What Is Sea Moss and Is It Healthy?
Sea moss has been around for centuries. A dietitian explains why it's gaining popularity now.
Sea moss is a type of seaweed, also known as algae, found in ocean waters around the world. There are thousands of different species of seaweed and algae, but sea moss, commonly called sea moss or Irish sea moss, is scientifically known as Chondrus crispus. It is most widely known for its incredible nutrient density. Although certain geographical regions and cultures have been using it for hundreds of years, it’s recently grown in popularity here in the United States. Different species of algae and seaweed have been used for many years, for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Archaeologists estimate that humans have been harvesting and using sea moss for upwards of 14,000 years. During the Irish Potato Famine in the 1800’s, the Irish would add red seaweed to warmed milk with sugar and nutmeg, and drink that when food options were limited.
Sea moss is found along the rocky coasts of the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe. Other species of seaweed and algae, including other sea moss varieties, are grown in warmer ocean waters in the Caribbean, South America, Asia and Africa.
2 tablespoons of Chondrus crispus sea moss contains:
- 5 calories
- 15 grams protein
- 23 grams carbs
- 2 mg calcium
- 3 mg potassium
- 4 mg magnesium
- 13 grams fiber
Is Sea Moss Healthy?
Sea moss is a heart healthy food. This is primarily due to its omega-3 content. Research shows that intake of omega-3 fatty acids is correlated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease. It also packs a significant amount of fiber per serving. As we know, fiber draws LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) out of the body. It’s also a great addition to a diet working on weight loss or weight maintenance. Because of its low calorie content, sea moss is what we like to call a “volume food,” meaning you can eat a lot of it for few calories. What’s more, the high fiber content makes it a slow-digesting food, meaning it will keep you fuller longer.
Sea moss is also a great immune boosting food. Sea moss contains high levels of prebiotics. Probiotics are the active, beneficial bacteria that live in our gut and fight off diseases. Probiotics require prebiotic fiber in order to live and flourish. Also, species of sea moss contain fatty acids, polyphenols, carotenoids, complex polysaccharides, and live bacteria, all of which can contribute to the healthy bacteria in the intestines.
Sea moss is also a great source of iodine. Iodine is a mineral the human body needs in order to produce thyroid hormones (the hormones that control metabolic function and processes). Iodine deficiency can cause symptoms like fatigue, weakness and constipation. Sea moss contains about 47 milligrams of iodine per gram.
It can also contribute to muscle health, function and recovery. Sea moss contains an amino acid called taurine, an amino acid that helps to heal and recover muscle micro-tears, aka what happens every time we work out intensely. Sea moss also contains a significant amount of magnesium, a mineral essential for contraction and relaxation of muscles. Two tablespoons of sea moss contains about 14.4mg of magnesium.
When used topically, sea moss offers several benefits to skin health. It’s relatively high in sulfur. Sulfur is a naturally occurring mineral that has powerful antibacterial properties. When applied topically, it helps to absorb any excess oil that may contribute to buildup, which can lead to acne or blemishes. Further, sulfur is keratolytic, meaning that it breaks down the outer layer of the skin — basically a fancy way of saying it serves as an exfoliator.
How to Use Sea Moss
There are several ways to use sea moss: It can be taken as a dietary supplement — many companies sell it in the form of capsules, gummies, powders, or gels. Most commonly, people will add the powder or gel to things like smoothies or juices. Because of its emulsifying properties, it can also be added to things like sauces or puddings to thicken them without altering the taste. Finally, sea moss can be used topically, as personal care and beauty products such as shampoo or skin moisturizer.
You may be taking seaweed daily and not even know it. Have you ever heard of carrageenan? Carrageenan is made from sea moss (Chondrus crispus). The name carrageenan comes from Carrigan Head, a cape near Northern Ireland. In the 19th century, carrageenan became a key ingredient in classic Irish pudding. It has thickening and emulsifying properties that makes it a very useful culinary additive. Today, we use it in thousands, if not millions of food products. You can find it on the label of many frozen foods, plant-based milks and yogurts.
Are There Any Risks Associated with Sea Moss?
Depending on the water sea moss varieties grow in, they may contain high levels of heavy metals. Heavy metals are toxic to humans and, when ingested in high quantities, can impede or disrupt cellular processes such as cell growth, proliferation and repair. This is especially dangerous to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, so always consult with your doctor before adding sea moss to your diet.
The high levels of iodine in sea moss could also pose a health risk. Consuming too much iodine can lead to iodine toxicity, which can then lead to thyroid dysfunction, including conditions like hyperthyroidism, thyroiditis, or goiter.
Bottom Line: It’s okay to try sea moss, but it’s not a necessary addition to your diet.
Is sea moss an essential part of a healthy diet? This dietitian doesn’t think so. You’ll be perfectly fine without it. However, it is super nutrient dense and can be a great supplement to try out, if that’s of interest to you. I would give the same advice I give to my patients: Take a look at your diet first. Make sure you’re eating a varied diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. That should always be top priority. Then, start to think about supplements, and where you can incorporate them to best serve your health. And, as always, chat with your dietitian or doctor first.
Vanessa Rissetto received her MS in Marketing at NYU and completed her Dietetic Internship at Mount Sinai Hospital where she worked as a Senior Dietitian for five years. She is the co-founder of Culina Health and is certified in Adult Weight Management (Levels I & II) by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the founder of Culina Health. Her work in private practice also includes treatment of GI disorders, bariatric surgery, weight management, PCOS, and family nutrition. She loves helping clients take an active role in their health journey, motivating them and ensuring that they always achieve success. Vanessa was named by one of the top 5 black nutritionists that will change the way you think about food by Essence magazine. Vanessa lives in Hoboken NJ with her husband, two kids and their new goldendoodle Freddie. An exercise enthusiast, she is always up for a class as long as it's after she rides her Peloton.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.