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Why are sea vegetables so important to a healthy diet?

Introduction

Sea vegetables are a traditional food having been consumed for thousands of years, but they offer an array of nutrients that are well suited to promoting health. Plus, they are delicious and versatile. When you incorporate them into your diet you'll see just how they increase not only the taste of your food but your overall well-being.

History

Eating sea vegetables as part of a healthy diet is nothing new. In fact, archaeological evidence suggests that Japanese cultures have been consuming sea vegetables for more than 10,000 years. While very popular in Asian cuisines, most regions and countries located by waters, including Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and coastal South American countries have been consuming sea vegetables since ancient times.

Types of sea vegetables

There are thousands of types of sea vegetables, each having a unique shape, taste and texture. Although not all sea vegetables that exist are presently consumed, a wide range of sea vegetables are enjoyed as foods. Some of the most popular types are nori, kelp, hijiki, kombu, wakame, arame and dulse. For a description of these wonderful sea jewels, refer to the article on sea vegetables.

Offering the best of the sea

It may be helpful to think about the distinction between sea vegetables and land vegetables in the same way that you think about sea animals and land animals. The nutritional comparisons between land animals such as cows and chickens, and fish can be dramatic - especially when it comes to essential nutrients like the omega 3 fatty acids.

The nutritional comparisons between sea vegetables and land vegetables can be just as dramatic, especially when it comes to the broad array of minerals that we need to stay healthy. If you're like most people, you have come to understand that fish are needed in addition to chicken and beef as a way to round out your nutrient intake. Since it is the unique sea that gives rise to both, you will be able to think about sea vegetables in a similar way, appreciating that they deserve a place in your diet alongside land vegetables.

A perfect mineral match

Consider the fact that our earth is about 60% water (primarily oceans) and our bodies are also about 60% water (fluids in and around our cells, and blood). Then examine the mineral profile of the oceans, the sea vegetables that grow in these oceans, and our blood. It's difficult to find any category of food that has as diverse a mineral composition as sea vegetables. It's also difficult to find any category of food whose overall mineral composition better matches that of human blood.

Sources of iodine

Although iodized salt has been the primary source of iodine in many U.S. meal plans for the past fifty years, excessive use of salt has also been a problem in the U.S. In many coastal communities around the world, and particularly in Asia, the primary sources of iodine in meal plans are sea vegetables. Outside of iodized salt, eggs, milk, and cheese are the primary sources of iodine in the U.S. diet, and consequently, individuals who do not consume eggs or cow's milk products may especially benefit from inclusion of sea vegetables in their meal plan.

Unique nutrients in sea vegetables - sulfated polysaccharides

The nutritional uniqueness of sea vegetables also involves a category of nutrient called sulfated polysaccharides. This category of carbohydrate-related nutrients, also called fucans, has been studied for its anti-inflammatory properties, and fucan extracts from brown sea vegetables have been found to lower inflammatory activities of human proteins called complement proteins.

What you'll sea in the future

When it comes to sea vegetables, you can expect the evidence of their unique benefits to increase consistently over the next decade. The reason for this prediction? Scientists are just beginning to agree that sea vegetables aren't actually plants, but rather, algae. Algae are themselves fascinating to scientists, because they lie somewhere in between the world of plants and the world of animals. As scientists learn more and more about the unique biological category into which sea vegetables belong, more and more evidence about their nutritional uniqueness is a virtual guarantee.

Practical tips - purchasing and preparing sea vegetables

When purchasing sea vegetables, look for ones that are sold in tightly sealed packages, avoiding those that have evidence of excessive moisture. Some sea vegetables are sold in different forms, so you can choose the type that will best suit your culinary needs. For example, nori can be found in sheets, flakes, or powder. Sea vegetables can be found in natural foods markets, Asian food stores and select supermarkets.

One of the great things about sea vegetables is that you don't have to reserve them for just Asian recipes, like miso soup or sushi. When you start thinking about them as a vegetable from the sea, you will begin to see that you can incorporate them into many dishes just as you would vegetables that grow on the earth. Tossing them into salads, adding them to soup, and sprinkling them in vegetable and fish dishes are just some of the many ways that you can easily use them. For more information on how to use sea vegetables, refer to the sea vegetables article and the Recipe Finder.

References

Blondin, C.; Chaubet, F.; Nardella, A.; Sinquin, C., and Jozefonvicz, J. Relationships between chemical characteristics and anticomplementary activity of fucans. Biomaterials. 1996 Mar; 17(6):597-603.

Blondin, C.; Fischer, E.; Boisson-Vidal, C.; Kazatchkine, M. D., and Jozefonvicz, J. Inhibition of complement activation by natural sulfated polysaccharides (fucans) from brown seaweed. Mol Immunol. 1994 Mar; 31(4):247-53.