Seaweed is more than just wrapping paper for your favorite sushi roll; it’s also rich in vitamins and a great source of minerals like calcium, potassium, and iron. Protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids are also housed in the salty snack.
To start reaping the benefits, you don’t have to eat a lot—a very small serving every day or so will do the trick.
What exactly are the health benefits of eating seaweed? Here’s a guide to the perks of eating underwater lettuce:
- Possible breast cancer risk reduction:
Scientists don’t yet know for sure if seaweed consumption plays a role in promoting healthy breast cell function and reducing the risk of breast cancer, but research suggests that it might. In animal studies, the root of wakame seaweed (called mekabu) suppressed tumor growth in breast tissue.
Even with this study, it’s hard to come to a conclusion about the effect of human seaweed consumption. Still, the possibility that seaweed could help promote breast health is intriguing, given the low breast cancer rates in Japan, where seaweed is widely consumed.
- Lower blood pressure:
Seaweed contains a type of protein found in dairy products that can help reduce high blood pressure. The protein has similar properties to inhibitors — drugs commonly prescribed to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke from high blood pressure.
- Other health benefits:
Seaweed is also protective in more general ways. Brown seaweeds, such as kelp, wakame, and hijiki, contain a compound that lowers inflammation and prevents infection. Substances that reduce inflammation may reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Who knew there were so many types of seaweed?
Nori: What you find wrapped around most sushi rolls, its dark purple color turns phosphorescent green when toasted.
Kombu: Used to flavor soups, this darkly colored seaweed is usually sold in strips or sheets.
Wakame: Most commonly used to make Japanese miso soup. Similar to kombu.
Kelp: Often sold in flake form as a naturally salty topping for rice, this seaweed is light brown to dark green in color.
Dulse: A soft and chewy seaweed that is a reddish-brown color, this is found along the coast of Iceland, Ireland, and Scotland and eaten as a snack.
Arame: A sweet, mild-tasting seaweed that has a lacy, wiry appearance
Hijiki: This strong-flavored seaweed looks like small strands of black spaghetti. Because it can contain elevated levels of arsenic, experts recommend only consuming certified organic hijiki.