Evidence suggests that Japanese cultures have been consuming them for more than 10,000 years.
Western cultures are only recently beginning to enjoy the taste and nutritional value of what are often referred to as seaweed.
Thousands of different varieties have been identified, classified into categories based on the colors brown, red, or green and can be found in health food and specialty stores.
Owing to their rise in popularity, they are also becoming much easier to find in local supermarkets as well.
Vegetables from the sea can be found growing both in the marine salt waters as well as in fresh water lakes and seas.
They commonly grow on coral reefs or in rocky landscapes, and can grow at great depths provided that sunlight can penetrate through the water to where they reside since, like plants, they need light for their survival.
Seaweeds are neither plants nor animals but classified in a group known as algae.
Why would anyone want to eat sea vegetables?
Because they offer the broadest range of minerals of any food, containing virtually all the minerals found in the ocean, the same minerals that are found in human blood.
Popular types include kelp, nori (seaweed,) arame (type of kelp,) kombu (a brown kelp), and sea palm.
Depending on the type, sea vegetables can possess the following attributes:
* They're naturally low in calories and fat.
* Some contain up to 47 percent protein.
* Many are rich in vitamins-A, the B group (includes thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, B12 and folic acid,) C, D, E, and K.
* They typically contain minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium.
* Brown sea vegetables, such as kelp and arame, are very high in the mineral iodine (1/4 c. of kelp contains 278 percent Daily Value.)
* While they don't appear to contain the same polyphenol antioxidants found in land-grown vegetables, some have other antioxidant compounds, such as alkaloids and phlorotannins.
* They contain fucoidans, starch-like molecules that appear to have anti-inflammatory and anti-viral benefits.
In addition, these vegetables contain good amounts of lignans, plant compounds with cancer-protective properties.
Promote Optimal Health
Lignans, phytonutrients found in sea vegetables, have been shown to inhibit angiogenesis, or blood cell growth, the process through which fast-growing tumors not only gain extra nourishment, but send cancer cells out in the bloodstream to establish secondary tumors or metastases in other areas of the body.
In addition, lignans have been credited with inhibiting estrogen synthesis in fat cells as effectively as some of the drugs used in cancer chemotherapy.
In postmenopausal women, fat tissue is a primary site where estrogen is synthesized, and high levels of certain estrogen metabolites (the 4OH and 16OH metabolites) are considered a significant risk factor for breast cancer.
Studies have shown that diets high in folate-rich foods are associated with a significantly reduced risk for colon cancer.
Promote Healthy Thyroid Function
Vegetables from our planet's seas, especially kelp, are nature's richest sources of iodine, which as a component of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), is essential to human life.
The thyroid gland adds iodine to the amino acid tyrosine to create these hormones.
Without sufficient iodine, your body cannot synthesize them.
Because these thyroid hormones regulate metabolism in every cell of the body and play a role in virtually all physiological functions, an iodine deficiency can have a devastating impact on your health and well-being.
A common sign of thyroid deficiency is an enlarged thyroid gland, commonly called a goiter.
Goiters are estimated to affect 200 million people worldwide, and in all but 4% of these cases, the cause is iodine deficiency.
Nutrient Prevention of Birth Defects and Cardiovascular Disease
The folic acid so abundant in kelp plays a number of other very important protective roles.
Studies have demonstrated that adequate levels of folic acid in the diet are needed to prevent certain birth defects, including spina bifida.
Due to the harsh environment in which they grow, sea vegetables produce interesting bioactive compounds.
Peptides derived from sea vegetables appear to have blood-pressure-lowering effects.
A study published in the August 2011 Nutrition Journal revealed that regular seaweed intake among Japanese children was linked with a reduction in blood pressure.
Some sea vegetables have been shown to be unique sources of carbohydrate-like substances called fucans, which can reduce the body's inflammatory response.
Plus, as noted above, these vegetables are a very good source of magnesium, the mineral that, by acting as a natural relaxant, has been shown to help prevent migraine headaches and to reduce the severity of asthma symptoms.
Relief for Menopausal Symptoms
Sea vegetable's supply of relaxing magnesium may also help restore normal sleep patterns in women who are experiencing symptoms of menopause.
And the lignans in kelp or seaweed can act as very weak versions of estrogen, one of the hormones whose levels decrease during the menopausal period.
For women suffering from symptoms such as hot flashes, seaweed's lignans may be just strong enough to ease their discomfort.
