"Seaweed: Food or Slimy Green Stuff?"
by Frederic Patenaude
My readers often ask me if seaweed is a healthy food and is it necessary to include it in the diet in order to get enough minerals.
Typically, the reasons people eat seaweeds are:
1- They believe it's good for them.
2- They miss the “salt” taste, and want a natural replacement.
Before I answer the question about whether or not we should eat seaweed, let's first ask ourselves:
What is Seaweed?
The National University of Ireland gives the following definition:
“Seaweeds are marine algae, saltwater dwelling, simple organisms that fall into the rather outdated general category of "plants". Most of them are the red (6000 species), brown (2000 species) or green (1200 species) kinds (...) and most are attached by holdfasts, which just have an anchorage function.”
Generally, when people look at seaweed, they do not view it as “food.” Seaweed doesn't appeal to our senses. It is an “acquired” taste, not an innate one. If you present a variety of natural foods to people of all ages, they are not likely going to jump at a pond of slimy seaweed to eat it!
Eventually, some people get to like it. Personally, I have always found most types of seaweed too “fishy” for my taste. There are just a few that I have liked, and mostly for the salty taste.
I think it's a highly overrated “food” and is certainly not important to have in the diet.
There are several considerations that make seaweed a poor choice for nutrients in the human diet. Although I'm not “against” some occasional consumption of seaweed, I believe there are more reasons to opt for not having it than there are for having it.
The Dry Truth About Seaweed
Out of the thousands of varieties of seaweed on the planet, none are poisonous, but very few are eaten by humans. Most varieties are too tough or unappealing to be eaten. In fact, most types of seaweeds sold have been “tenderized,” which means that they have been boiled for a long period of time. These include the popular hijiki, wakame, and many other varieties.
A few varieties are eaten raw, but rarely fresh. Seaweed is sold dried.
Is Seaweed Vegetarian?
Although seaweed appears to be a vegetarian product, it often contains small fish or other forms of ocean life. I was told by a number of credible sources that there is no such thing as vegan “nori”. The way nori is processed almost inevitably invites various little fish to “join the party” before the seaweed is pressed and sold as nori sheets.
I don't know about you, but when I learned that, nori kind of instantly lost its appeal. Is it any wonder that it smells so fishy?
Seaweed Has a High Mineral Content
Seaweed's high mineral content is one of the main reasons people eat it.
The mineral content of seaweed - measured by their “ashes”, can reach the proportion of 10 to 50%. It means that if you burn seaweed half of the volume of ashes remaining will be composed strictly of minerals.
In comparison, the mineral “ashes” of fruits and vegetables are much lower.
- Apples leave mineral ashes of 0,3%
- Carrots leave mineral ashes of 1%
- Almonds leave mineral ashes of 3%
Personally, I find that “too much” is not any better than “too little.” I actually think the mineral concentration of seaweed, especially sodium chloride, is too high, and that this excess is a burden to our filtering and elimination organs.
Do We Need It?
Mainly, the reason people like seaweed is because it contains a lot of salt. Yes, this salt comes from the ocean, but it's not any better to use than any other type of refined salt. It potentially adds too much sodium to our diet, and this contributes to a large number of health problem, including high blood pressure, which is now epidemic in our society as well as in all other cultures eating high-salt diets
Our sodium requirements are so low that we do not ever need to add any type of concentrated salt to the diet. We know for example that about 90 percent of the salt consumed in the standard American diet is eliminated in the urine, as it is in excess of the body's needs.
There is enough sodium in the fruits and vegetables that we eat to meet all of our needs.*
The so-called benefits of the minerals in seaweed is a curse in disguise. In the end, we're just entertaining our addiction to salt and burdening the body with an excess of minerals, mostly sodium chloride, it must expel.
* The sodium issue will be discussed in a future article.
Seaweed is Contaminated
Seaweed does to the ocean what plants do to our air. They purify it. The downside is that the ocean is much more polluted than our air. Seaweed catches and filters a lot of pollution. Heavy metals, toxic material, and any type of junk that finds its way into our water also has a strong possibility of ending up in your food: in that seaweed that you eat.
The Food Standards Agency even advised people not to eat a type of seaweed called hijiki because of the high levels of arsenic that it contains. There are probably various types of toxins that could end up in the seaweed that you eat, simply because the ocean has never been so polluted and it keeps getting worse.
When seaweed is labeled as “organic,” it simply means that the seaweed has been tested to make sure the levels of heavy metals they contain is not above a certain level judged “problematic.” It doesn't mean that the seaweed doesn't contain any heavy metal. In fact, it would be impossible to make such a claim because seaweed sold is a wild food that comes from the same ocean that everybody knows to be polluted.
This, to me, is probably the biggest argument against regular seaweed consumption.
It's hard to believe, but some people get addicted to seaweed. I must confess that I have been one of them. I was buying dulse by the pound, and it didn't take me very long to go through it. Even though I was rinsing it to get salt off, I was probably still getting a lot. That's why I liked eating it. It had that concentrated salty flavor, and a certain chewiness reminiscent of foods I'd eaten in the past.
The more I ate dulse, the more I wanted to have dulse, even though I wasn't feeling that great after eating it! While, it wasn't a big addiction to break, at some point I just got sick of it. I decided to really give up salt and since then everything has been working better. My energy has increased, my craving for dulse and salt are gone, and overall I feel much better without it.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that most people do not have to worry about whether or not seaweed is a problem to them, because they rarely eat it. For raw-foodists or vegans who regularly consume seaweed in order to “supplement” their diet, or for those who think they are on a salt-free diet, but simply have replaced the salt shaker with the bag of dulse, it might be time to revise your ideas about seaweed.
You might find, like I do, that an occasional taste of it is perfectly okay. More than that, however, is likely to become problematic.
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