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.
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 four has). Finally, seaweed contains many healthy fatty acids and essential amino acids.
Excerpted from Ocean Greens: Explore the World of Edible Seaweed and Sea Vegetables by Lisette Kreischer and Marcel Schuttelaar. © Kosmos Uitgevers Utrecht/Antwerpen 2015, 2016. Translation © Maria M. Reimer and Victor Verbeck, 2016. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold. experimentpublishing.com