Sea vegetables, often referred to as seaweed, are one of the ocean's beautiful jewels, adorning the waters with life and providing us with a food that can enhance our diets, from both a culinary and nutritional perspective.
These vegetables can be found growing both in the marine salt waters as well as in fresh water lakes and seas.
They commonly grow on coral reefs or in rocky landscapes and can grow at great depths provided that sunlight can penetrate through the water to where they reside since, like plants, they need light for their survival.
Yet, these vegetables are not plants nor animals-they are actually known as algae.
There are thousands of types of sea vegetables that are classified into categories by color, known either as brown, red or green sea vegetables.
Each is unique, having a distinct shape, taste and texture.
Although not all of these vegetables that exist are presently consumed, a wide range are enjoyed as foods.
The following are some of the most popular types:
Nori: dark purple-black color that turns phosphorescent green when toasted, famous for its role in making sushi rolls.
Kelp: light brown to dark green in color, oftentimes available in flake form.
Hijiki: looks like small strands of black wiry pasta, has a strong flavor.
Kombu: very dark in color and generally sold in strips or sheets, oftentimes used as a flavoring for soups.
Wakame: similar to kombu, most commonly used to make Japanese miso soup.
Arame: this lacy, wiry sea vegetable is sweeter and milder in taste than many others
Dulse: soft, chewy texture and a reddish-brown color.
The consumption of sea vegetables enjoys a long history throughout the world.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Japanese cultures have been consuming vegetables from the sea for more than 10,000 years.
In ancient Chinese cultures, these vegetables were a noted delicacy, suitable especially for honored guests and royalty.
Yet, these vegetables weren't just limited to being a featured part of Asian cuisines.
In fact, most regions and countries located near waters, including Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and coastal South American countries have been consuming these nutrient rich vegetables since ancient times.
How to Select & Store
Look for sea vegetables that are sold in tightly sealed packages.
Avoid those that have evidence of excessive moisture.
Some types are sold in different forms.
For example, nori can be found in sheets, flakes, or powder.
Choose the form of sea vegetables that will best meet your culinary needs.
Store them in tightly sealed containers at room temperature where they can stay fresh for at least several months.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Make homemade vegetable sushi rolls by wrapping rice and your favorite vegetables in sheets of nori.
Slice nori into small strips and sprinkle on top of salads.
Keep a container of kelp flakes on the dinner table and use instead of table salt for seasoning foods.
Combine soaked hijiki with shredded carrots and ginger.
Mix with a little olive oil and tamari.
When cooking beans, put kombu in the cooking water.
It will not only expedite the cooking process, but will improve beans' digestibility by reducing the chemicals that can cause flatulence.
You could also add sea vegetables to your next bowl of Miso soup.
We hope that you are now fully educated on the benefits of these wondrous vegetables from our oceans and seas.
Take the edge off your hunger by snacking on roasted seaweed snacks.
One serving of the crispy nori sheets has just 25 calories and one gram of fat, but 35 percent of your daily vitamin-A and 20 percent of your daily vitamin-C requirements.
They’re a great snack, especially in place of other higher-fat and higher-salt snacks.
If you’re someone who, when you’re dieting, feels like you just need something to chew or snack on, it gives you something low-calorie to keep your mouth busy, and it’s good for you as well.
Nori seaweed is rich in protein and contains omega-3 fatty acids.
Just be sure to check the label for added salt or oil.
So, if you don't know what to have for dinner tonight ...
If you're having difficulty adding seaweed (sea vegetables) into your healthy way of eating, try this great, Japanese inspired dish for an easy way to enjoy all of the extra minerals they have to offer.
Super Sea-veggie Salad
Total Time: 10 mins
Makes 4 Servings
3/4 oz. dried wakame seaweed (whole or cut)
3 Tbs. rice vinegar (not seasoned)
3 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1 tsp. sugar
red pepper flakes
1 tsp. finely grated ginger
1/2 tsp.minced garlic
2 scallions , thinly sliced
1/4 c. shredded carrot
2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs. sesame seed , toasted
1. Soak seaweed in warm water to cover, 5 minutes.
Drain, rinse then squeeze out excess water.
If wakame is uncut, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips.
2. Stir together vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, pepper flakes, ginger, and garlic in a bowl until sugar is dissolved.
Add the seaweed, scallions, carrots, and cilantro, tossing to combine well.
Sprinkle salad with sesame seeds.
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