Algae is more than the green stuff you see floating in the ocean. Also known as ‘sea lettuce’, seaweed can actually be eaten as part of your diet. In fact, seaweed dates back to the 4th century in Japan and the 6th century in China as a food source. Today, these two countries, along with the Republic of Korea, are the top 3 countries that eat seaweed as food. It is also becoming increasingly popular in the diets of other countries around the world, such as America, where it is often eaten as a grilled seaweed snack.
Seaweed can taste very salty, so it might take some getting used to if you want to try it, but if eating this leafy green seems completely absurd, you might want to take a look at what might happen to your body when it eat We spoke to nutrition experts to give us insight into the surprising effects, both negative and positive, of eating seaweed. Read on and for more, don’t miss What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Potatoes.
You will get plenty of iodine.
Seaweed contains an essential mineral—iodine—and is one of its best food sources, serving 77% of the daily value of nutrients in just 2 tablespoons of dried nori. Iodine plays a key role in the function of thyroid hormones, and these hormones regulate biological processes such as your metabolism.
You can get iodine from fish, yogurt, oysters, milk, iodized bread, and iodized table salt, but seaweed is a tasty alternative.
“Algae may be helpful for people who don’t eat a lot of iodized table salt, seafood, or dairy,” she agrees. Sarah Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDNowner of Sarah Gold Nutrition, a virtual private practice outside of Boston, MA.
However, it’s important to be careful about what kind of algae you consume (that’s right, there are quite a few).
“Certain forms of seaweed can contain very large amounts of iodine,” explains Mitri. “And if you overdo it, it can lead to thyroid problems, like swelling around the neck and weight gain.”
“Too much iodine, even from food, can lead to thyroid problems or worsen existing hypothyroidism,” Anzlovar further suggests. “The amount of iodine varies by type, but 1 cup of most kelp contains all you need for a day. Kelp, muttra and kombu are on the higher end, so be mindful of how much you’re consuming – no more always better”.
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You get a boost of important nutrients.
“Algae are essentially sea vegetables,” explains Anzlovar, “and contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, calcium, potassium, folate, thiamin, riboflavin, copper, iron, iodine and magnesium.”
Not only that, but Melissa Mitri, MS, RD, Melissa Mitri Nutrition founder also says that seaweed has the unique ability to absorb and store minerals in concentrated amounts.
“While these minerals are essential in our diet, seaweed can sometimes contain large amounts of toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury and lead,” says Mitri. “This is only a potential concern if you eat algae very regularly.”
Mitri suggests that if you frequently consume seaweed, choose organic seaweed if possible. Typically, organic algae contain less heavy metals.
It can improve gut health.
If you want to improve your gut health, you might want to try adding seaweed to your diet.
“Seaweed is rich in fiber and sugars called polysaccharides that support gut health and increase the growth of ‘good’ gut bacteria,” says Mitri. “They do this by producing short-chain fatty acids, which help nourish healthy gut bacteria and allow them to thrive.”
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You could reduce your risk of heart disease.
“Eating seaweed has been linked to lower cholesterol and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease,” says Anzlovar.
In a journal article published in Nutrition Reviewsconsumption of algae may play an important role in altering the impact of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD) and related risk factors.
According to the review, a collaborative cohort study showed that Japan had a lower mortality risk. This is suggested to be due to the consumption of algae. The study showed that the typical Japanese dietary pattern, which includes consumption of seaweed, is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.