Is Seaweed Safe To Eat?

May 7, 2019

© Natalia Lisovskaya | Dreamstime

It wraps our sushi and with the growth of Asian cuisines, more Americans are experiencing seaweed as a food. So there is some missing information on the health benefits (or drawbacks) in eating seaweed. First, the term seaweed covers a gauntlet of different varieties but the main three you may come in contact with are brown algae, such as kombu, which is used to make dashi; green algae, such as sea lettuce; and red algae, such as nori, which is often used to wrap sushi rolls and garnish soups. As seaweed becomes more mainstream in the U.S., it’s also showing up in new forms, like crunchy seaweed snacks and algae oil. Seaweed snacks, like any processed food, can be high in sodium and additives. Algae oil contains heart-healthy fatty acids and can be a good alternative to fish oil for those who don’t eat animal products (or simply don’t like the taste). Overall seaweeds are fairly low in calories. Many types of seaweed have as much protein and as many amino acids per gram as beef, according to a research review recently published in Nutrition Reviews — but since seaweed servings are typically quite small, it may not be realistic to eat equivalent amounts. The digestibility of seaweed proteins also varies by type, according to the paper. However research has found that heavy metals such as arsenic, aluminum, cadmium, lead, rubidium, silicon, strontium and tin, can taint some types of seaweed. Some nutrients in seaweed, while healthy for many diners, can also pose health risks for some people. Seaweed can also absorb iodine from sea water, which may be problematic for people who have thyroid disorders and seaweed tends to be high in vitamin K, which can interact poorly with blood thinners, and potassium, which can be dangerous for people with heart and kidney conditions. For those reasons, food experts says people should eat seaweed in moderation. While periodic seaweed salads or sushi rolls are likely nothing to worry about, Oliveira recommends thinking of seaweed more as a condiment than a main dish. Even in Japan, seaweed isn't a daily staple and is viewed as a side eaten once or twice a week and only in minimal amounts.

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