Sunday, November 22, 2009

Seaweeds - An Underutilized Vegetable!

©Lisl Meredith Huebner
Seaweeds are sadly underutilized as a regular part of our American diet but offer a great deal of nutritional benefits, particularly as a source of minerals and trace minerals. In fact seaweeds contain 10-20 times the amount of minerals found in land plants; they also contain a spectrum of vitamins and amino acids as well. Seaweeds are one of nature’s most effective metabolic regulators, adjusting the acidity and alkalinity of the blood and regulating insulin production. As an immune enhancer, seaweed promotes leukocyte and antibody production and all of them have a reducing effect on tumors, nodules, goiter and even some cancers. Some seaweeds even have the ability to remove radioactive and toxic wastes from the body and are used to counter chronic mercury and arsenic poisoning. Considering the amount of pollutants in today’s environment, as well as the mercury residue from dental fillings, using seaweed as a preventative measure makes good sense.

All varieties of seaweeds are energetically cooling, have a salty flavor and soften and dissolve accumulations. They are detoxifying, moistening, lymph-cleansing, improve water metabolism and lower cholesterol. Eating seaweed on a regular basis for their medicinal benefit only requires a dosage of 1/6-1/2 ounce (dried weight) and will even enhance the nutritional value of the foods that they accompany. Although seaweeds have the ability to transform toxic heavy metal residues into harmless salts, many of our oceans are terribly polluted, so be certain to purchase your sea veggies from a reputable source. If you are new to eating sea vegetables, add them to your diet slowly in order to get your body used to digesting them; the longer they soak when rehydrating them, the more digestible they become, and they can be eaten raw or cooked. Incorporating seaweed into the diet for health and weight management is not as difficult as it may seem; there are many varieties of dried seaweed available to suit any personal taste.

Agar-agar is the mucilage of a few different types of seaweed in combination -sometimes sold as kanten bars- and is a nutritious thickening and gelling agent. It doesn’t melt easily, has a firm texture when used for gelatin and contains no calories. It is a good source of dietary calcium and iron, is great for the hair, skin and nails and promotes digestion and weight loss.

Arame, a great source of iodine, calcium and iron, helps to regulate high blood pressure, and benefits the teeth and bones. It is also known for its beautifying ability: it thickens hair and gives it a lustrous shine and it nourishes the skin, promoting a clear complexion and reducing wrinkles for a youthful radiance. It can be added to soups, grains, stuffing and vegetable dishes, and if the flavor seems too strong, sautéing in oil reduces the fishy flavor as well as making the fat-soluble vitamins more bio-available.

Dulse has been used for a long time as a popular salt substitute and has a high concentration of manganese and iodine, but that’s certainly not the limit of her appeal. Besides being a very attractive plant, Dulse is absolutely delicious and mild –a great seaweed to start with if you are new to the idea of eating seaweed. Added to salads, soups, sandwiches and spreads, it will enhance flavor and nutrition. I always add it to salads when entertaining and people rave about the taste.

Hijiki has a strong flavor that is mellowed by a brief sauté in oil, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the world’s highest source of calcium. A mere 3 1/2 oz portion of Hijiki contains 1,400 mg of calcium compared to 119 mg of calcium from the same sized portion of milk. Hijiki also contains eight times the amount of iron in beef; it balances the blood sugar, soothes the nerves and supports hormonal functions.

Irish Moss contains carrageenan and is used as a thickener for sauces, gravies, stews and desserts; digestively it soothes ulcers and helps to treat dysentery and diarrhea. It is also soothing and moistening to the lungs and helps to treat conditions of “Phlegm Heat,” notably where there is yellow or green sputum. It reduces cholesterol, is a mild anti-coagulant for the blood and helps to prevent arteriosclerosis while acting as a mild heart tonic as well.

Nori is well known as the flat sheet of seaweed that sushi rolls are wrapped in and shares the same properties as other sea vegetables such as lowering cholesterol, softening masses, reducing edema and managing high blood pressure. What is unique to Nori is that dry, it contains up to 48% protein, significant amounts of vitamins A and B, and is easily digested. It also helps the body to digest fatty foods when eaten as an accompaniment. Bring on the tempura rolls!!

Wakame is a versatile sea vegetable that when cooked with beans or other fibrous foods, helps to increase their digestibility and nutrient absorption. It shares the same general properties as other seaweeds, and has a domestic cousin called Alaria that is nearly identical. It promotes healthy hair, skin and nails and has been used as a post-partum tonic in Japan for generations. It is second only to Hijiki in calcium content and makes a delicious addition to soups, casseroles or vegetable dishes.

