And what is this superfood stuff anyway?
Well, simply put, some types of seaweed can contain over 50 different important vitamins, minerals and trace elements. It is a more complex and nutritious food than land plants even.
We know many nutrients need each other to be optimal, and seaweed contains just that! Seaweed is comprised of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, and many other necessary nutrients to human processes.
Does it sound like a superfood yet?
That is because that is precisely what superfoods are. Superfoods are foods — mostly plant-based, but also some fish and dairy— thought to be nutritionally dense – and thus good for one’s health.
Edible seaweeds have been shown to be high in essential vitamins and minerals, at levels that would skyrocket a balanced diet if consumed regularly.
Specifically, trace elements and minerals are abundant in seaweeds compared to terrestrial foodstuffs, and their non-animal nature lends them to use in many food products for wide consumption (MacArtain, et al. 2007).
Seaweeds have been increasingly viewed as potential sources of bioactive compounds with immense pharmaceutical, biomedical and nutraceutical importance. That means seaweeds are more popular now due to their great potential as health and food supplements.
The chemical composition of seaweeds is not as well-known as plants, but we know it to be rich in nutritional elements such as carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. It also has more complex compounds used for specific bodily tasks such as polyphenols, terpenoids, carotenoids and tocopherols, all of which have names that honor the part about them being complex.
Of course, the content of these elements varies depending on season, age, area of production and environment of the seaweed. But a well-grown alga with a good environment may have some of the greatest potentials offered in foods.
Another characteristic that makes them super is that, from a nutritional perspective, seaweeds are also low in calories.
The lipids they have are present in very small amounts and are unsaturated, providing protection against cardiovascular disease.
Even though their carbohydrate content is high, most carbohydrates in seaweed are dietary fibers that are not taken up by the human body. They are good for human health because they make an excellent intestinal environment (Admassu, et al., 2015), e.g. they help you go to the bathroom.
In the last few decades, pharmacologically active metabolites have been increasingly discovered in seaweeds. These metabolites, with their long names and all, can be used against several diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and infections.
Seaweeds, or marine algae, have actually been used for decades in medicine – and pharmacy, too. (No, we do not forget about you, our cute pharmaceutical folks!)
Seaweeds have been reported to have many important compounds that act as antibiotics, laxatives, anticoagulants, anti-tumor, anti-ulcer products and suspending agents in radiological preparations.
Their fibers perform an extremely varied range of anti-mutagenic functions, and they also play an important role in the modification of lipid metabolisms in the human body, which is exactly as important as it sounds.
More and more chemists and biologists are paying attention to the different bits that compose algae. If their natural products are explored, they may lead to the discovery of new drug molecules against several pathogens that cause infectious diseases.
For example, two Japanese surgeons used a new technique of mixing seaweed compounds with water to substitute whole blood in transfusion.
It turns out that these compounds, simply mixed with water, are very similar to human plasma, and this has, following the Japanese experiment, been confirmed by worldwide research. The experiment was of course absolutely successful in over 100 other operations.
A high intake of calcium, potassium and sodium are associated with lower pressures and lesser risks of hypertension. All of them are contained in high proportions in (you guessed it!) algae.
We can then consider seaweeds as superfood by their high level of nutrients and their health benefits over and above normal nutrition.
However, keep in mind that functional foods, medical foods and dietary supplements are not synonyms.
What happens is that functional foods, like algae, may overlap with those foods developed for special dietary uses and fortified foods (in other words, them supplements wish they were functional foods).
As long as the demand for bioactive ingredients keeps on the rise, the global market for foods proven to help with or prevent certain health conditions will grow.
Over the last decade, there has been significant research and development in these areas. The result has been new materials, processes, ingredients and products that can contribute to the development of functional foods for improving the health of the general population.
Ultimately, seaweeds have been increasingly viewed as potential sources of bioactive compounds with immense pharmaceutical, biomedical and nutraceutical importance. Seaweeds rock!
REFERENCES Admassu, H., Zhao, W., Yang, R., Gasmalla, M. A., & Alsir, E. (2015). Development Of Functional Foods: Sea Weeds (Algae) Untouched Potential And Alternative Resource-A Review. International Journal of scientific & Technology research, 4(9), 108-115. MacArtain, P., Gill, C. I., Brooks, M., Campbell, R., & Rowland, I. R. (2007). Nutritional value of edible seaweeds. Nutrition reviews, 65(12), 535-543. Rajapakse, N., & Kim, S. K. (2011). Nutritional and digestive health benefits of seaweed. In Advances in food and nutrition research (Vol. 64, pp. 17-28). Academic Press. Watanabe, F, Takenaka, S, Katsura H, Zakir Hussain Masumder, SAM, Abe, K, Tamura Y, Nakano Y 1999. Dried green and purple lavers (Nori) contain substantial amounts of biologically active vitamin B12 but less of dietary iodine relative to other edible seaweeds. J. Agric. Food Chem. 47 : 2341-2343. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Vitamin%20B12-HealthProfessional/#h7 https://www.livescience.com/34693-superfoods.html