelp with a mild, sweet flavor and firm texture.
  • Nori: It is used in dried sheets for rolling sushi. It is red-colored algae.
  • Sea lettuce: It is used in commonly eaten raw salads or cooked in soups. It looks like lettuce and is a form of green nori.

Top benefits of seaweed for health:

Seaweed is believed to be highly nutritious for people of different ages. While there are multiple seaweed benefits for health, the following are some of the most popular and highly-acclaimed ones:

  1. Blood sugar management: 

Seaweed is currently under research for its different benefits in balancing blood sugar levels. It was found in an 8-week study of 60 Japanese people that the brown-colored seaweed, fucoxanthin, can improve blood sugar control. It further revealed that people consuming 2 mg of fucoxanthin had shown improved blood sugar control over the ones with 0 mg consumption.

The additional improvements due to seaweed consumption were observed in people suffering from type-2 diabetes. Hence, it is under observation to help people with a genetic disposition to insulin resistance. Further, alginate in the seaweed can prevent sudden blood sugar spikes in animals fed on a high-sugar diet.

Hence, the research is on finding the feasible benefits of alginate in the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Not only this, multiple animal researchers have hinted at improved blood sugar control after adding seaweed extracts to their diet. Thus, alginate, fucoxanthin, etc., may reduce blood sugar levels reducing the diabetes risk.

  1. Heart health: 

Degrading heart health is one of the prominent risks in the modern world. Some factors causing decreased heart health include physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. Seaweed can help reduce blood cholesterol levels, and the fucans in it may prevent the blood from clotting. Fucans are a type of carbohydrate in seaweed.

Different animal studies have shown promising results in seaweed benefiting different heart conditions. In one eight-week study on rats fed on high cholesterol, high-fat diet supplement diet, and 10% freeze-dried seaweed. These rats were found to have 31% lower triglyceride levels, 36% lower LDL cholesterol, and 40% lower total cholesterol levels. In another animal study, fucans extracted from seaweed prevent blood clotting as effectively as an anti-clotting drug.

Further research is pending on the presence of peptides in seaweed. These protein-like structures can block the pathway of increased blood pressure in the human body. Large-scale human studies are pending in establishing the confirmed results for these animal studies.

  1. Weight management: 

Seaweed is rich in fiber which may slow stomach emptying. Hence, people eating seaweed may feel full for longer and can successfully delay hunger pangs. The fucoxanthin present in seaweed is considered to have anti-obesity effects. Different animal studies have suggested a reduction in body fats by consuming seaweed.

Some rat studies have shown that fucoxanthin can reduce rat blood sugar levels and thus promote weight loss. The fucoxanthin increased the expression of a protein that metabolizes the fat in rats.

Further, rats consuming seaweed lost weight compared to the others on a control diet without seaweed.

However, significant human studies are pending to confirm the animal studies’ results in establishing a strong link between seaweed consumption and weight management.

  • Gut health: 

Gut bacteria play an important role in maintaining good overall health. With an estimate of more bacteria in the human body than the cells, it is essential to maintain a good balance between the good and the bad bacteria. Seaweed is rich in fiber which can help in improving gut health.

The fiber content in seaweed is around 25-75% of its dry weight, which is higher than most fruits and vegetables. It further helps resist digestion and is a perfect food source for bacteria in the large intestine. The sulfated polysaccharides in the seaweed have shown promising results in increasing good gut bacteria.

  • Antioxidants: 

Antioxidants are necessary to reduce the free radicals in the human body. Seaweed is rich in antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E and contains plant compounds like carotenoids, flavonoids, etc. This combination is believed to protect the body’s cells from free radical damage.

The fucoxanthin present in the seaweed protects cell membranes better than Vitamin A. Thus, the different compounds in seaweed can be relied on for creating a strong antioxidant effect.

  • Thyroid functioning: 

The thyroid gland has the important function of repairing damaged cells, helping in reproduction, producing energy, and controlling growth. It relies on iodine for effective working as, without it, the Thyroid gland will malfunction, and the human body will feel significant changes. These changes include swelling of the neck over time, fatigue, weight change, etc.

