Monday, March 14, 2011

An Intro to Eating Sea Vegetables: My Top 5, How to, and Why!

by Hayley Shwaizer, CNP

Eating seaweeds might sound a bit unpleasant to those new to the idea, but as Healthy Hotties we know what the Japanese have known for centuries - sea vegetables are alkalinizing superfoods, packed with 10-20 times more nutrients than land plants (though technically they are not plants nor animals, but algae). The wide varieties of minerals are from the mineral-packed ocean waters they grow in, which simply cannot be found among most other foods.

Sea vegetables have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer (especially colon and breast cancer), anti-coagulant, anti-thrombotic, and anti-viral properties. While they have a considerate amount of other benefits, seaweeds are mostly known for their high concentrations of iodine and vitamin K, needed for optimal thyroid function and to protect our bones, prevent calcification of the arteries and to make sure our blood clots normally.

Let me introduce you to my top 5 sea vegetables so you can start adding them to your diet right away without feeling the need to turn your nose up to the idea:

Arame Strings 
  • Thin noodle-like dark strings of goodness that give an attractive blackish shine to any meal
  • A good seaweed to start with because it is mild in flavour
  • You can add it to pretty much anything like salads, sautéed vegetables, brown rice and stir fries.
  • Try it tossed with Chinese cabbage, soy sauce, ginger, lemon juice and flax oil for a lovely Asian variation of coleslaw
  • Soak for 5 minutes in filtered water, drain and use (careful, it expands to about 3 times the size!)

Kelp or Dulse Flakes
  • Very flavourful, light brown to dark green in colour, usually found in a flake or powdered form
  • I use some in lieu of sea salt when cooking several dishes. You can also keep a container of kelp flakes on the table, mixed with garlic powder and pepper to add extra nutrition and seasoning to your meals

Kombu Strips
  • Very dark in colour and usually sold in strips
  • Used to flavour soup stocks, but also recommended to add to the pot when cooking beans because they contain glutamic acid which softens the beans making them easier to digest and prevent flatulence
  • Soak for 10 minutes in filtered water until soft, chop it up and add a 2” piece to your soups, stews and bean dishes. Be sure to cook kombu for at least 20 minutes

Nori Sheets
  • Dark purple-black coloured sheets that turn deep green when toasted
  • If you’ve ever had maki rolls at a Japanese restaurant then you’ve already eaten nori!
  • Vegetarian nori rolls are fun to make and are a delicious healthy addition to your lunch box. All you need are nori sheets, short grain brown rice, thinly sliced raw veggies to fill them with such as celery, spring onions, carrots, cucumbers, or avocado... then roll away! You may also want some tamari or soy sauce for dipping

Spirulina and Chlorella Powders
  • Blue-Green micro algae powders with high levels of chlorophyll
  • The mother of all superfoods, in my opinion, these powders are packed with nutrients and their proteins bind to heavy metals and pesticides to help with detoxification. They also boost immunity and energy levels
  • Add half a teaspoon of the powder to an 8oz glass of water or add it to your smoothies or favourite fresh juices such as apple or carrot juice to mask their taste
  • You can also purchase them in supplement form. Just be sure that the spirulina is organic and the chlorella has broken cell walls for the best quality and highest absorption rates
Special Cooking Tips:
The water seaweeds are soaked in becomes very nutritious and flavourful and can be used in the recipe you are making. To gain maximum flavour and nutrition, try to use the same amount of water to soak your sea vegetables as is needed for your recipe.

DO NOT OVERSOAK – The longer you soak them the more important nutrients are drawn into the water and out of the vegetables. Water also clogs sea vegetables rendering them less able to absorb the flavours of the seasonings used in your recipes.

Health Concern
Although highly nutritious by absorbing so many minerals from the ocean, seaweeds may also absorb unwanted heavy metals. Of most concern are the high arsenic levels found in some seaweeds, especially one I didn’t discuss above called hijiki. Hijiki is like arame, but stronger in flavour and higher in nutrients. It is difficult to find due to the arsenic contamination which is very dangerous to consume. If you would like to try some, be sure to get a certified organic brand such as Maine Coast Sea Vegetables Inc.

The five different types of sea vegetables mentioned above are sure to get you moving in the right direction, so try to incorporate some of these wonderful mineral-dense gifts of the sea into your diet and let me know how it goes! (You can start by checking this recipe).

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