Three dietary / health concerns that are an issue for vegetarians and vegans are deficiencies in iron, B12, and iodine. When all three hit me I thought I was going to die. This is not hyperbole, I’ve never been so sick in my life. To say I was always tired seems a mild understatement. I was so tired it hurt. It took focused will and dogged determination to just get out of bed in the morning. I wasn’t at all refreshed after a nights sleep. It was difficult to get through the day, and I fell asleep right after dinner in the evening. My TCM doctor said all those problems could be solved if I would start eating seaweed.
This seemed obscure and unpalatable to me. I thought it would have a fishy taste, and then there was this mental picture of it being slimy and alien looking. Besides I didn’t know where to begin in incorporating it in my diet. What do you do with seaweed? He prescribed a blood tonic and kelp supplements but still urged me to consider actually eating kelp, as the benefits would be so much better.
Over time the supplements helped. My life returned to some semblance of “normal” though by no means active. Still I began to resign myself to the idea I would never have the health and vitality I thought I really should. In the meantime it seemed everywhere I turned I saw seaweed recommendations.
One day my doctor and I were talking and I brought up age related hair loss. He said seaweed and black sesame seeds would help that. Again with the seaweed. He said age related hair loss comes from a demineralization of the blood over time. Because our blood has about the same salt and mineral content as sea water, seaweed restores this mineral balance.
No matter what the problem, the cure always involved seaweed. Every book on health or organic or vegetarian cooking included a section on seaweed. I knew I had been out of the loop and this was something I had to try it. After incorporating it into my diet for only 3-4 days I felt I’d found the fountain of youth. One morning, this person who had been getting winded walking short distances, found herself running for the bus– actually running – a whole block – and it felt great. I felt healthier and more whole, had more stamina, and my head felt clearer. The change was remarkable. I began a more serious look at seaweed. I’m still a novice but want to share with you some of what I’ve learned. No wonder cultures that have traditionally eaten seaweed-based diets have historically maintained healthier weights as well as had fewer instances of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative diseases.
Before I get ahead of myself, let’s get back to basics. Just what is seaweed? Well it’s a marine algae found worldwide growing in salt water. It grows in tidal zones or shallow ocean waters where sunlight penetrates. They are simple organisms loosely classified as plants. There are 12,000 green species, 6,000 red species, and 2,000 brown species. None is known to be poisonous.
- The bays of Northern Japan
- The northern coast of California up into Washington,
- The east coast along Maine and the Canadian Maritimes,
- The coast of Ireland
- The coast of Scandinavia.
Scientists have concluded that seaweed is up to 60 times more potent than its land-based counterparts with sea vegetables offering the broadest range of minerals of any food. They are an exceptional source of the B-vitamin folate, magnesium, iron, calcium, and the B-vitamins riboflavin and panathenaic acid. Panathenaic acid is particularly important for healthy adrenal glands. When panathenaic acids are inadequate stressful times can deplete the adrenals resulting in chronic fatigue, reduced resistance to allergies and infection, and a feeling of being overwhelmed and acutely anxious.
Seaweed is also nature’s richest source of iodine. The thyroid gland adds iodine to the amino acid tyrosine to create the hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodotyronine (T3). Both of these are essential to human life. These thyroid hormones regulate metabolism in every cell of the body and play a role in virtually all physiological functions. Their deficiency had a devastating effect on my health and well-being.
In addition to aiding thyroid function seaweed may help protect us against one of the newer health dangers; radioactivity. Kelp contains iodine 127 which accumulates in the thyroid gland. This prevents the body from absorbing the radioactive iodine 131 which is released into the atmosphere during “normal” operations of nuclear power plants and weapons facilities. Kelp also contains sodium alginate which binds with radioactive strontium 90 and cesium 137 and aids the body in excreting them along with heavy metals.
So where do you begin to incorporate it into your diet? Where do you get seaweed? How do you use it? There are many different kinds of seaweed, how do you choose which one to use? To keep things simple let’s look at the two best known and easiest to find species. By the way, neither of these are slimy or taste fishy. Since we were just discussing some pretty awesome benefits of Kelp, let’s begin there.
Kelp is also known by its Japanese name of Kombu. It is gathered in Japan and on the coast of Mendocino California where it’s dried in the sun. Besides all the amazing nutritional benefits associated with Kombu it breaks down fat and protein in digestion, but can also break down body fat like cellulite. It is used in many spa treatments because it is such a valuable tool in fat loss. Look for Kelp or Kombu in your local health food store. Some supermarket may carry it.
Preparation: Roasted, dried, and ground into flakes it can be used as a salt substitute. It can also be purchased in a powdered form for this purpose.
It can be simmered along with other foods in soups, stews, and vegetable dishes. If you soak it first, for about 30 minutes, you can cut it into strips before simmering in the pot with your other food. Otherwise cut it up after it’s been simmered.
Rice – lay a sheet of kelp under the rice in the pot then cook as you normally would.
Beans – Add a 4”-6” strip of dried kelp for 1 pound of beans. It becomes translucent and tender, speeds the cooking time, softens the beans, thickens the broth
Dashi (Japanese basic stock for soups, stews, and sauces) (From “The Organic Cooking Bible” by JeffCox)
Soak a 6 inch piece of Kombu in 4 cups water for 2 hours, then bring slowly to a boil. Just before the water boils remove the kelp from the water, turn off the heat, and let the broth cool.
Kombu tea for weight loss assistance: (From “This Crazy Vegan Life” by Christene Pirello)
3 inch piece of Kombu
4 cups spring or filtered water
Place kombu and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, covered. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the liquid reduces by half, 10-15 minutes. Drink 1 cup while hot. You may reheat remaining tea for another serving. Can be taken any time of day but must be taken hot.
Nutrition: Besides the already discussed iodine, a 100 gram serving of kelp (approximately 1 ¼ cups) contains:
6.2 grams of fiber That’s more fiber than brown rice without the starchy carbohydrates.
14 % protein, although it doesn’t contain significant amounts of all nine essential amino acids so is not considered a complete protein.
High levels of magnesium, iron, and calcium.
You can also obtain these trace mineral: phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.
Very high levels of vitamin K, folate or vitamin B9.
Moderate levels of vitamins A,E,C,thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and panthothenic acid.
Nori may be the best known because of its use in sushi bars. It is the black compressed seaweed in which the sushi and rice are rolled. Because of its popularity it can be found in most supermarkets in the “Ethnic Food” or “Asian Food” sections. Nori is often bought in sheets but the best is the dried leaf form. Health food stores will carry a wider variety of seaweed including snacks products. This is where I started my person al seaweed adventure. In my health food store I found a “Sweet Seaweed Snack” by Sea’s Gift. It is non-GMO, gluten-free and vegan. It can be eaten as is or sprinkled on top of salads, casseroles, etc.
Preparation: Nori can be roasted by placing it in a dry skillet on medium heat for 15 seconds per side. It then can be crumbled over vegetables and grains as a condiment.
Nori is about 1/3 protein
Iodine: One sheet of nori meets 70% of the daily value for iodine.
Vitamin C; One sheet of nori meets 10% of daily vitamin C value
Vitamin A; maintains skin health and is important for eyesight
Magnesium; helps regulate blood pressure and maintain blood sugar
We haven’t even touched on cancer, heart disease, stroke, or birth defect prevention. This is an ongoing topic of fascination.