Sea vegeta­bles are good for you

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SEA­WEED, ALSO known as sea vegeta­bles, is a gen­eral name for sev­eral species of al­gae and ma­rine plants that grow in wa­ter bod­ies like rivers, lakes, seas and oceans. They vary in size from minute to gi­gan­tic, with colours like red, brown, and green, and are eas­ily found on seashores or coast­lines.

Seaweeds play an ex­tremely vi­tal role for ma­rine ecol­ogy. They are the base for the food chains and are home to many sea crea­tures. And in ad­di­tion, sea­weed has prop­er­ties that of­fer health ben­e­fits to hu­mans.

A 25-year study of the world’s longest liv­ing pop­u­la­tion, the Ok­i­nawans of Ja­pan, showed that sea vegeta­bles were a big part of the seven to 10 serv­ings of fruits and vegeta­bles they eat daily.

SEA­WEED COM­PO­SI­TION

UK re­search pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Agri­cul­tural and

Food con­firms that many sea vegeta­bles are quite low in calo­ries and fat, while high in min­er­als like cal­cium, iron, cop­per and io­dine. Sea­weed is ex­tremely high in pro­tein (nearly 50 per cent of their weight), par­tic­u­larly pro­teins called bioac­tive pep­tides that may of­fer ex­tra­or­di­nary ben­e­fits to our health.

They also con­tain other sub­stances called polysac­cha­rides that may help in the preven­tion of de­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases and slow the age­ing process.

POP­U­LAR FORMS OF SEAWEEDS

Nori is the dried, usu­ally toasted sheets of sea­weed used as the wrap­ping in sushi dishes. The sheets can be cut into strips and eaten like noo­dles or added to stir-fry.

Kelp is the com­mon brown sea­weed of­ten found washed up on beaches. It is avail­able in pow­der form for use as sea­son­ing or a salt sub­sti­tute, or as a tablet sup­ple­ment.

Dulse is avail­able as a pow­der or dried leaves and is used in sal­ads and stews. The leaves, when lightly pan-fried, be­come crispy like po­tato chips.

Ir­ish moss, also known as sea moss, is found as dif­fer­ent species on the shore­lines of the At­lantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The Ir­ish, dur­ing their se­vere famine in the 19th cen­tury, re­lied heav­ily on Ir­ish moss as their main source of nutrition.

Ir­ish moss is very mu­cilagi­nous when soaked in wa­ter and has a tough and rub­bery tex­ture that is rather ined­i­ble. It is tra­di­tion­ally boiled in wa­ter and con­sumed as a liq­uid broth, to which flavours and sweet­en­ers are usu­ally added.

Mod­ern recipes of­ten mix the raw gel into var­i­ous foods and drinks as a nu­tri­tious thick­en­ing agent. It is of­ten used as a veg­e­tar­ian sub­sti­tute for gelatin as it pro­vides a sim­i­lar con­sis­tency.

Arame is black when it is dried, the form in which it is usu­ally sold. It is usu­ally soaked in wa­ter be­fore adding it to food be­ing cooked.

Kombu, sold as dried strips, can be used as a sea­son­ing agent in many dishes.

BLOOD PRES­SURE BEN­E­FITS

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have found that the special pro­teins (bioac­tive pep­tides) in sea­weed have ef­fects sim­i­lar to a com­monly pre­scribed group of drugs used to treat high blood pres­sure. They are called ACE in­hibitors. They work, but the prob­lem is they can also cause headaches, dizzi­ness, in­flam­ma­tion, fa­tigue, nau­sea, kid­ney fail­ure, and in­creased potas­sium in the blood that can cause heart prob­lems.

Sea vegeta­bles are the first nat­u­ral sub­stances dis­cov­ered that can have the same health ef­fects with­out these harm­ful side ef­fects.

DIGESTIVE HEALTH

Sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of New­cas­tle upon Tyne have found a sub­stance in brown sea­weed that strength­ens the gut mu­cus, which forms a pro­tec­tive lin­ing for the in­testines. It also causes food to re­lease its en­ergy more slowly and re­duce blood su­gar im­bal­ance.

Re­search on Ja­panese women showed that high sea­weed in­take in­creases the good bac­te­ria in the gut. The en­zymes in some sea­weed also help to digest beans and peas, and re­duce prob­lems with gas.

METABOLISM AND WEIGHT CON­TROL

Sea­weed could be a use­ful ad­di­tion to your weight-loss diet. They are high in fi­bre, have very few calo­ries and pro­vide a good bal­ance of essen­tial min­er­als and vi­ta­mins.

The high con­tent of or­ganic io­dine makes sea vegeta­bles very use­ful in op­ti­mis­ing thy­roid func­tion and im­prov­ing the metabolism of ex­cess fat.

An en­larged thy­roid gland (goi­ter) as well as the un­der­ac­tive or over­ac­tive thy­roid seems to ben­e­fit from reg­u­lar sea­weed con­sump­tion.

HOR­MONES

Sea­weed is very high in lig­nans, which help to block the chem­i­cal oe­stro­gen that can pre­dis­pose peo­ple to can­cers such as breast cancer. Re­search even sug­gests that kelp con­sump­tion might be a fac­tor in the lower rates of breast cancer in Ja­pan and that sea­weed may act as a nat­u­ral fe­male hor­mone bal­ancer.

ALL-ROUND TONIC FOOD

In Ire­land and the Caribbean, sea­weed-based drinks and soups are drunk as a reg­u­lar pick-meup, or af­ter an ill­ness.

It goes well with sushi, tofu, miso soup, sal­ads, vegetable stews and stir-fries, and greens.

Ir­ish moss grow­ing on a shell, found off the coast of Old Pera, St Thomas.

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