Seaweed? “What’s that?” I inquired of my sister-in-law as she opened up a seaweed packet in her kitchen and served it on top of hot rice. My sister-in-law, a certified holistic wellness coach based in Spring, Texas, told me how she found out about seaweed and got hooked on it. Initially, I was not quite sure if adding it to my meals would sit well with me. Being a picky eater, it takes me a while to get used to a new food product. Yet my curiosity grew since I am always interested in researching different foods and their nutritional benefits, even if I hesitate to try them.
What exactly is seaweed? According to Ole Mouritsen, a scientist and contributing writer for American Scientist magazine, seaweeds are a kind of macroalgae found in the sea. They come in large and small sizes and a variety of colors such as brown, blue-green, and red. A typical example of blue-green algae is the famous spirulina which is used in smoothies and energy bars. Mouritsen notes that seaweeds “benefit people culturally, industrially, nutritionally, and ecologically” because they are “edible, available, and sustainable.” He also notes that as human beings, “we make use of them far more often than most people realize.”
It always amazes me how bountiful and rich the nutritional components of much of our seafood are. Seaweed is made up of a special combination of substances that allow it to play a unique role in human nutrition. Seaweeds like dulse, konbu, and nori are a much better source of iron than spinach or egg yolks. Most notably, the mineral content is ten times as great as that found in soil-grown plants. The primary minerals in seaweed include iodine, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, sodium, and chlorine. It also contains trace elements such as selenium, zinc, copper, and manganese, as well as vitamins A, B, C, and E. Some of the health benefits of this plant include gut and heart health.
Light as a feather and varying in color, seaweed might appear to be nothing more than well-prepared culinary fluff. Surprisingly, it is much more than that. It is versatile and can be used to add flavor, texture, and visual appeal to a hot dish of rice, beans, or baked plantains; tossed in a veggie salad; stirred into soup; or stir-fried with mushrooms. It can also be added to smoothies or, when dried and crunchy, simply eaten as a snack. I prefer snacking on seaweed, though I also use it alongside my stir-fried mushrooms. The combination of seaweed and mushrooms is a great dietary mix because while seaweed lacks vitamin D, mushrooms contain an abundance of it. The flavor of dried seaweed, which is similar to that of dried crayfish or shrimp, also adds a unique aroma and taste to a stir-fried mushroom dish.
While roasted and dried seaweed is commonly served in meals and as a garnish, it is considered risky for those susceptible to high iodine levels. According to Angela M. Leung and Lewis E. Braverman in a 2013 article for Nature Reviews Endocrinology, “Excess iodine exposure or ingestion can result in thyroid dysfunction in certain susceptible individuals [such as those with pre-existing thyroid disease, the elderly, fetuses and neonates, or patients with other risk factors], but is generally well-tolerated in most people.” It is always best to know your dietary needs and check with your registered dietitian, clinical nutritionist, holistic health coach, or physician before consuming seaweed. If your health requires that you eat foods rich in iodine, partake in this plant in moderate quantities. In addition, know your iodine level before you consume seaweed.
Seaweed products that are IFANCA® halal certified, such as Optavia® Tofu and Seaweed Soup (Japanese Style) and Optavia® Seaweed Sticks, can be bought from different grocery stores and online. If you have never eaten seaweed before, I beg you to give it a try. This is because four years after that conversation with my sister-in-law, I adore having seaweed in my pantry. It took a lot of guts to get past my picky eater self and relish this ingredient. Now, I think it is an underrated superfood.
Maryam Funmilayo is a freelance writer and certified food literacy educator in Irving, Texas. With a background in human nutrition and health promotion, she is always fascinated with Quranic and prophetic teachings regarding food, health, nutrition, and wellness. She is currently pursuing a master of public health degree at Lamar University with a focus on health disparities.