Why You Should Be Getting More Of This Green

Written by Lisette Kreischer

Photo by Lisette Kreischer

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Because of its "magical" healing properties, seaweed used to be considered a luxury product. Today, it's an important part of Ayurvedic medicine (a Hindu healing system from India), thalassotherapy (saltwater therapy), phytotherapy (herbal medicine), and macrobiotic cuisine.

Algae have been used as medication in China and Japan for hundreds of years, and seaweed was (and is) a substantial part of the daily diet and traditional herbal medicine in these countries.

Seaweed is regarded in those regions as a treatment for tuberculosis, rheumatism, colds, open wounds, and intestinal worms. In recent years, seaweed has been promoted in various health movements and by "health gurus." It's seen as a superfood with many benefits to your health!

It is presumed to help fight or prevent common ailments including thyroid issues, buildup of oxidized cholesterol, gastritis, arthritis, menopausal symptoms, skin problems, and esophagitis.

Furthermore, seaweed — especially brown algae — contains antioxidants, which protect against cardiovascular diseases and some forms of cancer. Because of the potential benefits of antioxidants, research into the positive effects of seaweed has gotten a boost.

It is, however, important to realize that these health claims have not been sufficiently examined and are often unproven.

Seaweed facts

A few notable observations: In areas where the population has a diet rich in seaweed and other saltwater products, there are fewer occurrences of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

In 1927 the Japanese professor Shoji Kondo of Tohoku University suggested there is a correlation between areas in Japan where a lot of seaweed is consumed (the coastal areas) and a higher life expectancy — especially for women.

These people ate less food anyway and consumed less salt. Seaweed contains significantly more fiber than fruit and vegetables and makes you feel satisfied sooner. It also has an umami flavor; because it's so flavorful, by adding seaweed to their diet, people typically use less salt and eat smaller portions.

The health benefits of seaweed consumption are mostly based on old traditions, writings, and experiences. To date, research has focused on the connection between seaweed consumption and lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

There are a few important ways in which seaweed contributes to a healthy diet: It contains many minerals and vitamins that can easily be absorbed by the body.

Additionally, because of the high concentration of fiber in seaweed, sugars in the digestive system are absorbed more slowly, which causes blood sugar levels to rise at a slower rate (the same effect that whole wheat flour has). Finally, seaweed contains many healthy fatty acids and essential amino acids.

Vitamins in seaweed

Vitamin A, also called retinol, is good for your skin and helps create cells for the skin's tissue structure. The body is capable of making vitamin A from a plant-based provitamin A, like beta-carotene. It's needed for a good immune system.

Vitamin B1, also called thiamine, is crucial for the body's energy supply and is directly involved with the functioning of the heart muscle and nervous system. Vitamin B1 is also involved as a coenzyme with the many enzymatic processes in the body that are responsible for turning carbohydrates into energy.

Vitamin B2, also called riboflavin, functions as a coenzyme and plays an important role in drawing energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, plays an important role in the production of fatty acids. Vitamin B3 is important in the metabolism of energy and protein.

Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is important for the breakdown and construction of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). Vitamin B6 regulates the working of certain hormones and is important for growth, blood production, the nervous system, and the immune system.

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, functions as an antioxidant in the body (it protects cells against oxidation as a result of free radicals). Vitamin C is necessary for the absorption of iron from the digestive tract and is crucial for the immune system.

Vitamin E, also known as alpha-tocopherol, is fat-soluble and functions as an antioxidant. Vitamin E is important for the protection of cells, blood flow, and tissues. It is frequently used in skin care creams.

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Vitamins & minerals

Vitamins and minerals have similar functions, and both are needed for important bodily processes. We absorb them through food and water.

The most important difference between vitamins and minerals is chemical: Vitamins are organic compounds and are made by certain plants and animals. They are organic substances that contain hydrogen and carbon. Minerals and trace elements are inorganic compounds; they come from rocks, ore, or soil.

Minerals and trace elements slowly dissolve in water and can be absorbed by plants and algae. Only then can animals and humans take them in via food and water.

Autumnal Wild Rice Salad With Hijiki

This packed and colorful salad is perfect for autumn. The sweet character of walnuts, sweet potatoes, oyster mushrooms, and dried cranberries nicely complement the briny hijiki and dark wild rice.

If you can find fresh hijiki, that's even better. If you do find it, you need only briefly blanch it in salted water to reduce the arsenic content. The hijiki will become bright green! As an alternative, we recommend using arame.

Serves 4

Ingredients for salad

  • 2 cups (300 grams) wild rice
  • ½ ounce (15 grams) dried hijiki or arame
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, unpeeled, rinsed, and cubed
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • ½ orange, thinly sliced
  • 1 heaping teaspoon smoked paprika (pimentón)
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil for roasting and sautéing
  • 7 ounces (200 grams) oyster mushrooms, wiped clean and torn in small strips
  • ½ cup (60 grams) dried cranberries
  • 1 cup (100 grams) walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 5 ounces (150 grams) baby spinach
  • Handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

Ingredients for miso dressing

  • ⅓ cup (80 mL) orange juice
  • ¼ cup (70 grams) white miso paste
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons mirin

1. Cook the wild rice according to directions on the package (allow at least 45 minutes), drain, place the lid on the pan, and let stand for 10 minutes.

2. Soak the hijiki for 30 minutes in lukewarm water. Once it has rehydrated, drain it and dab it dry.

3. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the sweet potatoes, onion, orange slices, smoked paprika, and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Toss with a generous splash of olive oil. Arrange the mixture on the baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Flip everything halfway through to allow even browning on both sides. After 20 minutes, use a spatula to toss in the cranberries. Return the pan to the oven for the remaining 5 to 10 minutes, until the potatoes are golden brown and crispy. Remove from the oven and cool for a bit.

4. Heat a splash of olive oil in a skillet. Sauté the oyster mushrooms until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper.

Excerpt from Ocean Greens: Explore the World of Edible Seaweed and Sea Vegetables — A Way of Eating for Your Health and the Planet’s © Lisette Kreischer, 2016. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment, theexperimentpublishing.com. Available wherever books are sold. 

And are you ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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