Seaweed the Superfood
By Nicola Galloway , our friend and local Nelsonian. Check out her groovy family cookbook, Feeding Little Tummies.
Did you know seaweed contains 10 - 20 times the mineral content of land vegetables? That's right, seafood extends far beyond fish - there is a huge harvest of nutritional treasures to be found below the waves. It is a little-known fact seaweed is a super food of gigantic proportions, but we are finally getting in on the act.
The Japanese have got it right with sushi, with some researchers now suggesting it may be the seaweed in the Japanese diet which contributes to their world renowned longevity. In the Mediterranean it is added to soups and stews to help soften beans and tenderize meat while boosting the nutritional value. And the Irish have been using it for centuries to make Laver bread - seaweed and oat patties cooked in lard. In fact seaweed was once so prized it was used as a currency on the spice routes. Seaweed has also been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to heal the gastrointestinal tract and remove toxins from the body. More recently it has been used in weight-loss programs and for lowering cholesterol and fat in the blood.
So what makes seaweed so special?
Well to start, it is high in the bone-building mineral calcium, some seaweeds containing more than 10 times the calcium of milk. It is a vegetable source of iron and contains all eight ‘essential amino acids' (protein building blocks) rarely found in vegetable foods therefore particularly useful for vegetarians. Seaweed is also a good source of the ‘essential fatty acid' omega 3, which can be deficient in the modern diet. And as if that isn't enough, because the composition of seawater (where seaweed is produced) is similar to that of blood, these nutrients are readily absorbed and utilized by the body. Taking this into account, seaweed could be Mother Natures answer to a mineral supplement. By eating even small amounts of ‘nutrient-dense' seaweed, we can replenish the body's stores of nutrients to keep us healthy. Simple yet effective!
Seaweed contains the essential trace element iodine
Depending on the type and where it is harvested, seaweed can contain up to one thousand times more iodine than fish and shell fish. Iodine is a nutrient the typical New Zealand diet is low in due to deficient soils, hence why we have iodized salt. Iodine is essential for the thyroid, an organ situated at the base of our throat, which produces hormones to regulate our metabolism. As we age, our thyroid function begins to slow which can result in sluggish digestion, depleted energy and weight gain. By including iodine-rich seaweeds in our diet, we give our thyroid a natural boost.
There are many different types of seaweed available including; wakame, hijiki, kombu, arame, plus the more commonly available kelp and nori sheets used for sushi. Seaweed is available from Asian specialty stores and health food shops. In New Zealand we also have edible seaweed growing on our shores such sea lettuces, dulse and karengo, a frilly purple seaweed found on the Kaikoura coast. Not all seaweed is edible so check first.
By choosing nutrient-dense foods such as seaweed, we support our own health naturally... we are what we eat! Give your health a boost and start experimenting with seaweed, experiencing this new food until it becomes a regular part of your daily diet - here are some tips to get you started.
* Start with small amounts of seaweed as they can be quite strong in flavour which may deter you from using them and benefiting from their nutritional goodness.
* Store dried seaweed in a dark glass jar (or dark pantry) and prepare by refreshing in a bowl of water. The longer seaweed is soaked the easier it is to digest. Reserve the nutrient rich soak-water for adding to soups, stews, cooking rice or watering the garden.
* Include a few strips of seaweed such as kombu or wakame when cooking beans to aid digestion and shorten cooking time by softening the skins.
* Use as a meat tenderizer in marinades and adding seaweed to stews and casseroles.
* As seaweed absorbs large quantities of water it can be used to thicken sauces and gravies, and is an excellent binder for patties and loaves.
* Kelp, a powdered form of seaweed can be sprinkled on steamed vegetables, poached eggs, and added to salad dressings.
* Collect seaweed from the beach to put on the garden as a mineral-rich fertilizer.
* Kelp and Sea Salt Blend - make a mineral-rich salt using kelp and sea salt. Commercial salt is mainly sodium while natural sea salt contains other minerals including potassium, calcium and magnesium. To make a mineral-rich salt combine 3-4 parts natural sea salt with one part kelp and use as usual. Kelp is available from most supermarkets and health food stores.
* Make Nori Salad Rolls - sushi without the rice... simply take one nori sheet, spread with something moist such as avocado, hummus, pesto or aioli; pile on salad greens, sprouts, grated vegetables, flaked smoked fish. Roll up firmly as you would sushi, moistening the last centimeter of nori to seal, and voila - a nutritious tasty snack.
This article is by our friend and local food heroine - Nicola Galloway, Author of the beautful book:
Feeding Little Tummies by Nicola Galloway