Katie's Healthy Bites: Eat Your Sea Vegetables
We often talk about the health benefits of dark, leafy greens, but what about seaweed? Sea vegetables top the list of nutrient-dense veggies.
While they're not common in the American diet, sea vegetables are an Asian staple that's definitely worth looking into. Eastern health proponents praise them for helping to improve digestion, reduce cholesterol, cleanse the body, strengthen bones and teeth, prevent aging and even contribute to weight loss. Whether they're a cure-all or not, the low-cal vegetable are full of minerals -- calcium, boron, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, sodium and iodine -- thanks to the sea water. They also contain a range of vitamins -- A, C, E, and B complex.
More good news: Sea vegetables, which are full of lignans, have been linked to reducing the risk of some cancers. Their high iodine content also helps promote healthy thyroid functioning, and their folic acid can help prevent birth defects.
Okay, so they're good for you, but what are they exactly? If you've ever had nori-wrapped sushi, you've tried some. Found in salt and fresh water, sea vegetables often grow on reefs or in rocky areas. They can grow in deep waters but need some sunlight to thrive. There are thousands of varieties -- all with unique textures, flavors and appearances. They're commonly categorized by color -- brown, green or red. Not all sea vegetables are edible, but you won't find the inedible ones at your market.
Nori: dark purple-black, usually bought in sheets that work for sushi
Kelp: light brown to dark green in color and often available in flake form
Hijiki: strongly flavored and looks like small strands of black wiry pasta
Kombu: very dark in color and generally sold in strips or sheets; usually used in soups
Wakame: commonly used to make Japanese miso soup or salads; has a sweet flavor
Arame: sweet, mild flavor with a lacy or wiry appearance
Dulse: reddish brown color; the flakes are good raw
You may not find them at the local supermarket, but check out your health food store or specialty Asian market. They usually come in several forms -- dried sheets, flakes and powder. What you buy will depend on your culinary needs. If you are not sure, ask for help from a store employee. Look for tightly sealed packages and keep them in a dry, cool place.
Since most sea vegetables are packaged in a dry form, you need to rinse and soak them first. After that, you might try...
• Dusting kelp or dulse flakes onto food as a healthy alternative to salt
• Adding a two- or four-inch piece of kombu to the water when you cook beans; this speeds up your cooking time and helps you digest the beans easier
• Adding hijiki to noodle or stir-fry dishes or eat it cold mixed with carrots, cabbage, a little soy sauce and oil
• Making kombu dashi, a Japanese soup stock -- add a four to six-inch piece of kombu and four cups or water to a pot; bring it to a boil them reducing the heat and allowing it to simmer for five to ten minutes.
Recipes to try: