Health Benefits of Seaweed
Nutrition Facts Charts
Coastal peoples all over the world have prized
seaweed as a source of valuable nutrients, primarily minerals, for
millennia. Here in northern California, where Rising Tide Sea Vegetables
is based, the inland native peoples used to trade their most precious
possessions for a bag of dried seaweed laboriously carried on someone's
back from the coast.
Knowledge of the tonic and healing powers of seaweed
was passed down among coastal peoples from generation to generation.
Much of their knowledge is in the process of being confirmed by
modern scientific analysis. And demographic studies have shown that
people who regularly incorporate edible seaweeds into their diets
have fewer problems from mineral depletion and live longer than
Sea vegetables contain 10 to 20 times the minerals
and vitamins of land vegetables. Gram for gram,
they are higher in vitamins and minerals than any other class of
food.2 The minerals are available in chelated, colloidal
forms that make them especially available to the bodies of humans
and animals, a concept known as “bioavailability.” All
sea vegetables contain significant amounts of protein, sometimes
as much as 48%. Sea plants are also a rich sources of both soluble
and insoluble dietary fiber.3 The large brown seaweeds
known as the “kelps”
(including Rising Tide’s wakame and kombu) contain alginic
acid. Studies have shown that alginic acid removes heavy metals
and radioactive isotopes from the digestive tract, as well as strontium
90 from the bones.4
Sea vegetables have traditionally been used in
Asia to treat heart disease, hypertension, cancer, and thyroid problems.
Modern researchers are trying to understand the physiological mechanisms
by which seaweed can be used to successfully treat these diseases,
with some promising results. One especially exciting theory proposes
that consumption of Laminaria (kombu) explains the low breast cancer
rate in post-menopausal Japanese women.5 Much more will be learned
in future years as the study of these wondrous plants from the sea
Seaweeds contain vitamins A, B, C, and E.6
Moreover, many seaweeds contain what appears to be vitamin B-12,
a vitamin normally found only in animal products. Avoiding B-12
deficiency has traditionally posed a problem for people on raw foods,
vegan, macrobiotic, and vegetarian diets, but seaweed just might
solve the problem. The source of the B-12 in seaweed remains a mystery
(is it made by bacteria living on the surface or in the water?),
and researchers wonder if it is not really B-12 but an “analogue”
– something that resembles B-12 but cannot be utilized by
the human body.7 Dr. Gabriel Cousens is quite convinced
that the B-12 in seaweed is bio-available,8 and the experience
of some long-term vegan/vegetarians seems to confirm that view.9
The mineral content of sea vegetables is extraordinary, and is probably
at the root of most of their healing properties. Several of the
theories put forth to explain the ability of seaweed to reduce heart
disease and hypertension are based in the high mineral content of
seaweed, particularly potassium, calcium, sodium, and chloride.
In the words of Shep Erhart, author of Sea Vegetable Celebration,
“Every second of every day your body depends on minerals to
generate billions of tiny electric impulses throughout your nervous
system. Your heart would stop, your muscles would freeze, and your
brain would black out if these minerals were not available in just
the right amounts and the right form. The minerals in seaweeds are
in colloidal form, meaning they retain their molecular identity
while remaining in liquid suspension. Colloids are very small in
size and are easily absorbed by the body’s cells. Plants convert
metallic minerals, which can be toxic, into colloids with a natural,
negative electric charge. Negatively charged minerals have been
shown to increase the transport and bioavailability of other foods
“Minerals that are attached to other substances such as amino
acids are also more bioavailable. These are call chelated (key-lated)
minerals, from the Greek word for claw. Seaweeds provide all of
the 56 minerals and trace minerals required for your body’s
physiological functions in chelated, colloidal forms. Most enzymatic
functions depend on minute amounts of bioavailable trace minerals.
The major minerals are instrumental in all kinds of life-sustaining
activities in your body: magnesium is crucial in calcium absorption,
iodine in thyroid function, iron in blood oxygen exchange, and chromium
in blood sugar regulation. All of these functions are facilitated
by the presence of chelated, colloidal minerals.”11
The minerals in sea vegetables are more important
to humans and animals today than ever. The 1997 edition of Food
Composition Handbook shows a 25–50% decline in the vitamin
and mineral content of foods since the last survey done in 1975.
“This decline suggests a steady deterioration in soil, air,
and water quality, as well as reduced seed vitality, that is depleting
minerals and other inorganic compounds from our food.”12
Minerals in Relation to Tofu, Beans, and Grains
Tofu, beans, and grains contain a substance called phytic acid which blocks the absorption of minerals. With beans and grains you can mitigate this problem by soaking them for 18 hours before cooking. The soaking activates the seed embryo, which neutralizes the phytic acid. Alternatively, you can add seaweed to your pot of grain or beans, which makes more minerals available and ensures that some will be absorbed.
In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon and Mary Enig point out that Americans are using tofu very differently than it is used in Asia. In Asia small quantities of tofu are usually served in a fish-based broth with seaweed. The seaweed and the fish provide additional minerals that balance the mineral-leaching effect of the phytic acid in the tofu. But Americans, having identified tofu as a vegetable source of protein, have isolated it from its culinary tradition and consume huge quantities of it the way we would consume steak or hamburgers. Hundreds of substitute meat products consist mainly of texturized soy protein, and many people simply dip a slab of tofu in tamari and yeast and fry it. We would be wise to eat in harmony with Asian traditions and use tofu in smaller quantities and in combination with fish and/or seaweed.
1 Erhart, Shep and Cerier, Leslie, Sea Vegetable Celebration, Book
Publishing Company, Summertown, TN, 2001, p. 22.
2 Cousens, Gabriel, Conscious Eating, Essene Vision Books, Patagonia,
3 Erhart and Cerier, 25-27.
4 Erhart and Cerier, 30.
5 Erhart and Cerier, 29.
6 Cousens, 484
7 Erhart and Cerier, 24-25.
8 Cousens, 484.
9 Erhart and Cerier, 25.
10 Erhart and Cerier, 27-28.
11 Erhart and Cerier, 21-22.
12 Jack, Alex, Let Food Be Thy Medicine, One Peaceful World Newsletter,
200 as quoted in Erhart and Cerier, Sea Vegetable Celebration, 22.