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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Seaweed Secret: How to Boost Minerals (without milk!)

It makes sense that sea vegetables are so high in minerals: they're literally bathing in them. Minerals from the deep-sea floor are churned up and get absorbed into the cell walls. The outcome is an edible plant chock-full of precious minerals that we just can't live without.

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Most sea vegetables have a high concentration of calcium. While many people suffer from gas, bloating and false fat from the 'Got Milk?' campaign, regular consumption of seaweed could be the secret solution to boost calcium levels, without the ill effects from drinking too much milk. Since the minerals found in seaweed are in chelated and colloidal form (meaning that they have excellent bio-availability) absorption into the cells is quick and easy.

What About Sodium?

Since seaweeds are bathing in sea salt water, it's inherent that they have a high concentration of sodium. While it's true that sodium intake needs to be monitored for those who have kidney or heart disease, good quality sodium, preferably from a superior source like seaweed or unrefined sea salt, is essential.

Most sodium consumption comes from poor quality, refined white table salt that has had all other minerals leached out (with iodine put back in after refining). Refined white table salt is not a healthy option, and is the worst offender for over consumption of sodium in this country. According to the Mayo Clinic, 77 percent of all sodium in the US diet comes from packaged and prepared foods. By far, most commercial packaged food, with the exception to high quality, organic brands, is made with cheap, white table salt that is contributing to the ill health of our country.

Seaweed and good sea salt (Celtic and Himalayan are excellent choices) are a first-rate source for sodium, as they contain up to 85 other important minerals that are co-factors for sodium's absorption and how it is utilized in the body. Sodium is one of the electrolyte minerals that makes our nerves fire and furnishes us with energy. But... other important minerals need to be present in order for sodium to work properly in the body.

So What Do I Do With Them?

Don't feel self-conscious if you have never cooked with seaweed. Unless you come from an Asian or "experimental" family, most Westerners haven't. Although seaweed can be an acquired taste for the American palate, it won't take long to take pleasure in them. You can find many varieties in dried form in the Asian section of your local natural food store. Some are milder in flavor, making them good choices for newbies.

Wakame - This is the variety used in traditional miso soup. Wakame is a dark, green leafy vegetable when re-hydrated. It has a medium to strong seaweed flavor.

Hijiki and Arame - These look virtually identical, but hijiki tends to be milder in flavor, making a great choice for an unseasoned palate. When re-hydrated, they look like little, dark, slightly bulbous strips. Great tossed into salads.

Nori - This is seaweed that has been ground and dried into sheets, most commonly used for sushi. I use nori sheets as a quick, healthy wrap for anything I have in my fridge! Veggies and avocado are my favorites.

Kombu - These thick sheets have compounds that help eliminate gas, so they are great cooked into beans and grains. After cooked, they hardly have a taste and can be hidden in foods easily. I also make chips out of them: see recipe below.

Agar Agar - This processed seaweed product is used to replace gelatin. It's an excellent thickener and is used to make a healthy Jell-o dessert called kanten (see recipe below) or as a thickener in ice creams. Agar is high in dietary fiber.

Recipes from the Sea
Food photos by Jackson D. Carson

Seaweed Salad
Traditional Asian flavors bring this seaweed favorite to life.






Hijiki Caviar
This mock caviar uses seaweed to mimic the flavors of the sea.





Strawberry-Apple Kanten
Can Jell-o really be healthy? Indeed.






Seaweed Snack Chips
A perfectly healthy alternative for the "salty and crunchy" munchies...





Seaweed Salt Booster
Use this flavored salt to enhance any dish, and as a "booster food" to get a well-rounded dose of minerals.





References:

1. Bauman College. Natural Chef Program Instructor Slides: Sea Vegetables. Penngrove: Bauman College. 2009.
2. Balch, Phyllis, CNC. Prescription for Dietary Wellness. New York: Avery. 2003.
3. Gusman, Jill. Vegetables from the Sea. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers. 2003.
4. Mayo Clinic. Sodium: Are You Getting Too Much? 2009.




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