Life Food & Drink

Friday 15 November 2019

Need some diet kelp?

A staple since ancient times, seaweed or kelp is among the healthiest foods on the planet

Rozanne Stevens urges eating and cooking healthily with seaweed
Rozanne Stevens urges eating and cooking healthily with seaweed
Superfood slaw

Rozanne Stevens

Being an island nation, we have an abundance of seaweeds, also called sea vegetables, available on our shorelines. Sea vegetables are a bountiful source of nutrients and antioxidants.

Gram per gram, they contain maximum nutrition and minimal calories. More and more research is being done on these wonder foods and local Irish companies are producing innovative new functional foods that incorporate sea vegetables, making them easier to include in your diet.

Sea vegetables are among the most nutrient-rich in the world, yet they are extremely low in calories. In fact, it would probably be impossible to gain weight from seaweed, no matter how much you ate. Almost all whole seaweeds contain large amounts of minerals and trace elements, including iron, calcium and iodine. Many are also rich in vitamins A, C and B complex.

A staple in Asian diets since ancient times, seaweeds are among the healthiest foods on the planet, packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

And now we know they're great for the waistline too: a 2010 study found the algae can reduce our rate of fat absorption by 75pc, thanks to its inhibitory effect on a digestive enzyme called lipase.

Scientists at Newcastle University are about to begin clinical trials on a "wonder bread" made with alginate fibres and designed to speed weight loss.

Studies on Irish carrageen moss has shown that it, among other sea vegetables, has cholesterol-lowering effects.

Sitosterol, a naturally occurring plant sterol in seaweeds, appears to play a significant role in reducing cholesterol by reducing the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed in the digestive tract.

Additionally, brown seaweeds contain thyroxine, a hormone produced in the thyroid gland, that reduces both cholesterol and lipids in the blood.

There are many types of seaweeds, which will often be called by the Japanese name, as it is such a big part of traditional Japanese cuisine. Seaweed is actually surprisingly easy to use in meals.

Start by using a sprinkling of seaweed on top of salads and adding a piece of kombu to soups, casseroles and anything saucy. Seaweed has a salty flavour but is very low in sodium.

Seaweed also has a natural flavour enhancer that brings out the flavours in foods and also adds an extra layer of umami.

Umami is the fifth flavour that our taste buds can identify and it helps reduce cravings for sweet foods. Seaweeds and soy foods in particular are rich in umami. It tastes good and is good for you.

Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida)

Wakame has pappardelle, pasta-like leaves with a salty-sweet zest.


Nutritionist Gillian McKeith, author of the 'You Are What You Eat' cookbook, calls wakame the woman's seaweed because it is loaded with osteoporosis-preventing calcium and magnesium and acts as a diuretic (which helps reduce bloating).

Wakame's pigment, fucoxanthin, is known to improve insulin resistance, and a 2010 animal study found that fucoxanthin burns fatty tissue.

How to prepare

Soak the leaves in cold water until tender, then enjoy them in a cucumber salad, dressed with rice vinegar, sesame oil, and soy sauce. To make miso soup, add wakame, tofu, and a few tablespoons of miso paste to a kombu stock (see below).

Nori (Porphyra species)

Nori sheets are the thin, crispy sheets used to make sushi. Nori has a mild earthy taste.


Among the marine flora, nori is one of the richest in protein (up to 50pc of the plant's dry weight), and one sheet has as much fibre as a cup of raw spinach and more omega-3 fatty acids than a cup of avocado. Nori contains vitamins C (a potent antioxidant) and B12 (crucial for cognitive function) and the compound taurine, which helps control cholesterol.

How to prepare

For a snack, toast strips of nori in the oven at low heat. Or cover a sheet with cooked brown rice; add a layer of sliced carrots, celery, or avocado, and a dash of wasabi. Roll it up and dip in a sauce of tamari, toasted sesame oil, ginger, and rice vinegar.

Kombu (Laminaria japonica)

This is a leafy kelp with a full-bodied, savoury flavour


Kombu is prized as a source of iodine, which is needed to produce the two key thyroid hormones that control the metabolism.

The kelp is also rich in fucoidan, a phytochemical that acts as an anticoagulant; a 2011 study found that kombu contains properties that stop clots from forming in blood vessels – which may make it a promising subject for cardiovascular research.

