Should you add kelp to your diet?

The popularity of seaweed has spurred the growth of seaweed farming, a sustainable practice because seaweed is fast-growing, and it helps improve water quality.

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Don’t be afraid of seaweed kelp; this sea-based plant is full of nutrition.

Don’t be afraid to try seaweed kelp; this sea-based plant is full of nutrition.

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The wave of seaweed in the food world is making a delicious and nutritious splash.

Beyond sushi roll wrappers, there is a sea of innovative products from snacks, such as roasted seaweed, kelp popcorn and jerky to kelp burgers, noodles, condiments and seasonings.

There are upwards of 30 varieties of seaweed. The most familiar are kelp, such as giant kelp, bongo kelp and kombu, commonly consumed in Japanese cuisine.

Kelp is a large, brown seaweed that grows in shallow coastal areas. The popularity of seaweed has spurred the growth of seaweed farming, a sustainable practice because seaweed is fast-growing, and it helps improve water quality. It’s able to use carbon dioxide to grow, which helps balance nutrient levels in surrounding waters, creating favorable conditions for commercially important fish.

Kelp is a rich source of many nutrients, including iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin K, dietary fiber and protein.

Because seaweeds actively absorb minerals from the water, they typically have far more minerals than what might be found in plants grown in soil. Kelp is one of the best natural sources of iodine, which plays a role in metabolism, producing thyroid hormones and helping support a healthy pregnancy. The human body can’t manufacture iodine, so it’s important to get it through diet.

The nutritional composition of seaweeds provides several health benefits. Research suggests kelp might help protect against cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and brain degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Seaweeds also have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, important to help fight harmful free radicals that threaten healthy cells.

Kelp is nutrient-dense and low in fat and calories.

Fresh, frozen, dried, powdered or manufactured in food products, seaweed is becoming more and more widely available. Adding it to your diet can be as simple as swapping your usual pasta with kelp noodles, like in an Asian-inspired seaweed salad or pad Thai, snacking on crunchy sheets of roasted seaweed, using dashi (a broth made from seaweed) as the base for soups and sauces and trying one of many seaweed seasonings, like furikake, to bring that sought after savory umami boost to sides, salads or any dish.

Environmental Nutrition is an independent newsletter written by nutrition experts.

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