HEALTH BENEFITS OF EATING SEAWEED
The growing popularity of Japanese cuisine is undeniable. Living here in the Bay Area, I have seen in the past few years, ramen restaurants popping up here and there. There are also new styles of Japanese dining showing up, like “Izakaya,” a sake bar serving tapas, and "Omakase," the Japanese traditional of letting a chef choose what to prepare for you, which gets me excited every time I have a chance to try one.
Living away from my home country, eating traditional food from my culture is important to maintain my sense of comfort. However, the vastly diverse cuisines in the Bay Area has changed my perspective of my eating ritual. Amongst the diversity of cuisines available, Japanese food draws my attention the most because of the use of fresh high quality ingredients, just like what we use in Thai cooking.
One of the most popular and nutritious ingredients used in Japanese food is seaweed. Seaweeds contain most of the essential amino acids and are rich sources of vitamins A, B1, B12, C, D and E, riboflavin, folic acid, pantothenic acid and minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium and phosphorus (Chia, Kanthimathi, Khoo, Rajarajeswaran, Cheng, & Yap, 2015), as well as glutamates, a naturally occurring amino acid that gives the savory fifth flavor, “umami” (Samuels, 2011).
There are four different kinds of seaweed most used in Japanese cuisine: Hijiki, Nori, Kombu, and Wakame
Brown and red seaweeds contain high levels of carotenoids, a substance precursor to vitamin A (Chia et al. 2015). Carotenoids have high antioxidant activity, which our bodies need in order to fight against free radicals (harmful substances naturally occur in our body). Fighting against free radicals is important to maintain health and prevent diseases such as cancer.
One of the carotenoid substances called "fucoxanthin" in brown seaweed acts as anti-cancer agent and is a subject of interest in the research of many related anti-cancer medications because of its ability to prevent cancer cells from growing. in Fact, according to the study, these anticancer effects of fucoxanthin were stronger than those of β-carotene (Mikami, & Hosokawa, 2013).
Seaweed also has a natural salty taste, which comes from the presence of potassium and magnesium salt, which can be a good source of saltiness in place of sodium chloride (table salt), which is abundantly present in processed foods and is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease. According to DASH: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, reducing sodium intake but increasing potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber intakes within a moderate energy intake will have positive affects on blood pressure and heart health (Nelms, Sucher, & Lacey, p.302, 2015).
Seaweeds are highly nutritive and have many health benefits. Next time you go out for Japanese food, don't forget to add a nutritious and delicious seaweed salad to your order.
Chia, Y. Y., Kanthimathi, M. S., Khoo, K. S., Rajarajeswaran, J., Cheng, H. M., & Yap, W. S. (2015). Antioxidant and cytotoxic activities of three species of tropical seaweeds. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 15, 339. doi:10.1186/s12906-015-0867-1
Mikami, K., & Hosokawa, M. (2013). Biosynthetic pathway and health benefits of fucoxanthin, an algae-specific xanthophyll in brown seaweeds. International journal of molecular sciences, 14(7), 13763-81. doi:10.3390/ijms140713763
Nelms, M. N., Sucher, K. P., & Lacey, K. (2015). Nutrition therapy and pathophysiology: Diseases of the cardiovascular system (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning
Samuels, D. (2011). My japnaese table: A lifetime of cooking with family and friends. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing
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