The next go-to green

Santa Fe New Mexican - Healthy Living - - HEALTH INTEL -

Un­less you are a fan of such Asian spe­cial­ties as sushi (wrapped in nori) or miso soup (sim­mered with wakame), you may not be fa­mil­iar with (or fond of) the taste and tex­ture of sea­weed. But fan or fa­mil­iar or not, you soon will be hear­ing a lot more about the health and en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits of the hun­dreds of va­ri­eties of ed­i­ble al­gae.

From coast to coast, sea­weed is be­ing touted as the new­est su­per­food, rich in pro­tein, cal­cium, vi­ta­min B12, omega-3 fatty acids, an­tiox­i­dants (which help pre­vent in­flam­ma­tion), trace min­er­als and io­dine. The Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health cites sea­weed as one of the best food sources of io­dine, im­por­tant to fe­tal de­vel­op­ment and thy­roid hor­mone pro­duc­tion.

Early adapters agree. The sea­weed snack busi­ness is grow­ing rapidly, ring­ing up $500 mil­lion in sales in 2014. A new culi­nary al­gae oil called Thrive — which is lower in to­tal fat, is higher in mo­noun­sat­u­rated fat and has a higher smoke point than olive, co­conut and canola oils — hit the Cal­i­for­nia mar­ket last fall, with a na­tional roll-out and an al­gae­based but­ter prod­uct sched­uled for re­lease this year.

A re­search lab at Ore­gon State Univer­sity has patented a new strain of dulse that ap­par­ently tastes like ba­con when it’s fried, with a fla­vor and tex­ture that will be fa­mil­iar to lovers of DLTs (dulse, let­tuce and tomato sand­wiches).

But sea­weed as su­per­food is not just a West Coast phe­nom­e­non. Fish­er­men on the East Coast have been spot­ted wear­ing T-shirts that read, “Kelp Is the New Kale” — a tes­ta­ment not only to the sea veg­etable’s health ben­e­fits but also to its po­ten­tial ben­e­fit to the planet. In the face of pre­dic­tions of fish­less oceans be­fore the end of the 21st cen­tury, fish­er­men may de­cide to be­come kelp farm­ers, rais­ing a dif­fer­ent and more sus­tain­able kind of seafood.

As with all good foods, it’s im­por­tant not to eat too much and to know where your sea­weed comes from. It should come from un­pol­luted wa­ters and should not be sprayed with chem­i­cals while it’s dry­ing. The many va­ri­eties of kelp vary enor­mously in io­dine con­tent — from 16 to more than 2,900 mi­cro­grams (mcg) per serv­ing. And too much io­dine can cause as many health prob­lems as too lit­tle; the NIH rec­om­mends that healthy adults con­sume no more than 150 mcg per day, al­though other au­thor­i­ties set the limit as high as 600 mcg.

As with any new “mir­a­cle food,” you can find a lot of in­for­ma­tion about sea­weed on the web. Some claims are ac­cu­rate, but some are dan­ger­ously wrong — so be sure the source is re­li­able. You can find an ac­cu­rate, de­tailed dis­cus­sion of sea­weed’s nu­tri­tional and eco cre­den­tials in the Novem­ber 2, 2015, is­sue of The New Yorker, avail­able on­line at mag­a­zine/2015/11/02/a-new-leaf.

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