Whether you call them sea greens, edible algae, sea vegetables, or seaweed, these marine greens are a hot trend in the health space right now. But should you really be eating them? Find out everything you need to know about sea greens from where to buy them, to how to eat them, and the potential health benefits they can offer.
What are sea greens?
Sea greens are a type of edible marine algae, which means they’re technically not really plants. These leaves can absorb water and nutrients directly through their surfaces as opposed to relying on roots for uptake. Sea vegetables include various types like seaweed with unicellular species such as spirulina or chlorella.
Sea Greens have been traditionally consumed in Asian cuisines since ancient times; now we Westerners know about all these health benefits too so more people than ever before want them around at home (I mean our own kitchens).
Seaweed is a low-calorie and nutrient dense food choice. Seagreens come in many different colors including brown, red green blue or black depending on the type of seaweed you choose to eat.
Sea veggies vary greatly when it comes their nutritional composition. Let’s explore some types more closely so you can learn more about what sea vegetables are available, what they do, and how to eat them!
The types of sea vegetables
When you eat sushi, the black seaweed holding your sushi roll together is a seaweed called nori.
This seaweed is usually found in dried sheets which can be used as a garnish, rehydrated for use in sushi rolls or soups, and can also be eaten plain as a salty snack.
When you think of seaweed, you are likely thinking of kelp: the large, brown seaweed that washes ashore on the beach.
A component of kelp, algin, is actually used in a multitude of products, including ice cream, beauty products, and medications. You can also find kelp in supplement form, as it is high in vitamins A, K, and B12, along with iodine, iron, magnesium, and calcium.
Deep red-purple in color, dulse is another variety of edible marine algae.
This seaweed is a plant-based source of both vitamin B12 and protein, along with fiber, iodine, B6, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and beta-carotene.
Dried kombu is traditionally used to make dashi stock for Japanese soups. High in iodine, iron, calcium, vitamins A and C, kombu packs a serious nutritional punch and gives broths an amazing umami flavor.
One fun fact about kombu is that it contains enzymes that help break down the raffinose sugars in beans and other veggies that lead to gas. This helps us obtain more of the nutrient content along with leaving us less likely to suffer intestinal discomfort.
Wakame is a popular brown seaweed which is traditionally used in soups and salads, or as a garnish for tofu and rice dishes.
This seaweed is rich in iodine, manganese, sodium, calcium, iodine, and B vitamins. You can usually find it in dried form, but you can also rehydrate it in water to reduce some of the salt content if preferred.
Not actually seaweed, spirulina is a blue-green single-celled cyanobacterium, which is also a potent antioxidant. Multiple studies have shown that spirulina has antiallergenic, anticancer, and antiviral properties.
Just one tablespoon of spirulina contains 4 grams of complete protein. Spirulina is also a great source of iron, copper, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and manganese.
For all these reasons, NASA has utilized spirulina to help fuel astronauts in space. You can find spirulina in either capsule or powdered form, making it a simple addition to your daily regimen.
Chlorella is a type of fresh water algae that is packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. In particular, this alga is a great plant-based source of vitamin B12, vitamin A, iron, and zinc.
Humans cannot digest the cell wall of chlorella, so in order for us to extract the nutrients, we need to consume it in supplement form.
Health benefits of marine greens
Sea vegetables are a nutritional powerhouse with many potential health benefits, which is why they are gaining in popularity. Let’s take a look at some of the health benefits they may offer.
While sea greens all have different nutrition profiles, each option is contains significant amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, copper, B vitamins, and electrolytes.
The iron levels within seaweed rival that of meat, making it a great plant-based alternative to prevent anemia and protect your cardiovascular health.
Another nutrient to note is omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect our bodies from numerous health conditions. If omega-3-rich fatty fish isn’t common in your diet, you can go straight to the source. Fish obtain their omega-3 content from marine algae, making it a fantastic plant-based alternative to fatty fish and fish oil supplements.
Seaweed can also be a good source of plant-based protein and vitamin B12, which is especially great news for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Iodine is also abundant in all of these marine algae, which is a mineral that plays a key role in thyroid health.
Iodine deficiency is a serious health concern. In the past, many Americans were not consuming enough iodine, which is the reason behind the existence of iodized salt. Without enough iodine in your diet, goiters and hypothyroidism are more likely to develop, which may lead to more health issues down the line.
In addition to the iodine content, seaweed also contains tyrosine. Tyrosine is an amino acid that is used with iodine to make thyroid hormones, which are essential for brain health and metabolic regulation.
Seaweed is rich in fiber – even more so than most land vegetables and fruits. Fiber is essential for keeping you fuller for longer and keeping you regular. The prebiotic fiber found in seaweed help to feed your beneficial gut microbiota. This further supports proper digestion and also leads to the production of essential nutrients for us to use, including short-chain fatty acids and vitamin K.
Improve blood sugar control
The fiber in seaweed helps slow down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, which can help people with diabetes better manage their blood sugar after meals.
The high fiber content of marine algae aids in lowering cholesterol levels, helping to keep your cardiovascular system healthy.
Since people with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, sea greens are a fantastic option to include in your diet to help keep your heart healthy.
Antioxidants serve to protect our cells from free radicals that cause damage and over time eventually contribute to the development of chronic health conditions. Diets rich in antioxidants can stave off these negative effects by reducing oxidative stress within the body.
While each type of sea greens has different antioxidant profiles, each type is a rich source of antioxidants. Whether the source of antioxidants is vitamins A, C, E or another compound, these are all beneficial to health and may prevent the development of health issues such as diabetes and heart disease.
We are all exposed to toxins and heavy metals in everyday life from our food, environment, and even the air we breathe. Heavy metals can then accumulate and cause heavy metal toxicity or poisoning, making us sick and even leading to organ damage. However, sea vegetales may help.
Sea greens such as spirulina and chlorella have been shown to reduce heavy metal levels within the body, reducing the risk of toxicity and supporting overall detoxification.
Where to buy
The good news is that you can purchase sea greens fairly easily nowadays. If you’re looking for fresh sea vegetables, some specialty grocery stores such as Asian grocery stores and even Whole Foods can carry them.
Dried or powdered sea vegetables are generally easier to find as they are more commonly sold in this form. Dried and powdered sea greens can be found in most health food stores and some grocery stores.
If you’re having difficulties finding sea greens when shopping in-person, online stores like Amazon and other health food stores such as Thrive Market have a wide selection.
How to add more sea greens to your diet
You can find sea greens in multiple forms: fresh, dehydrated, or powdered. The easiest way to add more sea greens to your diet is to purchase a powdered version and add it to your diet wherever you see fit.
Some ideas for utilizing powdered sea greens include adding a scoop to a glass of water or or adding it to a smoothie or soup. It can be an acquired taste, so it is best to experiment to find your preference.
If you opt for fresh sea greens, you can enjoy them mixed into soups and salads, or even plain.
Since dried sea greens are more commonly found, you can purchase these and then rehydrate them by soaking in water for a few seconds if preferred. Dried sea vegetables can be tossed into soups or salads, used for making sushi rolls, or eaten plain.
With marine greens increasing in popularity, you can now find seaweed snacks including chips and jerky, seasonings, and oils for you to incorporate into your diet in any way you choose.
The bottom line
Sea greens have become exceptionally popular in the wellness world. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants which support overall health.
There are many types of sea greens and also many ways to enjoy them for both their unique flavor and their many incredible health benefits.
If you’re interested in adding sea greens to your diet, feel free to experiment a bit to find which version you like the best.
Focus on choosing high-quality sources that have been tested by an independent third-party to ensure purity and avoid heavy metal exposure.