So good, in fact, that seaweed might soon be an ingredient in functional foods – to make white bread, for example, higher in fiber. Scientists at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne have researched alginate, a substance in brown seaweed, and found that it can strengthen gut mucus (which protects the gut wall).
Slow down digestion (so you feel fuller for longer) and make food release its energy more slowly (i.e., it is low-GI, and therefore good). A study of the fecal flora of Japanese women (well, someone’s got to do it) showed that high seaweed intake increases the good bacteria in the gut. It’s also high in fiber. The enzymes in kombu, which you can add in dried form to soups and stews, help pre-digest pulses, reducing wind.
High in nutrients, low in calories
You, too, may have thought, “But who can eat this stuff for breakfast?” when reading Japanese Women Don’t Get Old Or Fat by Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle (£12.99, Vermilion). Still, the judicious addition of nori or wakame to a bowl of noodle soup or stir-fry will total only 30 extra calories while packing in loads of mineral and trace elements. Nutritionist Ian Marber of the Food Doctor clinic says, “We don’t farm the sea, so there will be sustained exposure to minerals” – in other words, there will be a level you might not get in vegetables grown in nutrient-poor soil. Arame and wakame are great sources of calcium, iodine, folate, and magnesium. At the same time, purple laver is especially rich in B vitamins, according to a study reported in the British Journal Of Nutrition.
May improve heart health.
Wakame has been shown to prevent high blood pressure in animals, according to a report in the Journal Of Nutrition. And research from Kyoto University showed that the fibers from brown seaweed lowered blood pressure and reduced the risk of stroke in animals predisposed to cardiovascular problems. But can we extrapolate from animal studies to sushi fans? A 25-year study of the longest-lived population, the Okinawans, who have unfurry arteries, low cholesterol, and low homocysteine (a heart-damaging chemical) levels, showed that sea vegetables were among the seven to 10 portions of fruit and vegetables they eat daily. So they’re part of a package deal in Okinawa, making sea vegetables a valuable addition to the much-touted variety of vegetables and fruit we are told to eat for health.
Has heavy-duty detox properties
Spa aficionados and cellulite sufferers may recall being swathed in the browny green stuff, but what happens when you eat it? McGill University in Canada showed that seaweed was great for detoxing the body from the radioactive chemical strontium. Admittedly, this is unlikely to be much of a problem unless you happen to live near a melted-down nuclear power plant (not for nothing did seaweed sales rocket in the Soviet Union post-Chernobyl). However, seaweed also mops up the toxins’ cadmium and lead, not only present in cigarette smoke but, says Dr. David Santillo, senior science researcher at Greenpeace, is also in the environment from industry and transport. Make sure, however, that your seaweed comes from a reputable source, such as Clearspring (020-8749 1781, clearspring.co.uk) or, for Irish Moss drinks, Grace Foods (gracefoods.com).
It May help regulate hormones.
Seaweed is very high in lignans – these are plant substances that become phytoestrogens in the body, which help block the chemical estrogens that can predispose people to cancers such as breast cancer. Dr. Jane Teas of Harvard University published a paper saying that kelp consumption might be a factor in lower breast cancer rates in Japan. She is now researching the effects of seaweed as a natural replacement for HRT. Dr. Kat Arney of Cancer Research UK points out that most studies have been conducted in the laboratory, but adds that “It’s important to study whether sea vegetables can bring benefits, and we are currently investigating whether certain vegetables can protect against cancer.“
An all-round tonic
In Ireland and the Caribbean, seaweed-based drinks and soups are drunk as a regular pick-me-up or after an illness. Greg Lampert, director of the herbal course at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine, says, “Kelp is used to reducing phlegm and soften hardness; it also promotes urination and reduces swelling.“ Others claim it has gastric qualities and acts as a hangover cure My general.