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Research Is Homing In On Why Red Seaweed Is Such A Great Prebiotic

Emma Loewe
June 16, 2021
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Health Benefits of Sea Moss
Image by Damocean / iStock
June 16, 2021

We've long known that seaweed is a great source of vitamins, minerals, and protein, and research continues to support the sea veggie's healthy benefits. One just-released study in the journal Marine Drugs1 sheds some light on another reason to pack your plate with algae: It's a powerful prebiotic.

Fishing for the healthy compounds in red seaweed.

For this study, researchers from Korea University in Seoul and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign isolated compounds in red seaweed to see which ones were consumed by probiotic bacteria in a lab setting. (Remember: Prebiotics are what provide nutrients to gut-healthy probiotics.)

They used red seaweed because it's high in soluble fiber, making it one of the most gut-friendly sea veggies around. Previous research has also found that the antioxidant-rich algae contain anti-inflammatory and potential anticancer properties2.

After breaking down different varieties of red seaweed, the team found that agarobiose (AgaDP3) was the sugar most likely to be consumed by probiotic bacteria. "These results show us that when we eat red seaweed, it gets broken down in the gut and releases these sugars, which serve as food for the probiotic bacteria," study lead Yong-Su Jin, Ph.D., said of the findings in a news release.

They also noticed that AHG, a building block of red seaweed's cell walls, seemed to inhibit the spread of colon cancer cells in the trial. Jin says this could help explain why the number of colon cancer patients is so low in parts of Japan where seaweed is a diet staple.

By identifying the key compounds in red seaweed, the team hopes to pave the way for more functional foods and medicines to incorporate the salty ingredient.

This finding becomes even more exciting when you consider the beneficial climate impacts of seaweed: Easy to farm and quick to grow, seaweed filters pollutants and sequesters carbon3 from surrounding waters. It can also help protect coasts from storm surges, making seaweed farming an increasingly appealing industry in waterfront areas around the world.

"Seaweed is this incredible technology of Mother Nature that can feed the planet but also restore our seas in the climate crisis," regenerative ocean farmer Bren Smith previously told mbg.

How to work it into your diet.

You can now find edible red seaweed (also called dulse) in the international aisle of most grocery stores, as well as Asian food markets. Its smoky, salty, umami flavor makes for a great addition to poke bowls, fish bone broths, and miso soups.

And as various types of seaweed become more popular in the states, a number of food companies are also cooking it up in tasty ways. Here are a few snack companies that make it easy to get your fix:

The bottom line.

The more we learn about seaweed, the more essential the sea veggie seems for a healthy diet. The latest findings on its prebiotic properties are yet another reason to make the sustainable ingredient a part of your routine.

Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.