Now that you've hopefully begun removing a few unhealthy things from your diet, namely unpronounceable ingredients, artificial sweeteners, food dyes and sugars, it's time to add something healthful to your diet. We know eating vegetables from the earth is good for you, but there is an entire produce section from the sea you may be unaware of. Sea vegetables (seaweeds) are probably the most beneficial food item you can add to your diet.
Sea vegetables are among the oldest forms of life (recorded dietary use dates back to 3,000 B.C.) and offer one of the broadest ranges of minerals of any food, containing virtually all ocean minerals and many found in human blood. Seaweeds are packed with antioxidants and are extremely anti-inflammatory. Many cultures use seaweeds as a natural anti-viral medication, and a tonic for removing radioactive and metallic poisons from the body (they contain alginic acid, which bind toxins in the body for easy elimination).
They lower cholesterol, reduce estrogen excretion which can lower the risk of certain breast cancers, aid in preventing blood clots, and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. They contain the highest concentration of iodine and also boast measurable amounts of vitamins B6, B12, K, potassium and magnesium. Zinc, iron, calcium and even protein are also significant.
Convinced yet? If you're worried about contamination, sea vegetables do not absorb pollutants as fish do. Where pollution is high, sea plants simply do not grow.
Seaweeds are usually dried and sold in bags. They keep in your pantry forever, just store them in an airtight container or bag. They are easy to find at Whole Foods and Central Market, as well as many natural food stores and online. Ideally, they should make up 5% of your daily food intake. Here are some common ones and how to use them:
Dulse - I buy these in flake form. The black flakes come in a bag and you can sprinkle them on anything where you would sprinkle salt. They have a slightly salty flavor and turn bright red when they get wet. I add them to salads, Asian dishes (see my sesame noodle recipe on the Recipes link) and even oatmeal! My kids love this as a condiment.
Nori - You are likely familiar with this sushi paper. Sold in sheets, it can be used for wrapping sushi as well as toasted and flaked into salads or even eaten plain.
Kombu - You don't have to actually eat kombu, but it works miracles when you are cooking any grain or bean. Cut a 1" piece from the dried strip (also sold in bags) and add it to your water as you cook beans or grains (including rice), much like a bay leaf. The kombu will release its wonderful minerals and mild flavor into the cooking water while it helps with their digestibility (a.k.a gas prevention). You can either eat the kombu after cooking or toss it.
Wakame - These dried black strips or pieces are the staple for miso soup (see recipe in Recipes section). It expands tremendously when cooking, so you don't need to use much. If I buy it in strips, I use scissors to cut small pieces into the miso broth. You can buy it already cut up as well.
Arame - These dried black threads need to be soaked in water for 5 minutes before using to rinse off its bitter outer layer. Once rinsed, this seaweed makes a wonderful raw seaweed salad or mince and toss into a stir fry. My favorite way is to mince it and saute with sliced green onions, soy sauce (or tamari), ginger and garlic. A couple of tablespoons is one serving.
Hiziki - This black seaweed is one of the strongest-tasting but has an amazing 1,350 mg of calcium per 1/2 cup. You want to soak this one for 5-10 minutes before using to rinse off the briny taste. It resembles angel hair pasta and can be used similarly as Arame.
Agar - This is SO cool to use in place of gelatin (see Kanten recipe on Recipes link). Gelatin is ground up animal hooves and bones. No, thanks. Why not use something that is actually beneficial to your body? Agar is usually sold as translucent flakes and when simmered in juice or other liquid until dissolved, will set up just like Jell-O, just no animal skeletons.