The Health Benefits of Seaweed

19 March, 2018

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Seaweed describes plants and algae that grow in oceans, lakes, rivers and other bodies of water.

Some kinds of seaweed are too small to see. They float in the water and are the food base for most ocean life. Other kinds are huge, such as giant kelp. Their roots grow from the floors of lakes, rivers and oceans. Medium-sized seaweed wash up on beaches and shorelines all around the world. They are colored red, green, black and brown.

The most common kind of seaweed that we eat is brown, such as kelp and wakame, and red, such as nori. Nori is the seaweed used to make sushi, the popular Japanese food.

In fact, many people may think of seaweed as an Asian food product. After all, China, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines are among the largest producers of seaweed.

Seaweed farmer in Bali, Indonesia rinses the day's crops.
Seaweed farmer in Bali, Indonesia rinses the day's crops.

However, seaweed grows all over the world and people worldwide eat seaweed.

Norway, Chile, France and the United Kingdom are also major producers of seaweed. Scandinavians add seaweed to soup and salads.

In Ireland, people have been eating seaweed for hundreds of years. It helped Irish people survive a severe lack of food in the country during the 1800s. The Scottish culture has also eaten seaweed for many, many years. And records show that ancient Romans used seaweed to treat wounds, burns and rashes.

Now, the taste of seaweed may not be for everyone. Naturally, it can taste fishy. For those who do not like the taste of seaweed, dried and powdered seaweed can be added to foods without changing the flavor. And researchers at Oregon State University have developed a seaweed that tastes like bacon when fried.

That is good news for vegetarians. Also good news for people who don't eat meat is that many types of seaweed, especially those colored red, are high in protein.

Many health benefits

Besides being a non-meat source of protein, seaweed can provide other health benefits.

Several nutrition websites say that women in South Korea often drink seaweed soup after giving birth. It is thought to help to return nutrients and minerals to new mothers.

But this simple soup is good for anyone. The health and nutrition website Mark's Daily Apple gives one recipe for this easy-to-make soup. Cook wakame seaweed, mushrooms, sesame oil, garlic and tamari seasoning in a pot of water over a low temperature.

Nutritionists at University of California, Berkeley, say seaweed is a "rich source of several minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, and iron." A report on the Berkeley Wellness website lists many reasons to eat seaweed.

For example, seaweed, especially the brown type, is high in iodine. Iodine is a necessary element for good health. But it is not found in most foods. Iodine helps keep the body's thyroid gland healthy, among other things.

Iodine levels differ greatly among different kinds of seaweed. One source says that brown seaweed can contain five to 50 times the amount a body needs. The amount of iodine depends on the water in which the seaweed grows.

If you are on a low-iodine diet, health experts suggest talking to your doctor before eating seaweed.

Seaweed can help you lose weight.

Seaweeds are a good source of soluble fiber. This type of fiber helps you to feel full. It also helps to lower the amount of bad cholesterol.

One kind of seaweed may help to limit the body's absorption of fat.

Researchers at Britain's Newcastle University studied alginate, a seaweed used in food and cloth production. The scientists say they found that dietary fiber in alginate could reduce the amount of fat absorption by around 75 percent.

Despite all these health benefits, some experts warn that the health benefits of seaweed are exaggerated.

For example, seaweed may contain vitamins A and C, as well as calcium. But you would need to eat a lot of seaweed to get enough of any of those. In other words, seaweeds should not be your only source of vitamins and minerals.

Nutritionists also warn that seaweed can block B12 vitamins. So, if you eat a lot of seaweed, they suggest taking a B12 supplement.

And before you eat seaweed, know where it comes from. Seaweeds easily absorb and store whatever is in the water in which it grows. Possible dangers include arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals.

So, seaweed can be a healthy vegetarian addition to your diet. Just get it from a clean water source. And understand its limits and benefits.

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.

Is seaweed in your diet? If so, how do you eat it? Let us know in the Comments Section.

Anna Matteo wrote this story with information from University of California, Berkeley, Science Daily and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

algae n. any plant or plantlike organism (as a seaweed) that includes forms mostly growing in water, lacking a system of vessels for carrying fluids, and often having chlorophyll masked by brown or red coloring matter

bacon n. thin strips of salted and smoked meat from the sides and the back of a pig

vegetarian n. a person who does not eat meat : someone whose diet consists wholly of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and sometimes eggs or dairy products

nutritionist n. a person whose job is to give advice on how food affects your health

diet n. the food that a person or animal usually eats

soluble adj. capable of being dissolved in a liquid

fiber n. plant material that cannot be digested but that helps you to digest other food

absorption n. to take in (something, such as a liquid) in a natural or gradual way

exaggerate v. to think of or describe something as larger or greater than it really is

supplement n. something that is added to something else in order to make it complete : dietary/vitamin supplements