Kelp or Kombu contain up to 500 times more iodine than shellfish and up to 3,000 times more than salt-water fish, It grows quite large, more than 1,000 feet, and is a giant when it comes to the treatment of diabetes, anemia, asthma, Candida, arthritic conditions and hypertension. It can treat swellings, reproductive and hormone imbalances, heal wounds and benefit the skin, and treat fungal infections. It is known as a must-have for weight loss and thyroid conditions.

Being one of the most well known sources of natural iodine, Kelp (Laminaria) is often one of the first remedies to be recommended for regulating the thyroid. When it comes to natural treatments for weight loss and thyroid issues, Kelp and other seaweeds are purportedly a cure-all. Unfortunately, simply taking a seaweed or kelp supplement for a thyroid issue isn’t always an appropriate course of action, although it can be particularly helpful in many cases.

The thyroid is a vital hormone-producing gland located at the base of the throat that regulates the metabolic functions of the body such as heart rate, body temperature and certain digestive functions. The thyroid is in turn controlled by the pituitary gland, located behind the third eye chakra, which is itself regulated by the hypothalamus. The subtle interplay of chemicals and hormones between these glands creates a delicate balance that results in health and stability for the whole body. The hormone that is produced by the thyroid contains iodine; hence any disorder of the gland that involves iodine deficiency or uptake can be addressed successfully with regular Kelp supplementation.

An under active thyroid (hypothyroid) will exhibit symptoms such as slow mental processes, lowered body temperature and feelings of coldness, fatigue and general lethargy, weakness, pronounced constipation, heavy menstrual periods and concurrent weight gain and loss of appetite. In severe cases, symptoms also include slowed pulse rate, muscle aches, hair loss, puffiness around the eyes, delayed reflexes, skin that is rough and dry as well as personality and mood changes. Over the long term, hypothyroidism can lead to hardening of the arteries and even the development of an enlarged thyroid (goiter).

Allopathic treatment of hypothyroidism is the drug Sinthroid (levothyroxine), a synthetic hormone that is used when the body cannot produce an adequate amount of natural iodine-containing hormone on its own. It is often deemed necessary, but comes with a host of side effects, including increased risk of osteoporosis when taken long-term. Once a person becomes dependent upon this drug, it is virtually impossible to discontinue its use, so it is therefore recommended that one keeps their body and their thyroid in a healthy state of balance.

Hyperthyroidism, or an over active thyroid may be caused by a growth, a tumor or an inflammation of the thyroid that results in an increase in metabolic rate, body temperature and pulse rate. A person may exhibit nervousness, anxiety, tremors, excitability, irritability and insomnia, as well as irregular bowels, increased appetite and concurrent weight loss, muscle fatigue, amenorrhea and bulging eyes. Modern treatment of hyperthyroidism ranges from beta-blockers and anti-thyroid drugs which are temporary and treat just the symptoms to an irreversible treatment such as surgery or radiation. This may be a necessary course of action, so it is important again to stress the importance of keeping our bodies in balance before we may be faced with such drastic choices.

The iodine contained in seaweed is pure and is metabolized slowly by the body, making it especially supportive for conditions of hypothyroidism. It is also useful in the short-term to modulate the symptoms of hyperthyroidism by softening lumps, reducing goiter and cooling inflammation. It is not advisable to take seaweed during pregnancy, with symptoms of regular diarrhea and be prudent about using them with autoimmune illnesses. Caution must be used when treating any thyroid condition, whether the treatment strategy is allopathic or natural; be advised to seek the help of a qualified practitioner.

I find it fascinating that the pituitary gland, which regulates the thyroid, is located at the third eye chakra, while the thyroid is precisely where the throat chakra lies. Herbalist Peter Holmes describes the thyroid thusly, “One’s mental functions, and the ability to articulate personal beliefs in particular, are dependent on the iodine-dependent thyroid.” This is a perfect definition for the function of the throat chakra. Iodine, the principle substance produced by the thyroid is described as the substance which kindles the “Ming Men” or the “Gate of Fire.” In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Ming Men Gate is located at the level of the second chakra between the kidneys, is the seat of our will power and the source of the energetic alchemy that supplies vital Qi for our metabolism.

Our energy centers, our chakras, our Qi, or our endocrine system; it doesn’t matter how these vital systems are classified, it only matters that we understand how delicate is the balance that we must maintain and how resilient our bodies can be. Maintaining these systems through integrity, proper rest and stress management, exercise and a wholesome diet is the key to health and happiness. Integrating sea vegetables, a vast and nearly untapped food source in the US, into your diet may be one of the smartest things you can do for your health. Contrary to popular myth, they are not slimy or bad-tasting; they are delicious, versatile, and highly nutritious. Do yourself a favor and incorporate them into your diet…how about tonight?

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level II Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.


  1. Another beautifully written and informative post! Thank you!

  2. Thanks Lisl. I think I am going to start including seaweeds in my diet. Will visit the Asian store this weekend.

  3. A very interesting post Lisl,
    thank's for sharing.