We are often asked, ”What’s the best seaweed to buy?” Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question as each person is unique and there are literally thousands of seaweeds on offer! However, when we “eat the seaweed rainbow”, we are more likely to enjoy a wider range of benefits and flavours that this incredible superfood group has to offer!
“Eat the rainbow”, or “eat your colours”, doesn’t just apply to the broccoli, pumpkin, capsicum and beetroot lining the produce aisles of your local supermarket – it also applies to sea vegetables!
Vegetables from the Sea
When choosing which seaweed to buy, it helps to think of seaweeds as vegetables – but harvested from the sea rather than grown on land. Like land vegetables, seaweeds offer a wide range of colours, textures & flavours, and the variation between each can be surprisingly wide, and the nutrients offered by each species of seaweed differ, just as they do for land vegetables. We encourage eating the seaweed rainbow for this reason!
Three Seaweed Colour Groups – All Photosynthesizing Powerhouses!
Each of the classifications has its own unique profile, active ingredients and benefits, but seaweeds from the same groups do share some common traits. Since all seaweeds contain chlorophyll, this means that they photosynthesize, using the sun’s energy to create nutrients from carbon dioxide and water, then releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. Depending on how deep they grow in the water, the colour of a seaweed or sea vegetable can vary.
We’ll dive into each of these colours below so you can learn more about how and why to add them into your diet.
Generally speaking, green seaweeds are found in shallower water or near the surface, browns thrive in the subtidal areas, about 1-2 meters below the surface where red and orange wavelengths of sunlight are absorbed and reds grow in deeper water (up to about 100 meters because blue and violet wavelengths are able to penetrate deeper depths).
The third and final major colour classification for sea vegetables is the green seaweed group. The sea vegetables in this group grow closest to the shore and are most closely related to land plants. Green seaweeds tent to be noticed because of their vibrant colours (various greens and yellows) but are fewer in number than the red or brown seaweeds, with approximately 140 species in New Zealand waters. Sea lettuce is a popular edible example of a green seaweed.
Green seaweeds are considered the ‘emeralds of the sea’, containing a treasure trove of minerals and trace elements – in fact, they contain many more times the amount found in land-grown vegetables! Green seaweeds provide significant amounts of digestible vegetable protein (up to 70%) and are an important source of calcium, iron, enzymes and antioxidants, as well as being a top source of chlorophyll, iron, fibre and vitamins A, B and C.
Health benefits of green seaweeds includes:
- improving digestion
- reducing sugar absorption
- balancing blood PH
- boosting immunity – antiviral against influenza
- soothing (use on burns, cuts and sores as a compress or poultice)
- toning, hydrating and nourishing for the skin
- clearing of intestinal worms
Known for their rich iodine content, an important mineral that we have to take in via our food as our bodies can’t produce it by themselves, brown seaweeds include the largest sea plants, some of which form large underwater forests. Examples of brown seaweeds are kelp, kombu, wakame and sea spaghetti, all of which can we used in a wide variety of ways in the kitchen.
Although grouped as ‘brown’, the colour of a sea vegetable may vary from khaki or dark green, to brown or black-brown, all the way through to orange and even gold. In addition to their high iodine content, brown seaweeds also contain other unique substances that are being researched for their beneficial impact on degenerative diseases for example:
- alginates (detox radiations and heavy metals)
- fucoidan (cancer & infections)
- laminarin (cardiovascular health)
- lignans (oestrogen-related illnesses)
An amazing feature of brown seaweeds is that they naturally contain a high concentration of minerals and trace elements, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc, as well as omega 3 and 6 fatty acids in a favourable ratio of 1:2 – it’s crucial for our health that we consume more omega 3 than omega 6 fats to keep the balance in check.
Health benefits of brown seaweeds include:
- nourishing the thyroid gland and brain
- balancing hormones
- improving metabolism & facilitating weight loss
- detoxing environmental toxins from the body
- inhibiting cancer cell growth
- facilitating bone & joint health
The second colour classification for sea vegetables is red seaweeds. These are regarded as being the oldest and largest group of macroalgae with over 6,000 species worldwide (roughly 570 species of which are found along the New Zealand coast). Examples of red seaweeds are Agar, Dulse, Nori (Karengo), Sea Chicory and Irish Moss.
The distinctive colour pigments of red sea vegetables or seaweeds allow them to survive at great depths underwater. As with other sea vegetables, those within the red group vary greatly in size, shape and ecosystem, and, despite their name, their colour ranges from red and pink through to crimson, purple and orange.
Red seaweeds are equally an excellent source of minerals, carbohydrates, antioxidants, enzymes and are generally very high in dietary fibre, as well as being rich in carrageenan and having a positive potassium/sodium balance for optimal health. Not only this, but red seaweeds are an excellent vegetarian source of high quality, complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids the diet requires. Red seaweeds are a good source of iodine which maintains healthy thyroid function. They are also a source of heme iron (a form of iron that can actually prevent iron-deficiency anemia). These amazing nutritional benefits are especially helpful if you are following a vegan, vegetarian or plant-based lifestyle.
The broad health benefits of red seaweeds include:
- strengthening the immune system and boosting minerals
- promoting cardiovascular health & regulating cholesterol
- nourishing the nervous system – improving resistance to stress
- relieving congestion in colds and flu
- reducing inflammation – they are naturally anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-biotic, anti-septic and anti-fungal
- soothing the skin and the digestive tract
Seaweed Blends to Eat the Seaweed Rainbow!
At Pacific Harvest, we offer sea vegetables from each of the three colour classifications for a balanced diet! We have blended some seaweeds to combine all three seaweeds in one product – the power of three seaweed flakes and our furikake inspired seaweed and sesame range are great products to consider if you want to easily eat the seaweed rainbow!
Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and should be verified by a qualified health practitioner for specific & individual needs & requirements.