How to prepare

To make a flavourful broth called dashi (the chicken stock of Japan), simmer a strip of dried kombu in water for five minutes.

And next time you cook beans, throw a kombu leaf in the pot; the plant's glutamic acid renders the beans more easily digestible and less gassy.

Arame (Eisenia bicyclis)

Arame has long, thin, sweet-tasting strands


Arame provides a good amount of potassium, a mineral known among athletes for preventing muscle cramps.

Research has shown that arame has antiviral properties, too, and even an anti-obesity effect. In a 2010 experiment, researchers discovered that mice on a high-fat diet experienced less weight gain when their food was supplemented with arame powder.

How to prepare

Soak the strands in cold water for five minutes. To make a summer salad, toss them with pasta, sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil.

Dress up any cooked grain with chopped arame. Or add to stir-fried vegetables; arame pairs well with turnip and squash.

Useful resources:

The Irish Seaweed Centre is based in NUI Galway and is a research group investigating all aspects of seaweed from resources and management, through to nutrition, chemistry and environmental studies. For more see,

One of my favourite books on this seaweed is 'The Irish Seaweed Kitchen' by Prannie Rhatigan. A GP by profession, Prannie has been harvesting and cooking with seaweed since a child growing up in the northwest of Ireland.

This is my go-to book on sea vegetables as it contains more than 100 recipes, nutritional information and advice on foraging along the shoreline. See

John and Sally McKenna are also experts on Irish seaweed, foraging and cooking with seaweed. Members of Slow Food, they promote food education and producing, harvesting and utilising food in a sustainable way. Their website is

There are many delicious foods being produced, ranging from seaweed-enriched sausages, flavoured butters, breads and even cakes and desserts.

Seaweed salt is a good choice if you what to add a salty flavour, but use less sodium.

I recommend getting some good-quality dried Irish seaweed and have a go at using it in some simple ways. Sea of Vitality does a good brown bread mix and milled dillisk and ground kelp. See

Seaweed also makes for incredible skin and beauty products. There is a long tradition of having long seaweed baths in spas to detoxify and rejuvenate. I've become a convert to the Voya products from Sligo which have great moisturising and anti-ageing properties.

So you can get younger from the inside by eating seaweed and look after the aesthetics from the outside!

Recipes taken from Delish and Relish cookbooks. To book a place on a healthy cooking course, log onto

Twitter: @RozanneStevens

Superfood slaw

Serves 8 as a side dish

When I first moved to Ireland I was baffled and slightly horrified by the coleslaw/ham and coleslaw/cheese combo. In South Africa I'd only ever had coleslaw as a salad with a 'braai' (BBQ).

Now I secretly enjoy this mayonnaisey concoction on a crusty roll! A real superfood, cabbage is such an integral part of Irish cuisine that I decided to give coleslaw the -ish makeover.

Use red cabbage, add another Irish superfood – seaweed – and lots super seeds and sprouted seeds and you have a super slaw.

The dressing in this recipe is a lighter, zingier alternative to plain mayonnaise.


* small red cabbage, finely sliced; a mandolin or food processor attachment is the best

* 3 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely grated

* 1 apple, sliced

* red onion, finely chopped

* 4tbls dried cranberries

* 2tbls sunflower seeds

* 2tbls pumpkin seeds

* 2tbls dulse seaweed or 'seaweed salad' mix from a health shop

* 100g alfalfa sprouts or pea shoots


* tub creme fraiche

* 3tbls apple cider vinegar

* 1tbls sunflower oil

* 2tsp agavé syrup or honey



* Mix the dressing by dissolving the agavé syrup in the vinegar first. Then whisk in the sunflower oil and creme fraiche. If you like your dressing a little tarter, add more vinegar.

* Soak the seaweed in boiling water for 20 minutes if required, depending on the variety you're using.

* Lightly toast the sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds in a clean, dry pan for extra flavour, allow to cool. This is optional but adds a toasty element.

* Mix together all the prepared vegetables, seaweed, dried fruit and seeds.

* Add the dressing and mix well.

* Scatter over the alfalfa shoots for added crunch and colour.

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