If you love your sushi then you’re likely already familiar with the popular edible seaweed known as nori. But did you know that there’s another, arguably even more special variety of seaweed that’s an equally important ingredient in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisine, and contains an impressive range of nutrients that are extremely beneficial for your health? Kelp has been a prized source of food and traditional medicine in Asia for centuries, yet it is only recently that the nutrient-dense algae has become such a sought-after superfood staple for the more savvy health food consumer in the West.
So, what is kelp exactly and what can it do for you? Time to discover the secrets of the sea and examine 5 health benefits associated with kelp!
Kelp – the secret of the sea
Kelp is a fast-growing variety of seaweed that flourishes in shallow waters and can grow up to half a metre per day. It is commonly eaten in Asian countries and especially in Japan, where it is known as ‘Kombu’ and forms an integral component of some of the country’s best-loved dishes, including soups, stews and sushi.
Kelp is now also available in an exceptionally convenient powder form that’s utterly brimming with valuable nutrients. A premium quality, organic kelp powder typically contains:
- Vitamins – kelp powder contains several vitamins, and in particular, B vitamins, which are necessary for cellular metabolism and supplying your body with energy. In addition, kelp powder contains vitamins C and E – both powerful antioxidants that help keep your blood vessels healthy.
- Minerals – kelp powder boasts generous quantities of calcium (on average, one small serving of kelp powder contains 35% of your RDA for calcium), boron and magnesium, which are required for strong bones and healthy muscle function.
- Sodium Alginate – kelp powder is extremely rich in sodium alginate, an element that can help protect your body from radiation.
- Iodine – kelp powder is one of the best sources of iodine there is. Iodine is a trace element that’s essential for thyroid function.
- Glutamic acid – kelp also contains this non-essential amino acid, which is required for healthy brain function.
- Chlorophyll – kelp powder is exceptionally high in chlorophyll, a natural plant pigment that’s believed to stimulate the production of blood cells, increase oxygenation and cleanse your body.
5 health benefits associated with kelp
Thanks largely to its unusually high iodine content, kelp has been harnessed as a natural treatment for goitre (an enlargement of the thyroid gland caused by a lack of iodine) since medieval times. However, kelp products, such as concentrated kelp powder and kelp noodles, offer so much more – by adding just a small amount of kelp powder to your daily diet, you’ll enjoy the five additional health benefits listed below.
1) Kelp boosts immunity
Kelp and kelp superfood products, such as kelp powder, can help to improve the effectiveness of your immune system. Indeed, studies conducted by Fleurence et al. (2012) revealed that kelp supplementation might assist in boosting your immune response to a wide range of different diseases. More specifically, kelp powder contains considerable quantities of iodine and the molecular effects of iodine point to a potential ability to help prevent certain types of cancers, and in particular, stomach and breast cancer. Fibrocystic breast disease for example, seems to respond well to iodine treatment, and consuming large volumes of kelp can even help to shrink fibrocystic lumps.
2) Kelp is anti-aging
The iodine content of kelp also appears to have anti-aging benefits. A 2008 study demonstrated that the iodine in kelp can effectively eliminate the free radicals that react with cellular components (such as DNA), thus averting aging and disease, whilst the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre claims that kelp extract possesses skin-firming properties. The vitamin E found in kelp powder certainly plays an important role in photo protection, helping to prevent UV-induced free radical damage to skin, such as fine lines and wrinkles, as well as supporting new skin cell growth and accelerating cell regeneration.
3) Kelp promotes a natural detox
Research has repeatedly indicated that our seas are home to some of the finest filtering systems on the planet. Kelp powder contains impressive quantities of chlorophyll – a natural plant pigment that protects your liver and cleanses your blood. Clean blood simultaneously ensures that metabolic waste is removed and carried away from bodily tissue. The iodine in kelp powder also proactively helps to prevent the absorption of radiation, and kelp was once used as an antidote to the effects of radiation poisoning after the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima in Japan.
4) Kelp aids in weight loss
Iodine has a key role in regulating your metabolism too. And a healthy metabolism is crucial in maintaining your ideal body weight. That’s because your metabolism (which is regulated by your thyroid gland) is responsible for the way that you utilise energy and burn calories. The iodine in kelp powder acts like a catalyst that kick-starts your metabolic processes and can in turn help you lose weight. In addition, a preliminary study at the University of Newcastle recently concluded that alginates – fibres in sea kelp – demonstrably reduce fat digestion and absorption, more so even than the majority of commercial slimming treatments.
Incidentally, research by Howell in 1998 proved that kelp boosted the energy and endurance levels of British sportsmen and women, ultimately improving their overall competitive performance. Kelp powder is therefore an ideal superfood supplement for those of you striving to shed your pounds at the gym!
5) Kelp helps to prevent an underactive thyroid
A 2011 study by the British Thyroid Association research team worryingly revealed that the UK is now iodine-deficient. Your body requires iodine in order to manufacture the thyroid hormones, T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine), which are released into your blood stream and transported throughout the body to control metabolism. In the event of an iodine deficiency, your thyroid gland will gradually use up your existing supplies of iodine and your thyroid function will eventually slow down – a condition known as an underactive thyroid (or hypothyroidism). According to the NHS, hyperthyroidism now affects 15 in every 1,000 women and 1 in every 1,000 men. Left untreated it can progress from troublesome symptoms, such as lethargy and fatigue, reduced libido, dry skin and brittle hair, depression, abnormal weight gain, constipation, muscle pain and cramps, and lack of concentration, to more serious complaints, including goitre (a swelling of the neck or larynx resulting from enlargement of the thyroid gland), mental disorders, problems with growth and development, hypersensitivity to radiation, miscarriage, death in utero, birth defects (both mental and physical), obesity, ADHD, hearing and speech disorders, as well as an increased risk of certain types of hormone-sensitive cancers, including breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer.
An underactive thyroid caused by a lack of iodine in your diet can easily be avoided simply by boosting your iodine intake *. Kelp powder and other kelp based superfoods, such as kelp noodles, are extremely rich in iodine – indeed, a study by scientists at Glasgow University found that kelp extract supplementation can raise low iodine levels in young women and is the equivalent to eating one-and-a-half mackerels every day.
These days there are a huge variety of different kelp products available for your enjoyment. Two of the most popular are:
- Kelp powder – an extremely versatile and highly concentrated kelp extract that’s suitable for stirring directly into smoothies, shakes, protein drinks and juices and makes a delicious addition to rawfood soups, sauces and salads, and in particular, your favourite oriental dishes.
- Kelp noodles – unlike ordinary noodles, kelp noodles are gluten-free, contain virtually no carbs and are pleasingly low in calories. Ideal for diabetics and those of you who are watching your weight, kelp noodles boast a neutral flavour and can be consumed raw or cooked (as a replacement for pasta and noodles) in a wide range of tempting meals.
*Always consult your GP before increasing your iodine intake, particularly if you suffer from a thyroid disorder, as certain types of thyroid disorder, such as an overactive thyroid caused by Graves’ disease, can be made worse by an increase in your iodine consumption.
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