What’s So Great About Sea Vegetables?

What’s So Great About Sea Vegetables?

Well, it’s not the name, that’s for sure. Two things kids just can’t get enough of, food that smells like fish and vegetables, ammiright? But they are actually quite nutritious and when presented in the right way, may just be a hit with “Lady White Pasta” and “Lord French Fry” (or whatever other royal tyrants you may have living under your roof!).

Question 1: what are they? While there are a number of varieties, the sea veggies we in North America are most familiar with likely come wrapped around your favourite sushi or marinated on top of the local Asian take-out’s side salad. Nori, the papery sheets used for sushi are easily recognizable to most. Arame too, most often in strips, this kelp is usually reconstituted for garnish but can also be eaten dry and crunchy. You may also have tried wakame, dulse and kombu and did you know agar-agar is a sea vegetable (and added to everything from pudding to salad dressing as a thickening agent). Worried about mercury? Don’t be. Most research shows that while anything from the sea is vulnerable to mercury and toxins, levels in sea vegetables are lower than in fish. According to Livestrong, “A study published in the 2009 issue of the “Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health” indicates that seaweed presented a relatively low quantity of mercury in the Korean diet, where seaweed is eaten frequently — 0.02 mg per person per day compared with the 1.8 mg per person per day from seafood, considered to be the greatest mercury risk (and) the small risk might be mitigated by the health benefits of seaweed.”

Question 2: why should I eat them? Sea vegetables primary claim to fame is their naturally high iodine content. Iodine is a mineral needed by the thyroid gland for the proper creation of certain hormones. While the body only requires a small amount, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, “An iodine deficiency leads to an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), slowed metabolism, and weight gain, as well as other symptoms of hypothyroidism such as fatigue and intolerance of cold, as well as neurological, gastrointestinal, and skin abnormalities. Iodine deficiency in pregnant or nursing mothers can result in thyroid problems during fetal and child development, and is the most common cause of preventable brain damage in the world”.  This is the reason iodine was originally added to salt in the 1920’s and while iodine deficiency is hardly a front burner worry, Dr. Weil points out that “iodine intakes in the United States have declined from about 250 micrograms (mcg) per day to 157 mcg daily. We need 150 mcg or more” for optimal thyroid function.

But iodine is not all sea veggies have to offer. They are also “packed with nutrients including vitamins A, C, E, B complex and B12 as well as calcium, potassium and iron. They also provide protein and fibre and even some omega-3 fatty acids.” Plus, early stage research shows that the unique “antioxidant alkaloids” in sea vegetables offer different protections than the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables (carotenoids and flavanoids). These benefits may include: viral protection, carbohydrate metabolism, blood sugar regulation and most exciting, a possible lowered risk of all estrogen-related cancers, including breast cancer. How? Research is based on “the apparent ability of sea vegetables to modify aspects of a woman’s normal menstrual cycle in such a way that over a lifetime, the total cumulative estrogen secretion that occurs during the follicular phase of the cycle gets decreased” and less estrogen equals lower risk.

Question 3: How do I get my kids to eat it?  Well, if they’re adventurous, go for it. Check out all the snacks on the market that incorporate sea veggies. Crackers, dried crispystrips, seaweed “jerky” and other snack foods are available. Need to dip a toe in first? Try tossing the black shreds of arame into a sauce or soup, or even just add a piece or two to the liquid when making a soup, stew or rice and remove it before serving. And if you haven’t already, try introducing your kids to sushi. Fish for the super adventurers, all veggie for the sceptics among us. Bonus: Chopsticks!

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