By Michael A. Smith, MDWhen was the last time you added seaweed flakes to your soup or salad or crusted fish or other protein? Well, if you’re like most Americans, the answer is probably never.
As a matter of fact, it’s probably safe to assume that the only seaweed you eat comes from sushi — and this only occasionally, IF you eat sushi at all.
But think about this … the Japanese tend to live long lives. Now scientists agree that there are many factors involved; however, one dietary element stands out that is virtually unique to the Japanese diet: regular consumption of seaweed — as much as 4–6 grams per day.
So now we’ve already added red wine and olives to our diets, let’s go ahead and add seaweed to round it all out. Below we’ll take a look at what seaweed can do for you if you eat it regularly.
Seaweed Can Help You Lose WeightSeaweed contains alginates — sugar compounds found within the cell walls of seaweed species. A new double-blind, placebo-controlled 12 week study involving 96 obese subjects shows weight loss potential for alginates.1 All participants were placed on the same diet and exercise regimen, but half received an alginate extract and the other half a placebo.
The researchers reported that the subjects taking an alginate extract lost an average of 15 pounds, compared to 11 pounds in the placebo group. That’s a difference of 4 pounds, which may not seem too big, but it is definitely big enough to warrant further investigation.
This research confirms some initial work conducted at the Universities of Sheffield and Copenhagen. The scientists at both places showed a potential benefit of alginates with appetite suppression, through delaying or slowing the emptying of the stomach. This will keep your stomach distended and keep you feeling full for a longer period of time.2-3
Seaweed Could Help Protect Against Estrogen-Related CancersNow this is just a case report, but it looks interesting. Researchers discovered that dietary intake of Bladderwrack — a brown seaweed — produced anti-estrogenic effects in three pre-menopausal women.4 According to the study's authors, these findings suggest that Bladderwrack may help reduce the risk of estrogen-related cancers.
However, the authors caution that further research is needed before any conclusions about Bladderwrack's cancer-fighting effects can be drawn.
Seaweed Detoxifies and Promotes Tissue RepairAnother component of seaweed are called fucoidans. Scientists have discovered that these are cell-surface molecules that facilitate cell-to-cell signaling, the core regulatory process responsible for everything from immunity and cardiovascular function to healthy cellular proliferation.5
Researchers believe that the shorter life and health spans observed in Western populations result in part from the near-total absence of dietary fucoidans.6,7
It has been shown that fucoidan-rich seaweeds, once ingested, can bind to toxins such as dioxin within your body and facilitate its excretion. The effect is noteworthy enough that some clinicians believe it could hold promise as a therapeutic intervention in humans exposed to dioxin.8
Fucoidans also modulate growth factors required for healing and tissue regeneration, while blocking those associated with visible aging. This is largely the result of their immune-modulating capabilities and ability to down-regulate inflammation.9,10
How to Use Brown SeaweedYou have to prepare seaweed for use in cooking. Seaweed is usually dried for packaging, and some varieties of seaweed, such as arame and wakame, need to be soaked before you use them. Read the directions on the package. Also, some seaweed can be used as dried flakes.
Add Asian seasonings to your seaweed variety of choice for great flavor. Take a type of seaweed that can be used as flakes and add your choice of seasoning … then just toss in your favorite salad. Popular seaweed seasons include toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, tamari, brown rice vinegar, carrots, onions and cucumbers.
Or how about this one: make a sandwich with sautéed seaweed. A simple recipe is to put sautéed arame or wakame on wholegrain toast with cream cheese. Or try using fried dulse to replace bacon in a BLT. It’s actually delicious!
Do you have any seaweed preparation tips of your own? Please share them with us in the comments below.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 May 30. [Epub ahead of print] Doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.025312
- Appetite. 2008 Nov;51(3):713-9. Epub 2008 Jul
- Nutr Res. 2008 Aug;28(8):501-5.
- BMC Complement Altern Med. 2004 4;4:10.
- Annu Rev Biochem. 2004;73:491-537.
- Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2001;10(2):159-64.
- Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2001;10(2):144-5.
- J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Feb 13;50(4):910-7.
- Eur J Dermatol. 2009 Mar-Apr;19(2):129-34.
- J Cardiovasc Pharmacol Ther. 2011 Mar;16(1):79-86. Epub 2010 Dec 30.
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