What's Wakame? 5 Reasons To Add This Super Seaweed To Your Plate
Are super seaweeds the new superfoods? Green, red, and brown seaweeds are found in oceans around the world, and it's time to make room for them on your plate. In fact, you're probably already enjoying wakame (also known as undaria) without even knowing it. Traditionally used in cold salads like sunomono (a cucumber seaweed salad), or as toppings on tofu, rice, sushi, or soups, wakame is a type of edible brown seaweed popular in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisine. But it is finding its way onto all types of menus thanks to its nutrient density and delicious umami flavor.
Here, find out everything you need to know about the health benefits of wakame and why this sea vegetable deserves to be on your plate.
What is wakame?
You might associate seaweed with the smelly, slimy stuff on the beach, but it is actually packed with nutrients and surprisingly delicious. There are many different types of edible sea vegetables (a necessary rebrand, tbh), but wakame is one of the most widely eaten. Wakame has a satiny texture and a unique, strong flavor. Here's a quick nutritional breakdown for wakame (per ounce):
- Omega-3 fats: 52 mg
- Iodine: 1,176 mcg, 24% DV
- Manganese: 0.4 mg, 20% DV
- Folate: 55 mcg, 14% DV
- Magnesium: 30 mg, 7% DV
- Calcium: 42 mg, 4% DV
- Copper: 0.1 mg, 4% DV
- Riboflavin (B2): 0.1 mg, 4% DV
- Iron: 0.6 mg, 3% DV
Health benefits of wakame.
You've seen kale top the superfoods charts, but now you can add another leafy green—albeit a sea leafy green—to the top of your list of vegetables you should definitely be eating more of. Here are some of the top science-backed reasons to eat wakame:
1. It supports thyroid health.
Wakame is one of the highest food sources of iodine, which can help prevent hypothyroidism, a condition most commonly triggered by iodine deficiency. This is because iodine is key for thyroid hormone production and function.
Just be aware that excessive iodine may actually worsen thyroid symptoms in some and can even lead to hyperthyroidism. So, talk with your health care provider about finding the most helpful level of iodine for you.
2. It's good for your heart.
Full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, wakame, unsurprisingly, may have some heart-healthy benefits. Animal studies show that wakame can reduce cholesterol. Although there is limited research on humans, one study reported improvements in LDL, triglycerides, and body weight in men who followed a healthy Japanese diet compared to a Western diet. The intervention Japanese diet included seaweed as a staple food, suggesting sea vegetables may play an import role in cholesterol management and heart health.
Interestingly, the effect may be prevalent in children as well. In a study of 459 healthy children, those who consumed moderate to high levels of seaweed daily had lower blood pressure.
3. It's anti-inflammatory.
Thanks to its high omega-3 content, wakame may help to reduce overall inflammation in the body, which is a driver for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and digestive conditions.
Additionally, wakame's polyphenols exert similar anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits as green tea's catechin EGCG.
4. It may help promote weight loss.
While most of the research on wakame and weight loss has been conducted in animals, the results have been promising. One study found that a carotenoid in wakame called fucoxanthin reduced body fat and triglycerides in mice, while another found that fucoxanthin stimulated fat oxidation, especially dangerous visceral fat, in obese mice.
In humans, a study found those who consumed 4 to 6 grams of seaweed a day had lower blood pressure and waist circumference, both contributors to metabolic syndrome.
5. It may help control blood sugar and insulin levels.
Research is still preliminary, but wakame may have a blood-sugar-balancing effect. A 2019 study found that people with prediabetes who consumed 200 grams of rice with 4 grams of wakame had better post-meal blood sugar responses than those who consumed rice without wakame. Animal studies seem to confirm this, finding that wakame supplementation improves insulin resistance in mice.
Even more reasons to love wakame.
There are few foods that require as little investment to produce a nutritious and high-quality product as seaweed. It's easy to farm (and often more sustainable than wild harvesting) and doesn't require fertilizer. Seaweed farms can protect reefs from storms and even help filter pollutants from seawater. Future potential uses include clothing material, an alternative to plastics, and helping reduce cow-produced methane gas.
How to eat wakame.
Wakame is most often available in its dried form at natural health food stores and Asian food markets. All you need to do is simply soak it in water for about 10 minutes to rehydrate, then add it to your favorite foods and recipes for a salty umami flavor.
So, what's the deal with wakame?
While some reported benefits need more comprehensive research, existing studies show promise for improvements in heart health, inflammation, blood sugar, thyroid health, and weight loss.
Seaweed is often high in sodium, and, despite potential blood pressure-lowering properties, it may not be beneficial for all with high blood pressure. Rinsing and soaking in water can help to eliminate excess sodium.
Sea vegetables like wakame can contain heavy metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium, so it is imperative to choose seaweed grown in regions with strict water pollution standards and from companies that regularly test for contaminants.