You've seen it around your sushi, most likely. Not the soy sauce or the little green mound of wasabi, but the seaweed that holds everyone's favorite food together. It makes sushi rolls delicious and portable, but it's a lot more than wrapping paper.
Did you know that seaweed has virtually no fat and large amounts of iodine?
There are three main groups of seaweed: red algae, green algae and brown algae. It's time to incorporate such a healthy food into your diet, and not just in sushi. It's a wrap-up, if you will:
Part of the red algae family, this type of seaweed is commonly used to wrap sushi, but also sliced into strips, toasted and used as a garnish on soups and salads. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Department touts this as the most nutritious variety of seaweed, because it's loaded with B vitamins and iodine.
Originally harvested from the ocean, it's now produced on specialized farms to meet increasing demands. This salty snack is typically eaten by the sheet (thin and flaky), which only contain 5 to 10 calories, yet pack a gram of fiber each. It even has more vitamin C than an orange!
Vegan alert! It's the leathery, green substance that's found floating around in your miso soup. Delicious! This popular brown seaweed variety contains a plethora of nutrients that are typically lacking in the vegan diet.
Not only does wakame have calcium, but it's also full of vitamin D, which aids in the calcium absorption process. In addition, it's loaded with folate and vitamin C, a proven dynamic duo that aids the body in soaking up iron. Ancient medicine associates this green goodness with alleviating constipation and preventing colon cancer. Beware of the sodium content though. A 50 gram serving can have over 400 mg of sodium, which may not be ideal for those prone to high blood pressure.
Also referred to as sea lettuce or "dead man's fingers" (yum!) this is the most common variety of green algae seaweed that resembles fresh cabbage. Ulva is the ideal substitute for regular romaine or iceberg leaves. Simply soak in cold water to remove the salty flavor, towel-dry and then use the same way you would use lettuce. Pair with Asian components such as ginger, daikon and wasabi for a refreshing salad that packs protein, vitamins and minerals.
Seaweed is one of the healthiest vegetables around, and a simple addition to your menu. Toss the chips and start crunching on SeaSnax instead. They have a Grab & Go pack that's only 16 calories! Or crumble Annie Chun's seaweed snacks in roasted sesame flavor into your soup or salad instead of croutons. They add a hint of flavor without increasing the calories. Mix fresh red and green seaweed with sliced carrots, rice wine vinegar and a sprinkle of sesame seeds for a low-cal side that packs fiber and fullness.
The bottom (of the ocean) line is this - you can't go wrong with seaweed. So pick your color, and eat up.
To learn more about healthy choices and my new subscription-based health product kit, Bestowed, click here.
For more by Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, click here.
For more on diet and nutrition, click here.