Variety is an important part of a healthy diet, which is why it's important to eat a rainbow of natural food colors each day. Trying new foods is another way to spice up your diet. Instead of just eating a typical green salad every day for lunch, why not experiment with some new ingredients? In fact, you can think outside of your garden altogether when it comes to vegetables.
Why You Should Eat Sea Veggies
Sea vegetables are a fancy name for edible seaweed. Besides expanding your culinary palate, sea vegetables have health benefits, too. Sea vegetables are often underused in American diets, but they’re chock-full of vitamins and minerals including magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium. They’re sometimes referred to as superfoods, due to how densely packed they are with antioxidants.
All sea vegetables are packed with iodine, and while their serving sizes vary, each provides far more of the daily recommended amount of iodine a person needs. Iodine is important to include in your diet, as it helps your body to synthesize thyroid hormones. It’s possible to have too much iodine in your system, though, so balance is key.
Where to Buy Sea Vegetables
Nowadays, sea vegetables like kombu, kelp, nori, and spirulina are readily available at your local grocery store, but are also typically available at stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, as well as your local Asian grocery. If you live near the coasts, they may even be available at farmer’s markets during their peak season of April through September.
Types of Sea Vegetables
Arame is a shredded, brown seaweed. It has a sweet flavor and is a great starting point if you’re hesitant to try sea vegetables because of concerns about a fishy taste. Arame is high in fiber, which promotes a healthy digestive system, contains a ton of vitamin A (about 17% of the daily recommended amount) and is higher in calcium that other sea vegetables.
Try this: Arame-flecked Asian couscous from Epicurious
Wakame is a form of brown kelp that has a sweeter flavor than other sea vegetables. Wakame makes a great addition to soups and stir fry dishes. Just two tablespoons of wakame contains healthy amounts of folate, manganese, and iron.
Try this: Wakame and cucumber salad from Food and Wine magazine
Kombu is another type of kelp, and is very common in Asian cuisine. It’s very high in potassium and magnesium, and is a great source of iodine, like all sea vegetables. Eating sea vegetables to get your recommend daily amount of iodine is typically preferred over getting it through iodized table salt, as it provides more nutrients and less overall sodium.
Try this: Make this Kombu broth from The Kitchn as a base for miso soup or just for a nutritious drink!
You’ve probably heard of this sea vegetable because it’s often used as a wrap for sushi rolls. Nori is made from pressed sea vegetables and can be purchased in sheets. Try making your own sushi rolls at home for a light dinner using nori and your favorite sushi-grade fish, like tuna or salmon.
Try this: Wasabi-toasted nori crisps from The Kitchn
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that you might find your favorite wellness influence adding to their morning smoothies to mask its slightly bitter taste. It typically comes pre-ground, so sprinkling it into soups, salads, and smoothies is easy, and just one tablespoon of spirulina provides four grams of protein and 11% of the recommended daily amount of iron. Talk about bang for your buck!
Try this: Super green spirulina smoothie from the Minimalist Baker
Dulse is a red seaweed that’s found in the North Atlantic and Northwest Pacific oceans. While it’s lower in iodine than other sea vegetables, it’s a great source of magnesium and calcium. It’s often shredded, dried, and sprinkled on soups, and it’s said to taste like bacon.
Try this: D.L.T (dulse, lettuce and tomato) sandwich from the Food Network
The bottom line
Although sea vegetables contain many wholesome nutrients, hijiki seaweed has been found in studies to contain inorganic arsenic, which could increase liver cancer risk. Some countries, including Canada, have advised consumers to avoid eating this form of seaweed. If you have concerns about adding sea vegetables to your diet, speak with a nutritionist, dietitian, or your doctor.
Otherwise, sea vegetables provide many nutrients and are a great way to add variety to your vegetable lineup. Try them raw, dried, rolled, wrapped, stir fried or any other way you enjoy other vegetables.