Seaweed is believed to come as a savior as it has an amazing ability to absorb concentrated iodine amounts from the ocean. The actual iodine content of the seaweed depends on its type and location. The average iodine content in some of the top different types of seaweed are:

  • Kombu has 2523 mcg per gram
  • Wakame has 139 mcg per gram
  • Nori has 37 mcg per gram

Seaweed can significantly improve Thyroid functioning as it contains tyrosine also. It is used with iodine to help the Thyroid function properly.

  • Vitamins and minerals: 

Seaweed is rich in different vitamins and minerals, which makes it a necessary product for improving the overall human body’s health. It is rich in carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, riboflavin, thiamin, iron, manganese, copper, etc. Further, it has small amounts of vitamins A, C, E, and K, magnesium, calcium, sodium, zinc, folate, etc.

Seaweed has amino acids like spirulina, chlorella, etc., with omega- 3 fats and vitamin B12. Studies are still going on the direct absorption of vitamin B12 from seaweed.

Possible risks in using Seaweed:

Like any other substance, consuming seaweed in excess may aggravate many issues in the human body. So, after going through the top seaweed benefits for health, it is vital to understand its possible risks. Some of the points of concern to be taken care of while including seaweed in your diet are:

Heavy metals: Based on the growth areas, seaweed may contain high quantities of heavy metals. These include dangerous metals like arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, etc. Seaweed supplements especially contain high levels of these heavy metals, which are dangerous for the human body. 

Solution: It is recommended to go for the seaweed or algae supplements tested by third-party independent labs for the presence of heavy metals only.

Excess iodine: Seaweed contains significant amounts of iodine, but it can be dangerous to consume iodine in large amounts. The regular consumption of seaweed types, especially, Kombu, Dulse, and Kelp, may inhibit regular thyroid functions. 

Solution: The typical seaweed varieties having large amounts of iodine shouldn’t be consumed regularly. It is recommended to seek the help of a medical practitioner to define the best amount based on your body’s needs.

Interference with different medications: Seaweed has anticoagulant fucoidan and Vitamin K, which may interfere with the blood thinning medications. Further, the high amounts of sodium and potassium in seaweed may harm people with kidney diseases. People with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, etc., can face issues with seaweed due to Spirulina. It has an immune-strengthening property that may worsen autoimmune symptoms.

Solution: It is recommended to people with kidney diseases, autoimmune diseases, or on blood thinning medications to start consuming seaweed after a doctor’s prescription only.

Different methods to consume Seaweed:

Last but not least are the different methods to consume seaweed safely. The end choice depends on the user’s health needs and can be selected from the following options:

  • Adding seaweed to vegetable soups: It works perfectly for people who want to consume seaweed but don’t like its taste.
  • Toasting seaweed or seaweed flakes: It is perfect for people looking to reduce the amount of salt or soy sauce while consuming seaweed. It can be used as toppings on rice, quinoa, etc.
  • Roasting: Seaweed can be roasted with small amounts of oil and salt for quick consumption.
  • Flavoring beans: Seaweed, especially Kombu, can be used for flavoring beans. It reduces the chances of gas due to its enzymatic reaction.
  • Dried sheets: Seaweed, especially Nori, can replace wraps, bread, or tortillas in preparing sushi.

    Wrapping UpSeaweed benefits for health

    Hope everything is clear to our readers about the different seaweed benefits for health. It is easy to understand a quick overview of seaweed, followed by its key types. The different believed health benefits of seaweed include blood sugar management, heart health, weight management, gut health, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, thyroid functioning, etc. 

    It is highly recommended to take care of the possible implications of consuming seaweed in excess, like the presence of heavy metals, interference with medications, excessive iodine amounts, etc. Hence, it is recommended to start consuming seaweed under medical supervision only. Further, it is easy to include seaweed in the daily diet in a busy lifestyle by roasting, flavoring, toasting, or adding dried sheets.