Monday, August 26, 2013

Seaweed for Health and Wellness ...

The fall has always been a kind of mini-New Year for me. A time when my mind naturally goes to thoughts of quality of life and what I might want to do, or un-do, to open myself to the flow of vitality and veriditas.

This wellness mindset has been hovering for the past few weeks, with a particular focus on adding variety to my exercise routine and diet. This afternoon, after collapsing on the couch following my aerobic DVD (motivated by the Cobb's cinnamon bun I'd enjoyed with my latte at the Quay), I flipped on the TV for a moment and caught the end of an Irish magazine program on PBS featuring Prannie Rhatigan, a family physician living on Ireland's west coast where she practices organic gardening and seaweed harvesting and cooking.

The program was fascinating and so was reading Prannie's website later in the day. As a Vancouverite, I have eaten nori in sushi and toasted as a snack, but here is a woman so convinced of the benefits of eating seaweed that she has written a 288 page seaweed cookbook covering everything from seaweed smoothies to risotto to chocolate fondant. Amazing!

So, what, exactly, is so good about eating seaweed (or sea vegetables as the marketers like to call it)? While further research is needed, and some of the benefits seem to have been exaggerated over the years, it seems that there are several advantages to adding some seaweed to our diets:

1.  Improved cardiovascular health:  A study in 2011 in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reviewed 100 studies on the health benefits of seaweed and reported that some of the proteins in seaweed could serve as better sources of bioactive peptides than those in milk products. (These reduce blood pressure and boost heart health.)
2.  Reduced inflammation: Seaweed is a source of antioxidants and may help to prevent inflammation, a contributor to many chronic illnesses. 
3.  Helps to regulate hormones:  Studies suggest seaweed may help to regulate estrogen and estradiol levels, and thus may have the potential to affect breast cancer risk and ease pre-menstrual syndrome in some women.
4.  A strong source of dietary iodine, a nutrient needed for healthy thyroid function:  After years of iodized salt programs through the World Health Organization, we rarely see serious iodine insufficiency any more but mild iodine deficiency is making a comeback, perhaps due to iodine-blocking agents in our environment or the trend toward using smaller amounts of iodized table salt. Brown seaweed carries an extraordinary level of iodine - 5-50 times the recommended daily intake depending upon the water from which it is harvested.  (Red and green seaweeds carry less.)
5.  A strong source of vitamins and minerals:  Most seaweeds are full of vitamins and minerals - calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, sodium, iron, potassium, and vitamins A, B, C, and B12, depending on the type.
While seaweed looks to be a wonder-food, there are a few caveats regarding its dietary use. When sold as a supplement, seaweed may not be regulated, depending on where you live. This means that the actual amount of active ingredients can vary from bottle to bottle and that there may not be proof of safety or effectiveness.

When using edible seaweed, it is possible to inadvertently take in too much of certain nutrients such as potassium, iodine or sodium, resulting in serious side effects.

There have also been studies showing concentrated amounts of heavy metals, including arsenic, in some seaweeds. These can have serious toxic effects so it is important to obtain your seaweed from a reliable source.

All this said, if you are healthy and have access to safe product, a few of servings of seaweed every week could be just the thing for boosting your nutrient intake without adding excess calories. Here, for example, is Prannie Rhatigan's recipe for a Breakfast Seaweed Smoothie:

** Always use produce in season and always vary ingredients.  ** 
1.  Seaweed:  Alaria -  6 grams or 1/4 ounce dried alaria, rinsed and soaked in a cup of cold water overnight
2.  Juice:  8 ounces blueberry, ruby grapefruit or apple juice
3.  Seasonal greens:  4 handfuls of spinach, chard, lettuce, rocket, collard greens or beet greens, plus young nettle tops in spring or 1-2 leaves of kale or 1-2 leaves of dandelion greens
4.  Herbs:  Sprig of mint, lemon balm, coriander or fennel.
5.  Fruit:  1/4 ripe pineapple, core included, or a handful of frozen berries or 1/2 apple plus 2-3 frozen or fresh bananas or 3-4 pears.
6.  Spices/seeds:  1 inch ginger.  Ground hemp and flax seeds.
7.  Optional extras:  A shake of cocoa nibs or bee pollen.
8.  To sweeten, if necessary:  A dash of local honey or agave syrup.

1. Pour the soaking water from the Alaria into a blender. Chop the Alaria roughly and add to the blender with the juice and pineapple. Blend on high before adding the rest of the ingredients.
2.  Gradually add all the greens and fruit leaving the chopped bananas until the end. Add more water or juice if you like. Taste while it is still in the blender so you can adjust the flavour.
3.  If the smoothie is too bitter, add a little more banana or a small amount of honey or agave.
4.  Cook's Tip:  to freeze bananas, pack them into a plastic container that will hold 3 bananas and slice into 1/2 inch pieces. Freeze until needed.
5. You can store your smoothie mixture for 24 hours covered in the fridge.
** Yields 1 1/2 - 2 litres so adjust the ingredients to fit your blender jug size. **
Prannie says you can enjoy this smoothie daily provided you check to see that your iodine, sodium and potassium are within WHO limits.



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