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Health Food of the month - Seaweed

September 2017


Seaweed is back in fashion

Previous Health Foods of the Month...

Ice cream


Broad beans


Diet & Supplements Index

Waitrose Recipes

Back from our summer visits to the coast and you may well have come across some seaweed.

It is found right around our shores and in the misty days of history, seaweed was an important food supply in the lives of coast living Britons. But today, people in the UK have shied away from this possible source of food, being hesitant to eat something that has been washed up on a shoreline which may also contain other debris.

This is not the case in the Far East, where especially in China, Korea and Japan seaweed still remains a hugely popular and important part of their diet.

There have been though some exaggerated claims about the nutritional value of seaweed and that it is the new superfood. This isn’t really so as for a start normal serving sizes will only provide a small amount of key nutritional elements. Seaweed certainly contains levels of vitamin A and C plus calcium, but there could be easier and some would say tastier ways to find this.

The key about seaweed is that is it a terrific source of iodine. Iodine is a critical nutrient for our well being, key to maintaining a healthy thyroid. This is the gland in the neck which contributes to producing and regulating our hormones.

Iodine was recognised early as an important element and iodine started being added to salt in the 1920s. In 1993 the World Health Organisation adopted a worldwide salt iodization programme to help combat global iodine deficiencies.

Along with iodine, seaweed is also very high in lignans. These are a type of plant compound known as polyphenols. Bacteria in the gut can convert the plant lignans into human lignans including enterodiol and enterolactone which can be useful in helping balance estrogen levels especially for women. Dr Jane Teas at Harvard University in American has published a paper on this, saying that kelp consumption might be a factor in the lower breast cancer rates in Japan and she is now researching whether seaweed could work as a natural replacement for HRT.

Seaweed can also provide a source of vitamin K (this is a fat soluble nutrient that is involved in blood clotting) plus iron.

But one of the problems about seaweed is that there are so many different types and they can offer slightly different nutrients. In Japan, generally more than 20 different species are used to create different dishes.

According to the Natural History Museum, there are more than 650 species of seaweed around our shores, growing underwater to provide structure and habitat for thousands of sea creatures, and they are all slightly different.

For instance, brown seaweed provides alginate which can strengthen gut mucus and slow down digestion.  Arame and wakame in particular are great sources of calcium, iodine, folate and magnesium, while according to the British Journal of Nutrition, purple laver, a red seaweed, is especially rich in B vitamins.

The ones you may come across most frequently are:

Green, including sea lettuce, ulva and sea grapes
Brown, including kombu, arame, kep and wakame
Red, including dulse, laver and nori
Blue-green including spirulina and chlorella.

Generally seaweed you find in restaurants, supermarkets and ready made food is imported but this is slowly changing after a Cornish forager was granted an official licence to cultivate and sell seaweed. Technically seaweed on the shore will belong to the owner of that section of coastline, perhaps the National Trust or local council, but generally they don’t mind small time foragers.

Whatever your source of seaweed, it needs to be washed thoroughly at least three times by swirling it around in a bowl of water, lifting it out to drain and then re swirling.  How to cook seaweed varies on the type and some seaweeds don’t need to be cooked at all. Dulse can be treated similarly to cabbage, while others will require much longer cooking to make them edible.

Buying dried seaweed is very popular these days and it can then be eaten straight from the bag, or used in various recipes.

You can find out more about sea weed and also source various varieties at

There are also lots of recipes available online including



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