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Sea Vegetables: A Mineral-Rich Gold Mine

By Stephanie Vuolo, B.A.
December 3, 2014
Sea Vegetables: A Mineral-Rich Gold Mine image

Do you find yourself staring at the vegetables in the produce section looking for something new, but aren’t sure where to begin? Head into the ethnic aisle to uncover a variety of options you may not even have considered before: seaweed. Yes, the same plants you have tried to avoid getting tangled in while swimming in the ocean are both good for your health and taste delicious.

There are many options and incentives for adding seaweed, which is in fact a vegetable, to your Paleo Diet. Although, not regularly consumed in Western cultures, marine-algae have been prized by hunter-gatherer societies with access to it as a source of valuable nutrients.1 It’s no wonder why coastal dwellers today in other parts of the world, such as in Japan, Malaya, China, Korea and the Philippines still include them as a large part of their diet.2

Seaweeds provide all of the 56 minerals and trace minerals, such as selenium and zinc, required for the body’s physiological functions and they contain 10 – 20 times the minerals of land plants.3 The minerals from seaweeds have been shown to be more bioavailable than other mineral sources.4, 5, 6 As the mineral content of soil decreases, the nutrients available in sea vegetables may be more important to us today than ever.7

Health Benefits of Sea Vegetables

High antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties

The extracts of lipids and phospholipids from a range of marine algae have been shown to have significant antioxidant activity and act as free radical scavengers.8 Seaweeds also contain high levels of vitamins A, C and E, as well as a wide range of flavonoids that are different from those in fruit and vegetables; these components are cardio protective.9

Inhibits absorption of toxins

Kombu, wakame, arame and hijiki abundant in alignates, which inhibit absorption of toxic metals and radioactive isotopes such as strontium-90 in the digestive tract.10 The ability of seaweed to chelate these metals and to prevent their absorption in the gut could protect against various cancers.11

Good source of natural iodine

Two billion people have insufficient iodine in their diets, which is linked to thyroid-related problems.12 Symptoms of iodine deficiency are goiters, increased infant mortality, infertility, impaired growth, and hypothyroidism.13

Strengthens the immune system

Algal extracts have been shown to stimulate immune cells, including B cells and macrophages.14 Seaweed contains beta 1,3-glucans, for example, the polysaccharide laminarin, which are known to prime the immune system as well as boost its function.15

Reduces the risk of cardiac disease

The polysaccharides specific to sea plants has been shown to be cardio protective,16 as it tends to reduce blood cholesterol and lipid levels.17 The high mineral content, especially of magnesium, calcium, and potassium, reduces overall blood pressure.18

Sea vegetables are available at most grocery stores in dried forms, which makes them ideal for stocking your Paleo pantry. Some, such as dulse, wakame, nori and sea lettuce are tender enough to eat raw or after soaking quickly in water. Some Asian markets offer a packaged dried seaweed mix (or you can easily sub wakame) that is ideal for creating a simple salad. Just make sure you’re reading the packaging and buying No Salt Added.

After soaking the seaweed for about 5 minutes in cold water, drain and squeeze out the excess liquid. Dress the salad with freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil to taste.

Arame can be cooked lightly by boiling or steaming, and kombu and hijiki require soaking or cooking by sautéing or simmering for long periods. Dashi is a quick Japanese broth that can be made by soaking a piece of kombu in about 4 cups of water for at least 10 hours in the refrigerator. It can be used as a base for a flavorful vegetable soup with “noodles” of nori.

Each seaweed variety has its own unique flavor for you to explore. Start with a little, especially because they expand after soaking. You’ll discover a new way to add vegetables into your Paleo Diet in no time!

Stephanie Vuolo


[1] Ughtfoot, Kent G. "Coastal hunter-gatherer settlement systems in the southern North Coast Ranges." (1992).

[2] Chennubhotla, V. S., N. Kaliaperumal, and S. Kalimuthu. "Seaweed recipes and other practical uses of seaweeds." Seafood Export Journal 13.10 (1981): 9-16.

[3] Chapman, V. J., and D. J. Chapman. "Sea vegetables (algae as food for man)."Seaweeds and their Uses. Springer Netherlands (1980): 62-97.

[4] Urbano, Montserrat Gudiel, and Isabel Goñi. "Bioavailability of nutrients in rats fed on edible seaweeds, Nori (< i> Porphyra tenera) and Wakame (< i> Undaria pinnatifida), as a source of dietary fibre." Food chemistry 76.3 (2002): 281-286.

[5] Aquaron, Robert, et al. "Bioavailability of seaweed iodine in human beings."Cellular and molecular biology (Noisy-le-Grand, France) 48.5 (2002): 563-569.

[6] Romarís–Hortas, Vanessa, et al. "Bioavailability study using an in-vitro method of iodine and bromine in edible seaweed." Food Chemistry 124.4 (2011): 1747-1752.

[7] Verkleij, F. N. "Seaweed extracts in agriculture and horticulture: a review."Biological Agriculture & Horticulture 8.4 (1992): 309-324.

[8] Matsukawa, R., et al. "A comparison of screening methods for antioxidant activity in seaweeds." Journal of Applied Phycology 9.1 (1997): 29-35.

[9] Yoshie-Stark, Yumiko, Ya-Pei Hsieh, and Takeshi Suzuki. "Distribution of flavonoids and related compounds from seaweeds in Japan." Journal-Tokyo University of Fisheries 89 (2003): 1-6.

[10] Tanaka, Y., Deirdre Waldron-Edward, and S. C. Skoryna. "Studies on inhibition of intestinal absorption of radioactive strontium. VII. Relationship of biological activity to chemical composition of alginates obtained from North American seaweeds." Canadian Medical Association Journal 99.4 (1968): 169.

[11] Durham, Troy R., and Elizabeth T. Snow. "Metal ions and carcinogenesis."Cancer: cell structures, carcinogens and genomic instability. Birkhäuser Basel, 2006. 97-130.

[12] Andersson, Maria, et al. "Current global iodine status and progress over the last decade towards the elimination of iodine deficiency." Bulletin of the World Health Organization 83.7 (2005): 518-525.

[13] Hetzel, BasilS. "Iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) and their eradication." The Lancet 322.8359 (1983): 1126-1129.

[14] Liu, J. N., et al. "B cell stimulating activity of seaweed extracts." International journal of immunopharmacology 19.3 (1997): 135-142.

[15] Shan, B. E., et al. "Brief Communication Immunomodulating activity of seaweed extract on human lymphocytes in vitro." International journal of immunopharmacology 21.1 (1999): 59-70.

[16] Mayakrishnan, Vijayakumar, et al. "Cardioprotective activity of polysaccharides derived from marine algae: An overview." Trends in Food Science & Technology 30.2 (2013): 98-104.

[17] PanlasiguiPhD, Leonora N., et al. "Blood cholesterol and lipid-lowering effects of carrageenan on human volunteers." Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr 12.2 (2003): 209-214.

[18] Vaskonen, Timo. "Dietary minerals and modification of cardiovascular risk factors." The Journal of nutritional biochemistry 14.9 (2003): 492-506.

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