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Health Corner
By Julene Tripp Weaver

Seaweeds or Sea Vegetables Part I

In the article on the B complex vitamins I listed seaweeds as a good food source. This is an introduction with details on why it is a good idea to add them into your diet.

Seaweeds also called sea vegetables are a staple in my kitchen and I will not cook a pot of beans or soup without adding one of the many varieties of sea vegetables. Our ancestors have used sea vegetables world wide; it is a common food for the people of Japan, Korea, China, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, England, Scotland, France, Denmark, Wales, Hawaii, as well as many islands in the south Pacific. Native Americans and Africans have eaten sea vegetables as part of their regular diets.

The macrobiotic diet, that has come to this country from Japan, has helped to make sea vegetables popular. In Japan where they use a lot of soybeans they also use seaweed daily. "Miso soup with tofu is made with seaweed stock, sushi is rolled in nori seaweed, and other sea vegetables such as agar, hiziki, and wakame are consumed regularly. This custom begins to make sense when we find out that soybeans contain a thyroid depressing element; seaweeds, being rich in iodine, a mineral needed for proper thyroid function, counterbalance that effect."(1)


The organic iodine in seaweed is important to our ability to resist disease. Our thyroid gland, which sits in the front of the lower part of our neck, is dependent on iodine to do its work. Our thyroid has at least five functions: 1) All the blood in our body passes through the thyroid and is screened every seventeen minutes. As the blood passes through it is the secretion of iodine that destroys weak germs and weakens stronger germs. We are constantly subjected to these germs through leaks into our blood: through cuts on the skin, through the lining of the nose or throat, or through absorption of food in the intestinal tract. 2) The thyroid helps to build the body's energy, 3) relieves nervous tension, 4) aids in clear thinking, and 5) acts as a oxidizing catalyst to help with storage of fat.

Another reason to have adequate amounts of iodine is to avoid the absorption of radioactive element iodine-131. Iodine-131 concentrates primarily in the thyroid gland and secondarily in our reproductive organs. Any x-rays of lungs, thyroid or blood exposes you to iodine-131; and it is used in radiotherapy as a thyroid treatment. Iodine-131 is a common emission from nuclear plants. This radioactive by-product is one of the most pervasive radioactive isotopes in our environment.

Our bodies do not make iodine so we are dependent to get it from our food. Salt typically has iodine added to it because in many states iodine is low in the soil, making it difficult to get enough in a regular diet. The problem with the iodine added to salt is that it is inorganic and not absorbable; when we eat too much table salt we go out of balance. Using mineral rich sea salt or sea vegetables is healthier. Another danger to our stored supply of iodine is the chlorinated tap water that we drink. Chlorine has a lower atomic weight than iodine and so when the chlorine passes through the thyroid it displaces our store of iodine.(2)

Overconsuption of iodine should be avoided by those who have cardiovascular problems or hyperactivity. This would be a difficult thing to do by adding small amounts of sea vegetables into your diet, the positives would out weigh the negatives.

Below are highlighted some of the many health benefits of including sea vegetables in your diet: It is cautioned not to use sea vegetables during pregnancy, also, they should be used cautiously or in moderation if you are having loose stools, or chronic fatigue, or what is called a weak digestive qi in traditional Chinese medicine.

You can buy sea vegetables in a natural food store, a local food co-operative, or even in your local supermarket. They are dry and can be found in bulk or pre packaged, look for them in the macrobiotic section. They are also available in Asian markets. Keep dried seaweed in glass jars in your kitchen cabinet, protect from light and they will keep for years. When you are ready to use soak some in water, the longer it soaks the easier it is to digest. You can keep it in the refrigerator after soaking either in the soak-water or drained. Use the soak-water to cook with since it is mineral rich, or it can be fed to animals or plants.

Seaweeds or Sea Vegetables Part II

Sea vegetables are a large form of marine algae that have been around for over two billion years. Fossils designate them as the starting point for the evolution of the plant kingdom. Simply, sea vegetables are plants that grow in the sea; an environment almost identical to our early state in the womb. Seventy percent of the earth's surface is mineral rich ocean water. Like a baby in a womb these plants absorb the rich minerals the sea has to offer. Because they are at the base of the food chain they are safer to eat than fish that absorb toxins in their flesh. Most of the time they reproduce by spores, similar to ferns.

Sea vegetables come in many different colors but they are subdivided into four: green, brown, red and blue-green. The colors variations are dependent on how much light they grow in. Red algae grows in the deepest depths of the ocean receiving the least light and has over twenty five hundred species. Brown algae grows at an intermediate level in the ocean and has over a thousand species. The reds and the browns are harvested for commercial use. The green algae grow near the surface of the ocean giving them the brightest green color and has approximately nine hundred species. The blue-green are fresh water micro-algae such as spiralina and chorella and blue green algae.

Some common varieties of sea vegetables:

(Palmaria palmata)
This very common seaweed is reddish in color, a deep dark brownish red bordering on purple. It can be used like you would use spinach or any leafy vegetable. As it comes, without soaking, it can be toasted over a low flame and eaten like chips (it has a nutty flavor) or sautéed in oil and eaten as a condiment. Put into sauces or gravies and it acts as a thickener. Add it onto sandwiches either toasted or soaked first. Add it to soups the last 10 minutes of cooking, bake into bread. It is high in iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesiumm and vitamins A, B6, B12, E, and C. There is some seasonal variation; in the spring it is higher in beta carotene; in autumn it is a good source of vitamin C. Dulse is twenty-two percent protein that is easily digestible.

