The Perfect Snack Does Exist—4 Benefits of Seaweed
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Finding the perfect snack can sometimes seem impossible, especially if you want your snack to be healthy and tasty.
What comes to mind when you think of a healthy snack? Maybe carrots, an apple, or a bland-boiled egg?
If you are bored with the same plain snack options and have been searching for the perfect snack, you may want to consider seaweed. While seaweed is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the perfect snack, this tasty marine plant may offer many benefits, including thyroid health, cardiovascular health, gut health, and even blood sugar support.
Seaweed is a common name for a diverse group of marine plants and algae. These plants grow in bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Seaweed is not technically a weed because it doesn’t spread to harm its environment. It is extremely helpful, contributing to the ecosystem as a habitat and food for marine life and humans.
Seaweed is usually separated into three different classifications: red, green, and brown. Red algae or seaweed belongs to the phylum Rhodophyta and includes seaweeds like dulse, nori, and Irish moss. Green algae belong to the phylum Chlorophyta and include seaweeds such as sea lettuce and umibudo. Brown seaweeds are in phylum Phaeophyta and include kelp, kombu, and wakame. Many of these various seaweeds are edible, including sea moss, dulse, wakame, kelp, and nori.
When it comes to thyroid health, seaweed may have some benefits to offer.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck that is responsible for producing thyroid hormones. These hormones perform different functions in the body, including increasing protein production, influencing growth, and maintaining metabolism.
To make thyroid hormones, the thyroid needs iodine. When iodine is ingested through supplements or diet, it is absorbed in the stomach and small intestines. Then it becomes iodide (the ionized form of iodine), which the thyroid gland then incorporates into thyroid tissue to make the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
Without sufficient amounts of iodine, the body can’t make enough thyroid hormones, which leads to disorders like goiter, an enlarged thyroid gland, low thyroid function (hypothyroidism), lowered metabolism, weight gain, and even developmental delay.
Given that iodine is such an important trace element needed for thyroid health, it is sometimes added to table salt to allow for the required amount of iodine intake to be ingested. But what about those who wish to limit salt intake for health reasons such as high blood pressure or taste preference?
This is where seaweed may be beneficial. Seaweed is naturally high in iodine. This healthy snack has anywhere from 16 micrograms (µg) of iodine per gram of nori to over 2000 µg of iodine per gram of kombu.
To put this in perspective, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for iodine in healthy adults is about 150 µg.
Seaweed may not only be a great source of iodine for necessary thyroid functions. research suggests that seaweed intake may also help prevent thyroid cancer. For example, one study found that those who included seaweed in their diets had a lower risk of developing thyroid cancer.
While seaweed may be a tasty snack that helps support thyroid health, seaweed may also offer benefits to the cardiovascular system.
When it comes to a heart-healthy snack, you may not immediately think of seaweed, but research may suggest otherwise.
Seaweed is rich in nutrients and phytochemicals like soluble fiber, flavonoids, omega-3 fatty acids, and potassium. These nutrients and minerals help to support a healthy cardiovascular system, the interconnected blood vessels that lead to and away from the heart.
For instance, research suggests that fiber has heart-healthy benefits, such as lowering total cholesterol and LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. Other studies show that increased flavonoid intake may help reduce cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.
Potassium is an essential nutrient that helps the body to regulate blood pressure, and potassium deficiency has been linked to high blood pressure.
Fortunately, seaweed has these nutrients in abundance. Studies suggest that including more seaweed in your diet may benefit your cardiovascular system. For example, one study showed that greater seaweed intake was linked to fewer heart attack cases and stroke among men.
Another study on dietary seaweed intake and cardiovascular health found that those who ate seaweed more frequently had less risk of dying from stroke. These findings were in both men and women.
Animal studies show that seaweed helps lower cholesterol levels by delaying cholesterol absorption from the intestines or prompting cholesterol excretion from the body. This could be due to the high fiber content of seaweed.
While snacking on seaweed may play a role in promoting a healthy heart, studies suggest that seaweed may also benefit your gut. Unlike many terrestrial or land plants, seaweed contains unique nutrients, including fucoidan, laminarin, and alginate. These nutrients belong to a group of molecules called polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are a special carbohydrate type with many sugar molecules bonded together.
These polysaccharides may act as prebiotics in the gut when ingested. Prebiotics are a special type of fiber that can’t be digested by the human digestive system, but that doesn’t mean they offer no benefit to us. On the contrary, prebiotics act as fuel to your gut microbiome—the bacteria that live in your gut. Prebiotics help feed the beneficial gut bacteria, which helps to improve your health.
For example, compounds called short-chain fatty acids are created when your gut flora breaks down prebiotics. These short-chain fatty acids have many benefits for your body, including helping to improve insulin sensitivity in those with irregular blood glucose and diabetes, improving obesity, reducing inflammation, and even offering protective effects against colon cancer.
Seaweed is rich in prebiotics that may help promote gut health. For example, animal studies show that seaweed ingestion helps to reduce hyperleptinemia, a condition in which there is too much leptin in the body, and the brain is not responding to leptin levels.
Leptin is a hormone that helps maintain body weight and tells you when you’ve had enough to eat. Hyperleptinemia, or too much leptin secretion in the body, means that the brain is not responding to normal leptin levels and is associated with obesity.
Animal studies also show that seaweed may help to improve inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease by reducing inflammation in the gut through short-chain fatty acid production.
Research also suggests that seaweed may play a beneficial role in preventing colon cancer and colorectal by stopping the growth of colon cancer cells.
Finding the perfect snack can be challenging for those who suffer from diabetes and blood glucose irregularities. Counting carbohydrates and sugars can be frustrating, but that’s where a tasty seaweed snack can shine.
Seaweed is not only delicious, studies suggest that it may help to lower blood sugar. One study found that those who took seaweed in a powdered pill form for four weeks had lower fasting blood glucose, lower 2-hour postprandial (postmeal) glucose levels, and lower triglycerides.
An animal study found that adding seaweed into the diet for 10 weeks lowered insulin levels and body weight while raising HDL or “good” cholesterol levels. Another animal study found that supplementing seaweed into a high-fat diet for 13 weeks prevented increased weight gain, fat deposition in the liver, and high blood sugar.
Seaweed is thought to help improve blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels by acting as an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant and reducing cholesterol in the liver. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of seaweed make it the perfect anti-aging snack that helps promote longevity.
Seaweed may also help with appetite and portion control. One study placed participants in groups in which they either received seaweed and starch or a pea protein meal with the same number of calories. The study found that those in the seaweed group had a decrease in appetite, unlike those in the pea protein group.
These tasty plants can be consumed in many different ways: boiled, dried, powdered, encapsulated, or in soups and sushi. Some seaweeds may even be eaten raw.
Not only is seaweed versatile in its preparation, but it also has many potential health benefits that may help you look and feel better. If you’re looking for the perfect snack, look no further than seaweed.
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