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    Archive for the ‘seaweed’ Category

    For the Most Part, One Size Does Fit All

    Often times, the pail of cold water that gets dumped on a fiery nutrition debate is the “one size does not fit all!” mantra. That is to say, one particular manner of eating can make person A feel great but person B feel sluggish and tired, and both experiences are legitimate. To a certain degree, I co-sign on this. Some individuals are grazers, others are “three square meals” types; some people like to eat breakfast right upon waking, some don’t really feel hungry until an hour after. Fine with me.

    Approaching nutrition from a completely individualist lens, however, takes away from the fact that there are certain truths that apply to everyone, and should be strongly recommended across the board:

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    You Ask, I Answer: Sea Vegetables

    DulseIn the past, you have written that seaweed is a good source of omega-3 for vegans, but what are the benefits for those of us who already eat fish?

    Is there any reason to eat sea vegetables if you already get omega-3s from animal sources?

    — Tom Emilio
    (Location withheld)

    Absolutely!  Their EPA content (one of the two omega 3 fatty acids found exclusively in fish and seaweed) is only one of their many benefits.

    All sea vegetables are great low-calorie sources of iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin K.

    Another bonus?  Sea vegetables have their own share of unique phytonutrients and antioxidants that help lower risk for heart disease and many different cancers.  This is why I often say that oceans have a very worthy produce section!

    Many people erroneously assume all seaweed is slimy, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

    You can purchase sheets of thin, crunchy nori (wonderful mixed into salads or used to wrap vegetables and avocado), dried chewy dulse (pictured, right), or hijiki (which, when cooked, has a consistency similar to that of rice).

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    JapanMapAdults in Japan consume approximately 7.5 times as many DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids per day as their United States counterparts.

    That can certainly help explain why, compared to the United States, Japan has a 40 percent lower rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease and a 70 percent lower rate of deaths from coronary heart disease!

    Don’t think this is solely attributed to high intakes of fish (while Japan’s consumption is high, it comes in third — China and Iceland’s intake is higher!)

    Japan, however, happens to have the hands-down-highest global per capita consumption of sea vegetables.  Not only are many sea vegetables excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids; they also contain phytonutrients and antioxidants that help lower the risk of developing heart disease and various cancers.

    This is why I strongly support the “Mediterrasian” style of eating, which takes heart-healthy cues from traditional Mediterranean (i.e.: olive oil, legumes, nuts, and seeds) and Asian dietary patterns (dark leafy greens, fatty fish/sea vegetables).

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    You Ask, I Answer: Seaweed

    895835I consider myself an adventurous eater, but other than a few sushi rolls when I go to a Japanese restaurant, I don’t eat much seaweed.

    Whenever I am at Whole Foods, I see a pretty good-size chunk of one aisle devoted to different kinds of dried seaweed.

    What are some ways I can eat them?  Do they offer any real nutrition  benefits or are they healthy just because they are low in calories?

    — Joanna MacKay
    New York, NY

    Seaweed — which is literally available in thousands of varieties — offers an array of flavors, textures, and health benefits.

    All varieties are good sources of B vitamins, calcium, copper, iodine, magnesium, manganese, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and zinc.

    Most varieties also provide substantial amounts of lignans — the compounds found in flaxseed that are linked to decreased cancer risk AND lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels!

    Nori is the most commonly consumed seaweed, as it is the one used in sushi rolls.  However, many people also like to add a few slivers of nori to salads and soups.

    You can even buy sheets of nori and make home-made vegetable rolls.

    For example, roll up mesclun greens, sliced avocado, sliced mango, and julienned (that’s chef-speak for “thinly sliced”) red peppers in a nori sheet, cut the long roll into round bite-size chunks, drizzle a bit of dressing on top (this peanut-cilantro one complements the flavors fabulously), and you have yourself a fun — and nutritious — lunch!

    In Japan, toasted nori snacks are immensely popular (almost as much as potato chips are in the United States).

    Kombu is a type of seaweed mainly used for stocks, while kelp is often added to soups (like miso) or used in granule form to add fishy flavors to vegetarian items that aim to mimic seafood.

    Arame is used in many savory dishes, including stews and grain-based side dishes, while hijiki is often steamed and consumed as a side dish of its own (one restaurant I frequently establish serves up hijiki as part of a platter alongside brown rice, chickpeas, and stir-fried tofu).

    Dulse is mainly available as granules to add fishy flavors to food, although whole dried dulse can be eaten right out of the bag as a snack or used as a salad topper.

    FYI: most seaweed salads at Japanese restaurants use a combination of seaweeds.  The downside?  They contain a substantial amount of added sugars and oils.  If you want to start your meal with it, keep that in mind and make light entree selections.

    The biggest mistake I come across when it comes to the nutritional aspects of seaweed is the completely erroneous claim that they are a good source of vitamin B12.

    They are NOT.  Seaweed contains B12 analogues — compounds that mimic the vitamin.

    Vegetarians and vegans need to be very mindful of B12 analogues; they attach to B12 receptors in the body, and prevent real B12 in the diet from being absorbed properly!

    Also, since seaweed is very high in iodine, anyone with thyroid issues should first consult with a Registered Dietitian before adding it to their diet on a consistent basis.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Iodine

    The only salt I have at home (and use for everything) is sea salt. The packaging states that it is not a source of iodine.

    Do I need to use regular table salt in order to get iodine in my diet?

    How would I know if I had an iodine deficiency?

    How much should I get each day?

    — Crystal Fales
    Philadelphia, PA

    Iodine has a very specific function in the body — without it, our thyroid gland is unable to produce an important hormone called thyroxine.

    Consequently, an iodine deficiency results in the enlargement of the thyroid gland (a condition known as goiter, pictured at left) as well as hypothyroidism (some of the main consequences of this include a slowed down metabolism and increased total blood cholesterol.)

    Thyroxine is also crucial for brain growth and development in babies (both inside and outside the womb) and children.

    Although table salt contains iodine (a direct result of fortification), so do many other foods.

    Ironically, although iodine is not in sea salt, anything that lives in the sea (whether it’s fish or plants) is a great source of the mineral.

    Dairy and eggs are also fairly good sources of iodine, as a result of food processing techniques.

    Vegetables are a little tricky because their iodine content varies on the amount of the mineral found in the specific soil in which they grow.

    Adults should aim for approximately 150 micrograms a day. This figure is not too helpful, though, since most foods that contain iodine do not contain nutrition fact labels, and those that do do not list it.

    A three-ounce serving of fish (the size of a human palm and as thick as the average adult’s pinky finger) provides approximately 150 to 300 percent of a day’s worth of iodine.

    Vegans can sometimes be low in iodine (again, depending on the specific content of iodine in the vegetables they are eating,) so supplementation is always an option.

    Be careful with over-supplementation, though. An excess of iodine results in hyperthyroidism, which can lead to insomnia, restlessness, and rapid heartbeat.

    Lastly, allow me to point out that the sodium in processed foods is not fortified with iodine. So, a frozen meal containing sky-high levels of sodium provides absolutely no iodine.

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