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Is Seaweed Good for My Health?

Although seaweed has always been readily available to us, as the so-called ‘vegetable’ of the sea, they have recently become trendier, especially among those who follow vegan diets. Some people find them very tasty while others deem them difficult to eat due to their intense aroma and flavor. Hundreds of articles highlight seaweed’s benefits, while others question them. How can we tell if seaweed truly is a good and healthy choice for us? Let's review the evidence.

What science says:

  • Although the quantity varies, seaweed is a good source of both water- and fat-soluble vitamins. Two, specifically, are present in greater quantity: vitamin A, like the one found in red, orange, and yellow vegetables (1), and vitamin B12, found in very few vegetable sources. Some varieties of seaweed can even contain between 107% and 446% of the recommended daily nutrient intake of vitamin B12, making it an ideal choice for vegans who do not consume enough by foregoing meat, which is the ultimate source of vitamin B12. (2)

  • They contain proteins, although the amount varies according to the type of seaweed. Brown algae has between 5% to 24% protein of their total dry weight. On the other hand, red and green algae are higher in protein with between 10% and 47% of their weight. (3)

  • Seaweed is a good source of fiber (4). Between 36% and 60% of their weight corresponds to dietary fiber and most of it is soluble, higher than even vegetables have (3).

  • Likewise, compared to vegetables, they have a higher amount of EPA and DHA fatty acids, which are otherwise obtained from fish and seafood. (3)

  • Algae also contains minerals (4). Several studies show that they have enough calcium to prevent osteoporosis in women (5). They can also be an important source of iron (156.9 mg per 100 g) and assist with its absorption (6). Seaweed also contains sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, selenium, and copper in small quantities.

  • The major discussions around how good seaweed is for our health mainly involve iodine, a mineral that seaweed contains in abundance. It is essential for the synthesis and function of the thyroid gland but can easily be under or over supplemented. According to the National Institutes of Health, the amount measured in micrograms varies according to age and needs, but it fluctuates between 110 and 290 mcg per day (7). Lack of iodine causes hypothyroidism and in excess can influence hyperthyroidism – so be careful. (8)

The most common seaweeds

Among the most used are kombu, dulse, kelp, wakame, fucus, chlorella, and sea spaghetti. The most popular one of all is spirulina, considered a superfood because it provides up to 70% protein:

  • It is recommended for people with insulin resistance.

  • Fights oxidative stress and inflammation.

  • Prevents cardiovascular diseases.

  • Helps prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

  • Lowers bad cholesterol.

  • Supports the immune system due to its antibiotic and antiviral properties. (9)

Other common seaweeds, especially in the United States, include black kelp, also known as brown seaweed or fucus. It has practically all the same benefits as spirulina.

Kelp is very popular, especially among those who enjoy oriental food. It is usually recommended to people suffering from hypothyroidism. It is also great for women needing to regulate their menstrual cycles. In fact, kelp has been shown to go much further by decreasing the likelihood for women to develop ovarian, breast, and endometrial cancer. (10)

Algae supports the immune system, fights inflammation, and provides energy. Seaweed can even help slow the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, due to its anti-inflammatory capacity. (10)

Some ways to consume seaweed are:

  • In salads.

  • In stews with the bull kelp species, very common in the southern hemisphere.

  • In jellies and sweets made from Agar Agar – a very safe seaweed additive.

  • In smoothies or supplements with spirulina or chlorella.

The downside of algae

The ideal way to consume seaweed is to verify its origin. Sea pollution and mercury excess can overshadow algae benefits by causing damage with pollutants. It is a good option to look for seaweed produced for consumption.

Who should not consume seaweed?

As you read, algae can help support us in the fight against chronic diseases (11). However, you should always consult your doctor to discuss your specific health situation.

  • People taking immunosuppressants or suffering from diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or lupus should not consume seaweed.

  • Those suffering from hypothyroidism or taking a drug to control thyroid should avoid algae because adding more iodine on top of the medicinal treatments could prove excessive.

  • People taking medication for high blood pressure or anticoagulant are not recommended seaweed.

  • The vitamin K in seaweed could potentially cause a drop in platelets.

If you belong to any of these groups, or simply don’t like the idea of consuming seaweed, remember that you can always supplement fatty acids such as Omega 3, vitamins, and minerals with a good multivitamin. This will also ensure safe doses. Likewise, it is advisable to supplement vitamin B12 to ensure all metabolic processes remain in balance.

Seaweed is not for every palate, but there are always different options with similar benefits.

Let's stay healthy, together.

Your Santo Remedio Team

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