Seaweeds (scientifically called algae) are a group of plant-like microorganisms that live and thrive in the sea. Other types of algae like spirulina prefer a freshwater environment. What you may not know is that among the seaweed and freshwater algae families, there are some which are edible and good for your health. Folks who live in coastal areas or near freshwater sources make them a part of a healthy diet. The types of edible algae are conveniently classified according to their colour.
What are the nutritional benefits of eating algae?
Edible algae are naturally nutrient dense, but not all of them are created equally. Some are better or have a lot more of a certain nutrient compared to others.
Kelp contains greater amounts of vitamin K compared to the others. Vitamin K helps in the clotting process (stopping bleeding) when you get wounds on your skin. Kelp is also rich in iron which can help to prevent iron-deficiency anaemia.
Wakame provides more calcium needed for stronger teeth and bones.
Spirulina boosts your protein intake for healthy muscles and immune system.
All algae provide adequate amounts of vitamins especially folate and minerals like iron, calcium, zinc, and magnesium. In addition, ocean seaweeds are an excellent source of iodine. Iodine ensures that your thyroid produces enough thyroid hormones for optimal health and brain development. Iodine is also important for reproductive tissues like breasts and ovaries in women, testes and prostate in men.
Most edible algae contain EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. They’re key to cardiovascular health. Eating edible algae may also decrease your triglyceride and bad cholesterol levels thereby preventing atherosclerosis and heart attacks.
Antioxidants are another group of nutrients found in edible algae. They slow down the aging process and help to prevent chronic diseases from developing. As a result, you could have younger looking skin, healthy hair, and cataract-free eyes.
Algae provide prebiotics to the beneficial microorganisms residing in your intestinal tract. Prebiotics feed your good microorganisms and help them to increase their numbers to defeat the multiplication of harmful microorganisms.
Algae are rich in fibre which provides a sense of fullness and thereby helps to control your weight and appetite. A good example is kelp which contains a substance called alginate. It helps to slow down the rate at which your stomach empties food into your small intestine. This ensures a healthier and easier digestive process. Fucoxanthin, a substance in wakame, also shows promise for weight management and reducing body fat, according to a study done in rats. The same fucoxanthin found in kombu was shown to have anti-diabetic effects.
Tips for How to Include Edible Algae in Your Diet
Don’t be afraid to try different seaweeds and algae. They may look a bit different from the vegetables that you’re used to, but they provide nearly enough nutrients to fill your body’s every need. Because of its increasing popularity, most edible seaweed is available online or in regular health stores and many recipes can be found online for how to cook with them. Though we do recommend that you do some research to get the best quality.
The kind of cooking method you’ll use will depend on the type of algae and what you want to do with it after. They’re tremendously versatile and can be fried, boiled, steamed, or served raw.
Some like kelp are easier to cut into pieces after soaking for approximately 15 minutes. Others like dulse are simpler to slice once dried.
Seaweeds can be served as the main or side dish. Kombu is popular as a main dish in many Japanese cuisines. Nori is usually used as a wrap for delicious sushi. It’s also used for seasoning and garnish in other dishes like miso soup, fish, and salads. Try our yummy and easy to make wakame salad recipe here.
For the record, I think it’s important to state the obvious here. Where you get or buy your EDIBLE algae from should be number one on your list of things to check out. You don’t just go to any coastal area and go searching for a bunch of seaweed floating around in the sea and then cook it. Your source always matters. Number two is to learning how to prepare, cook and include them in your diet. And of course, have fun in the process!