Nori (Porphyra tenera)
Its color ranges from dark green/jade to purple-pink to brown and it has very tender fibers making it paper thin. It comes in sheets and can be used exactly as it is or can be toasted over a low flame or in a three hundre degree oven. Typically used to make sushi or nori rolls. It can be added to soups, stews, casseroles or crumpled over salads, put into dressings, spreads or desserts. It contains calcium, iron, phosphorus, vitamins E, A and C, B vitamins and has twenty-eight percent proten.

Hijiki (Hizikia fusiforme)
This is a high protein seaweed loaded with well balanced minerals. Soak five to fifteen minutes, it expands to twice its original volume. Hijiki has a very strong flavor, so use a little to go a long way. Chop and cook with grains, soups, breads, stuffings, salads, curries, tofu and vegetable dishes. Can be sautéed in oil which will facilitate the digestion of oil-soluble vitamins and cut the fishy taste of this strong tasting sea vegetable. It contains calcium, iron, vitamins A, B1 and B12. Arame, which has a milder flavor, can be used in its place. Arame contains complex carbohydrates, fiber, niacin, calcium, iodine, potassium and sodium.

Kombu and Kelp (Laminaria species)
Kombu is a member of the kelp family. The kelps are a yellow-brown and they are the largest and longest of the sea plants that live in cool climates. This is the one I put into every pot of soup I make. Break or cut it with a scissors and add into your brew at the start of cooking. Cut it fairly small because it grows. It requires cooking for one to two hours covered with water until it softens, this is one reason it is excellent in soups and stocks. The Bullwhip kelp (also called giant kelp) is common in the northwest. Kombu is used in China and Japan for thyroid conditions and high blood pressure. It contains potassium, iodine, calcium, magnesium, iron, niacin, vitamins A, B2 and C, also it contains alginic acid that absorbs toxic metallic elements out of the body.

Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida)
Olive colored, soak for three to four minutes, cook for at least forty five minutes. There is a tough midrib that can be trimmed out and used in longer cooking. This can be used like a green leafy vegetable in soups, stews, baked vegetable and stir-fry dishes, or in with grains. Can be added to sandwiches or into spreads. It contains calcium, iron, phosphorus, vitamins E, A and C, and B vitamins, also it is twenty-eight percent protein.

These next two sea vegetables are often used instead of gelatin or aspic(6) by vegetarians.

Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus)
A reddish-purple to reddish-green color seaweed that contains carrageenan, a strong gelling agent that is commonly used in commercial products such as hand creams and ice cream. Medicinally it is a remedy for respiratory diseases. A gelatinous substance it is also used to treat peptic and duodenal ulcers, to inhibit arteriosclerosis, to protect from fat and cholesterol buildup and has an anti-coagulant effect on the blood. To use it rinse twice and soak ten minutes then place in saucepan with liquid and heat over low heat until it dissolves, add ingredients and place in a mold. A one half cup will gel four cups of thin liquid or three cups of heavy liquid, thus it is a good thickener in stews, gravies, salad dressings, aspics, and pies. It is used similar to agar-agar. It helps relieve diarrhea.

This is a derivative from the sodium alginate in kelp. Probably it is best known for the culture growing medium used in petri dishes in school science laboratories. It is used as a thickening agent and is good for making fruit gelatins, it does not need refrigeration in order to set although the more acidic the food the more agar-agar you will need to use for it to set. It comes as flakes or powered; powered agar can be substituted for the same quantity of powdered gelatin in a recipe; for every teaspoon of agar-agar powder you should substitute a tablespoon of agar-agar flakes; for a firm jelly use approximately two teaspoons of powder or two tablespoons of flakes per one pint or six hundred ml of liquid. It contains calcium, iron and phosphorus.

I hope this helps to get you started trying some of the available sea vegetables. Start with small amounts, many vegetarian cookbooks will have recipes you can try.
(1) Colbin, Annemarie, Food And Healing, page 171 - 172.
(2) A well known chemical law, the law of halogen displacement, makes this possible. The halogen group is made up of: Fluorine, Chlorine, Bromine and Iodine. Respectively their Atomic Weights are: 19, 35.5, 80, and 127. The clinical activity of any one of these four halogens is in inverse proportion to its atomic weight. This means that any one of the four can displace the element with a higher atomic weight. Since Iodine has the higher atomic weight it is constantly at risk of being removed from our thyroid, especially if we drink chlorinated water. [Folk Medicine, DC Jarvis, 1958, pg.138]
(3) Shannon, Sara, Diet For The Atomic Age, page 152.
(4) Pritchford, Paul, Healing with Whole Foods, page 178.
(5) Neushul, M., Antiviral carbohydrates from marine red algae,'xdcr/ab/algae/rma-carb.html.
(6) Gelatin is a by-product of the slaughterhouse industry as it is made from the protein of animal bones, cartilage, tendons and other tissues such as pig skin. Aspic is made from clarified meat, fish or vegetable stocks and mixed with gelatin.


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Pitchford, Paul, Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition, Berkeley, CA: North Atlanta Books, 1993.

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