Humans have consumed sea vegetables throughout history and throughout the world. Japanese people have been using sea vegetables for more than 10,000 years. In ancient China, sea vegetables were a delicacy used to honor guests and royalty. Sea vegetables were widely used in Korea, Vietnam, and Malaysia, among other Asian regions. In fact, in most regions located near water, including Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, and coastal South America, people have been consuming sea vegetables since ancient times.
Sea vegetables provide all 56 minerals and trace elements required for your body’s physiological functions in quantities greatly exceeding those of land plants, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, iron, chromium, iodine, and copper. It makes sense: We evolved from simple unicellular organisms in the mineral-laden ocean. Now, billions of years later, the saline fluids around and in our cells and organs recreates that environment, with a similar balance of minerals. Sea vegetables concentrate this mineral matrix. Sodium, along with potassium, provides the electrolytic “battery” that pumps nutrients in and out of cells and maintains the proper balance of fluids inside and outside each cell. Because sodium is not easily found in the land environment, our bodies evolved to retain it. Potassium, on the other hand, is plentiful in a land-based diet (in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruits) and so we do not retain potassium.
The modern industrialized diet reverses the natural availability of sodium and potassium: potassium is leached out of processed foods, and sodium is used extravagantly as a flavor enhancer and preservative. In addition, the modern diet often lacks magnesium and calcium, and manufactured table salt is exclusively sodium chloride. Sea vegetables provide a balance of these minerals. They’re also a great source of iodine, which is deficient in land plants. Iodine is the main component of the hormone produced by the thyroid gland, which regulates metabolism, accelerates cellular reactions, increases oxygen consumption and basal metabolism, and influences growth, development, protein synthesis, alertness, and brain activity. It’s a prime deterrent to arterial plaque, and is a key factor in fighting breast and uterine fibroids, tumors, prostate inflammation, adrenal exhaustion, toxicity in the liver and kidneys, and radiation sickness.
Sea vegetables contain significant amounts of vitamins, especially B vitamins. Nutritionists disagree on whether or not the B12 in sea vegetables is actually a molecule that looks like vitamin B12 but it not able to be used by the human body. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria. In the 1950s, scientists confirmed the presence of cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12) in dulse, and speculated that it was made by bacteria in the surrounding seawater or on the surface of the plant, as various species of bacteria, or epiphytes, live on the surface of sea vegetables. While it may be likely that low-temperature dried, minimally processed sea vegetables like nori may be a source of vitamin B12, most experts recommend that vegans take a supplement.
The protein content of sea vegetables ranges from to 16% to 28%. The amino acid composition of these sea vegetable proteins is generally well-balanced and contains all or most of the essential amino acids. Sea vegetables therefore provide higher quality protein than many grains and beans. One of the more important amino acids found especially in kelp is glutamic acid, which enhances flavors and digestibility of high protein foods like beans, improves mental and nervous system activity; provides energy, and may help control alcoholism, schizophrenia, and sugar cravings. Sea vegetables are good for people who are managing their weight: Not only are they very low in mostly unsaturated fat, their iodine can stimulate the thyroid to increase metabolism and burn calories, and their fiber aids digestion. Sea vegetables contain small amounts of Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids in favorable ratios, plus all the minerals, vitamins, and trace elements needed for the optimum utilization of the essential fatty acids. A high fiber diet can help prevent certain types of cancer and promote glucose metabolism, a factor especially important for diabetics. The fiber in land plants (oats, apples, and vegetables) is made up of cellulose, lignans, and pectin. Sea vegetables have their own unique fiber: alginic acid is an important detoxifier for radioactive isotopes and heavy metals. Sea vegetables contain about 30% total fiber, about one half of which is soluble, and half insoluble.
Sea vegetables are rich in the amino acid, arginine. An enzyme called nitric oxide synthase (NOS)—found in many of your body’s cell types—can use arginine to help produce nitric oxide (NO), which is a muscle relaxant. When NO causes the smooth muscles around your blood vessels to relax, the space inside your blood vessels can expand, allowing blood to flow more freely and creating a drop in blood pressure. In the same way, NO can improve erectile function in men. Arginine can also form polyarginine peptides, which can block activity of an enzyme called tissue-nonspecific alkaline phosphatase, or TNAP. When TNAP activity is shut down, your fat cells (adipocytes) tend to create less fat.
Here are some sea vegetables, with their ANDI scores:
This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.
This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.