Health benefits of seaweed and sea vegetables

These green wonders can strengthen bones, counteract obesity and provide the iodine we need for proper thyroid functioning. Try these healthy recipes

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Sea vegetables are just what they sound like: greens that grow in the sea. These healthy vegetables include nori (what your sushi is wrapped in), wakame (what is in your miso soup), arame (often in your seaweed salad), dulse, kombu, kelp and hijiki. Sea vegetables also include varieties of seaweed hidden in prepared foods such as ice cream, baked goods, jelly, salad dressings, chocolate milk and toothpaste.

Grown in the depths of the sea, these green wonders are full of vitamins and minerals essential to human health and nutritional balance. Minerals make up seven to thirty-eight percent of the dry weight of these superfoods; the most significant minerals found in sea greens are calcium, iodine, phosphorous, sodium and iron, but they are also rich in other nutrients like protein and vitamins A, B, C and E.

Sea vegetables can help with everything from reducing blood cholesterol, removing metallic and radioactive elements from the body, and preventing goiters. Seaweed also has antibiotic properties, may counteract obesity, could improve digestion and nerve transmission, and strengthens bones and teeth. To top it off, sea veggies have been researched as a beauty aid for their skin-improving and anti-aging properties.

Sea vegetables and thyroid health

Seaweed got a boost of recognition earlier this year after the devastating earthquake in Japan, thanks to the presence of the mineral iodine in these vegetables. Radiation fears spread to the west coasts of Canada and the United States when the quake and subsequent tsunami caused serious damage to a nuclear reactor; iodine pills are given to protect against some of the effects of radiation.

Iodine is also a key mineral for thyroid health, which is the role it’s more likely to play in the average person’s diet. Our bodies need iodine for thyroid hormone production, which helps keep our metabolism working properly. That’s why weight gain is a symptom of hypothyroidism and weight loss is a symptom of hyperthyroidism — our metabolism, and therefore our weight, is affected when these hormones are out of whack.

People used to get their RDA of iodine — 150mcg for most adults — largely from iodized salt, but as more people reduce the sodium in their diets, deficiencies could occur. That’s one important reason why seaweed is a great dietary addition — it’s one of the best food sources of iodine. Regularly including a variety of sea vegetables in your diet can help keep your thyroid working properly.

How do you use sea veggies?

Sea vegetables are extremely versatile — they can be used in a number of recipes and incorporated into numerous styles of cuisine. They compliment or accent many dishes, from soups and salads to even desserts.

Here are some other recipes using sea vegetables that you can try:

Easy-roll sushi wraps
Barley sushi salad with nori
Nori-wrapped double-ginger chicken
Raw goddess soup

Also, give sea vegetables a go in your diet with this recipe using seaweed in perhaps its most familiar form — as the wrapping for nori rolls.

Vegetarian nori rolls

Ingredients:
3 cups short-grain brown rice
4 ¼ cups water
3 pinches sea salt
1 avocado, skinned and sliced
3 scallions (green onions), green parts, blanched or raw
1 carrot, cut into long julienne strips, blanched or raw
1 cucumber, sliced into thin strips and marinated in salt and vinegar
1 mango, cut into thin strips
4-6 sheets of nori
Wasabi powder mixed in water to form a paste
Pickled ginger

Vinegar mixture:
2 ½ tablespoons brown rice vinegar
2 ½ tablespoons maple syrup
5 tablespoons mirin (a popular Japanese condiment)
1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:
1. Cook rice with water and salt for 40-50 minutes. (three cups rice to four-and-a-half cups water)

2. When rice is finished cooking, spread on cookie sheet with wooden spoon paddle and cool by waving sushi mat back and forth or place in refrigerator.

3. In small pot, bring vinegar, maple syrup, mirin and salt to a boil; simmer until salt is dissolved and cool the liquid to room temperature. Sprinkle on cooled rice.

4. To assemble rolls; lay nori sheet flat on sushi mat. Press rice onto nori, leaving two inches of edge free of rice. Arrange vegetables along center of rice and roll pressing tight with mat.

5. Peel mat away and place sushi log on cutting board and slice evenly into six to eight pieces, starting from the centre.

Marni Wasserman is a culinary nutritionist in Toronto whose philosophy is stemmed around whole foods. She is dedicated to providing balanced lifestyle choices through natural foods. Using passion and experience, she strives to educate individuals on how everyday eating can be simple and delicious.

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