Sea vegetables are not, botanically speaking, really vegetables. But they can be eaten as or with vegetables, they are green and leafy, and “sea vegetable” somehow sounds more palatable than “seaweed”! Sea vegetables are amazing foods. In Japan, they are a staple food that is fried, steamed, boiled, toasted, etc.
Sea vegetables are eaten by coastal-dwelling people all over the world. Practitioners of a macrobiotic diet – a Japanese-based, vegetarian diet and overall lifestyle that has been reported to alleviate cancer – incorporate large amounts of sea vegetables into their dishes, often serving them in some form for every meal.
So just what makes these ocean-dwelling plants so healthful?
* Iodine – All types of sea vegetables contain iodine, although some contain more than others. Iodine is an essential nutrient that supports thyroid function. In fact, people who experience a sluggish thyroid often find the problem corrected when they ingest kelp tablets. Kelp is a kind of sea vegetable that is especially high in iodine. Arame is also high in iodine.
* Vitamin C – Vitamin C is an important nutrient; it supports the immune system and acts as a natural antihistamine. Its antioxidant activities help protect against cancer. Kombu and Dulse are two types of sea vegetable that contain significant amounts of vitamin C.
* Protein – Vegetable protein is considered healthier than animal protein, and easier to digest. Nori, the seaweed wrap that is used to make sushi, has the highest protein content of the common sea vegetables.
* Calcium – Japanese women, who eat very few dairy products, do not suffer osteoporosis any more frequently than dairy-consuming westerners do. The secret may lie in the calcium-rich sea vegetables so common in the Japanese diet. Hijiki, a rather strong-flavored sea vegetable, has the most calcium of the common sea vegetables. It is followed by Wakame, Arame, and Kombu.
* Fucoidan – Found in brown sea vegetables such as Arame, fucoidan is a carbohydrate that has been shown to shrink tumors and act as an anti-inflammatory.
* Essential Fatty Acids – Dulse, a purplish sea vegetable that is popular dried and sprinkled on food like salt, has a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Truth be told, I usually eat dulse straight out of the bag. I find it that good! Essential fatty acids – so called because the body can not manufacture them and they must be obtained via diet – are anti-inflammatory and may guard against cancer.
How to incorporate sea vegetables into your diet:
One of the best ways to eat sea vegetables is in a traditional Japanese soup called miso soup. I love this stuff, and believe it or not, the kids do, too! Miso is a soybean paste that can be found in the refrigerator section of your health food store or supermarket. You can get it in different tastes and strengths as well.
The sea vegetable usually used in miso soup is Wakame, which is also available at health food stores. Sea vegetables generally need to be soaked prior to cooking, and the same goes for Wakame. You will only need a couple of strips for two servings of soup.
Soak the strips in water for at least half an hour. In the meantime, chop 2 tablespoons of green onion (scallions) and shred/grate carrots to make 1/4 cup. Chop a Daikon radish into matchsticks, about 1/3 cup. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add the vegetables. Chop and add the soaked Wakame. Simmer 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of miso paste.
Another easy way to incorporate sea vegetables into your diet is to use them as a condiment, or eat them for a crispy snack.