“The benefits of eating algae are just like those of eating other plants and vegetables,” says Jana Massey, registered dietitian and manager of nutrition education and innovation at Stronger U Nutrition in New York. “It can be an incredibly healthy addition to a well-rounded diet if you enjoy the taste.”
Seaweed is low in calories and rich in several potentially healthful bioactive compounds, including antioxidants, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds. Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow certain types of cell damage.
Scientists are currently studying flavonoids and phenolic compounds for their antioxidant, antibacterial, anticancer, cardioprotective, anti-inflammatory and skin-protective effects, according to a review published in the journal Medicines.
Potential benefits of consuming algae include:
Vitamins and minerals
Seaweed contains many vitamins, such as A, D, E, C and B, and minerals including calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. According to a study in Nutrition reviews, a 5-gram serving of edible seaweed contains 2% to 10% of the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for vitamin A and 400% to 600% of the RDI for vitamin D, depending on the type of seaweed. The same study found that a 5-gram dried portion of some green algae and nori contained about 200% to 450% of the RDI for vitamin B12. Additionally, the study notes that seaweed may be a valuable source of vitamin B12 for vegans, who may be at greater risk of vitamin B12 deficiency because B12 is commonly found in animal products.
Edible seaweed is also a source of sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, iodine, potassium, iron and zinc. These minerals are known to help prevent chronic diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and obesity, Massey says, noting a 2020 study. Critical Reviews in the Food Industry.
In fact, due to the unique properties of seaweed, its mineral content is higher than that of land vegetables. According to an article in Marine drugsthe total amount of minerals present in some varieties of seaweed can be as high as 40% by dry weight, compared to 20% by dry weight in spinach.
A significant source of fiber
Edible seaweed can also provide a large amount of fiber in a person’s diet. Fiber aids digestion and prevents constipation, and can promote feelings of fullness and aid in weight loss, according to research.
Depending on the species, a 5-gram serving of red, brown, or green algae contributes 10% to 14% of the RDI for dietary fiber. Additionally, seaweed containing carrageenan, agar, and other polysaccharides not only acts as a source of fiber, but also provides prebiotics that may benefit gut bacteria, according to a 2019 paper. Nutrition reviews. However, further research is needed.
High protein content
While a 5-gram serving of dried brown, red, and green algae provides only about 2% to 5% of the RDI for protein, on a gram-for-gram basis, the protein and amino acid content is comparable to beef, according to the article in Nutrition reviews.
Another study in Advances in Food and Nutrition Research shows that the protein content of seaweed is similar to egg protein and all three types of common algae (red, green and brown) contain essential amino acids. Because of its nutritional profile, the study suggests it could potentially provide a source of dietary protein in areas where protein deficiencies are common.
Bodies need protein to repair cells and make new ones. Children, teenagers and pregnant women also need enough protein to ensure proper growth. The RDI for protein is 50 grams per day.
Blood sugar control
A 2022 meta-analysis Nutrition reviews found brown seaweeds and their extracts may help manage hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), but more research is needed. In addition, researchers found that brown seaweed positively affects the body’s ability to maintain blood sugar levels and prevents blood sugar spikes after meals.
Supports healthy thyroid function
“Seaweed is rich in the mineral iodine, which we need for normal thyroid function,” Massey says. “Most Americans should not worry about getting enough iodine [because they consume adequate amounts in their diet]but there are still areas of the world where iodine deficiency is common.”
The RDI of iodine is 150 micrograms for adults, 220 micrograms for pregnant women, and 290 micrograms for nursing mothers. According to the NIH, 5 grams of dried nori contains 116 micrograms of iodine, or 77% of the RDI for adults. Iodine deficiency can cause goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland), hypothyroidism, and pregnancy complications.
It can promote heart health
Certain compounds in seaweed, specifically fucoidan, fucoxanthin, astaxanthin, and phlorotannin, may have protective effects on the heart, according to a 2021 review. Phytomedicine plus.
These four compounds have been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and protect the vascular endothelial cells that make up the inner lining of arteries, veins and capillaries. This protection can help prevent cardiovascular disease.
Seaweed also contains EPA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. “EPA is so important for our cardiovascular health and triglycerides. It can improve our good cholesterol,” Massey says. “You can also get EPA from fatty fish, like tuna and salmon, and flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.” Also, some plant-based omega-3 supplements are made using algae for those people who don’t want to consume animal products but feel the need to add this fatty acid.
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