When you think of seaweed, do you only imagine a sushi wrapper? Kelp, a large type of seaweed, is bursting with benefits that prove we should be eating it beyond that California roll. In fact, kelp is already in a ton of things we use on a daily basis — from toothpaste to ice cream.
Kelp grows in shallow oceans (in areas called kelp forests) and can reach great heights — up to 250 feet, to be exact. There are about 30 different varieties of this ancient seaweed, the most common being giant kelp, bongo kelp, and kombu — which accounts for 21 percent of Japanese meals and is suggested as a reason for their above-average life span.
Now we all have to recognize the many great health benefits of this mighty sea veggie, from its cancer-fighting properties to the role it plays in balancing hormones.
Kelp isn’t only a nutrient-dense food that’s low in fat and calories. Some studies have suggested that kelp may also have a powerful effect on weight loss and obesity, although consistent findings are lacking. The natural fiber alginate found in kelp acts as a fat blocker, stopping the absorption of fat in the gut. Kelp is also a fantastic source of vitamins and nutrients, including:
- vitamin K
- vitamin A
But what this sea superfood really excels at is its iodine content. In fact, it’s one of the best natural sources of iodine there is, giving it superhero hormone-balancing capabilities.
The mineral iodine plays a crucial role in producing thyroid hormones, managing the metabolism, and aiding the female body in a healthy pregnancy. On the other hand, a deficiency in this vital mineral can play a part in diseases and disorders such as polycystic ovarian disease, prostate disorders, thyroid conditions, autoimmune diseases, and even diabetes. Since diet is the exclusive source of the human body’s iodine content, it’s important to pay attention to foods high in this mineral.
Research has also shown that kelp can possess powerful cancer-fighting capabilities, particularly against breast and colon cancer. Its high levels of antioxidants not only fight free radicals, but can aid people with diabetes and act as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.
Sure, kelp makes a great seaweed salad and goes well with sushi — and hey, you’re getting your omega-3s on. But there’s actually many more ways to incorporate a healthy dose of kelp into your diet.
1. Get your noodle fix, low-carb style
Kelp noodles are delicious and can be easily found at grocery stores, health food stores like Whole Foods, or bought online on Amazon. Try swapping out your pasta for this low-carb alternative, or use them to create a tasty kelp noodle salad.
2. Remix Taco Tuesdays with kelp salsa
Sure, there’s salsa verde and pico de gallo, but have you ever tried kelp salsa? The company Barnacle Foods creates three different types of this seaweed salsa: Sea Verde, Campfire, and Original. Bonus: They also offer tangy kelp pickles!
3. Impress with chips and dip
Seaweed snacks are crunchy morsels of umami flavor. While these chips can be found at most grocery stores, you can also try your hand at making your own. Follow this easy recipe for Korean fried kelp chips from Food52.
4. Season with seaweed
A sprinkling of kelp seasoning can take your dishes to the next level. These sea seasonings are readily available — from Amazon to Bragg’s version. Available in convenient shakers, they make a great flavor addition to your stir-frys, marinades, and even popcorn!
5. Celebrate with soup or salad
How about a soup with that seaweed salad? One of the most common ways to use kelp is in soups. Whether you’re making a kelp stock or Miyeok-guk (seaweed soup), kelp-infused soups are an excellent way to get a bowl full of nutrients. A bowl of miyeok-guk is also a Korean birthday tradition, served as a comforting reminder to children to appreciate their mother’s love and care. (Some also say it’s served after pregnancy because of its high nutrition value.)
6. Power with powder
An easy way to start eating kelp is by buying convenient kelp powder. This nutrient-dense powder can be used in a variety of your favorite recipes. Add it into your favorite morning smoothie, mix into salad dressing, or make kelp tea.
7. Spice up a healthy dessert
When it comes to consuming kelp, it’s best to do so in its natural form. (If you're worried about radiation, know that there has been no indication of radioactivity in the United States coastal waters since the summer of 2016.) Kelp supplements can come with some serious health risks, and excessive amounts of iodine can cause harm to the thyroid.
The FDA recommends a dietary intake of 150 micrograms (mcg) of iodine per day. One pound of raw kelp can contain up to 2,500 mcg of iodine, so make sure you’re reading your packages and eating kelp in moderation.
With the great benefits of this sea vegetable, will kelp be added to your menu soon?
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Tiffany La Forge is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer who runs the blog Parsnips and Pastries. Her blog focuses on real food for a balanced life, seasonal recipes, and approachable health advice. When she’s not in the kitchen, Tiffany enjoys yoga, hiking, traveling, organic gardening, and hanging out with her corgi, Cocoa. Visit her at her blog or on Instagram.