Why Eat Wakame? Well, as a start, wakame is a marvellously flavourful sea vegetable with a soft subtle flavour, but perhaps more importantly, it has bona fide ‘superfood’ status due to it’s mineral and nutrient content. As one of the most well known varieties of edible seaweed, Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) offers many nutritional benefits, and can be used in a wide variety of ways in cooking.
What is wakame?
Wakame is a brown seaweed that grows, wild or is farmed, mostly on rocky shores and bays in the temperate zones of Japan, Korea and China. Over the years, it has been spread, likely via ship ballast water, across the globe, including to New Zealand and Australia. Whilst it has been described by the Global Invasive Species Database as being among the 100 of the world’s most invasive species, wakame makes for a highly sustainable and densely nutritious sea vegetable, which when added to add to your regular diet can deliver positive health benefits.
Eat Wakame for health and wellness
Wakame’s health and wellness properties stem from its high concentration in essential nutrients, and the presence of unique compounds which support the cardiovascular system, maintain hormonal balance, strengthen bones, improve circulation and promote skin health.
While all seaweeds contain a rich variety of minerals and vitamins, the ratios of each differ between them. Wakame’s nutritional strength comes from its abundant calcium, magnesium, manganese and iodine stores – all essential minerals to support optimum wellbeing so we can feel our best every day. In addition, wakame contains essential vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as riboflavin (B2) and folate (B12) in a plant-based, sustainable form, while at the same time delivering all of this goodness in a very low-calorie, low-fat, low-cholesterol package.
Some ‘Eat’ Wakame as a Medicine
Throughout Asia, especially Japan and Korea, the nutritional value of wakame has been widely acknowledged and utilised for centuries, by adopting a ‘food as medicine’ philosophy. Wakame has historically been, and still is today, used for blood purification, intestinal strength, skin and hair health, supporting healthy function of the reproductive organs and promoting menstrual regularity, as well as being given to those who are recovering from disease to support their journey back to health.
In Korea, wakame soup (miyeokguk) is popularly consumed by women after giving birth because wakame seaweed leaves contain high levels of calcium and iodine, nutrients that are important for nursing mothers who can end up depleted if they do not consume enough through their diet. Many Korean women consume wakame during pregnancy as well, to support their baby’s healthy development. Wakame has cultural importance for its health-giving properties, and is traditionally eaten on birthdays as a reminder of the first food that the mother has eaten, and passed on to her newborn through her milk, thus bringing good fortune for the rest of the year.
Health benefits from Eating Wakame Seaweed
Wakame offers many unique therapeutic properties and health benefits, including:
- Bio-available iodine: seaweeds offer the best source of iodine available in nature, and it is important that we consume iodine through our diet as our bodies can’t synthesise it. Brown seaweeds, like Wakame, tend to offer the highest concentration of iodine which is essential for optimal health. Iodine helps to regulate the thyroid, supporting our metabolism. Studies have indicated that iodine can restrict or reverse breast tumors, which may help to explain why breast cancer rates are so low in Japanese female populations who consume large quantities of seaweed in their diet, relative to other cultures.
- Calcium and magnesium: 100 grams of wakame seaweed can contain approximately 15 milligrams of calcium, about 15% of our recommended daily intake (RDI), while the same amount of wakame contains about 107 milligrams of magnesium, which is roughly 25% of our RDI. Calcium strengthens our bones and teeth and magnesium is required for the healthy functioning of the nervous system, as well as helping the body to absorb calcium.
- Omega-3 (EPA): just as fish contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids from the algae they consume, humans can get their omega-3 intake straight from the source by consuming wakame. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that is not made by the human body, so we must consume it in our diet to support our metabolism. This vital nutrient protects us from several health conditions, including anxiety, depression, memory issues related to aging as well as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Iron and protein: wakame has an especially high iron and protein content compared with other seaweeds, even though all varieties ate a rich source of both nutrients.
- Plant-based folate and B12: wakame can be a rich source of these essential vitamins, which are necessary for copying and synthesizing DNA, producing new cells and supporting nerve and immune function. Folate is one of the most critical vitamins or a healthy pregnancy, and a folate deficiency is highly risky for pregnant women as it may lead to developmental issues for the foetus. For vegans and vegetarians, wakame can provide a source of B12 which is hard to find in other plants and typically needs to be supplemented.
- Hormone balance: the iodine, manganese, iron and calcium found in wakame are key minerals that help to balance hormones naturally. Manganese and calcium help to improve symptoms of PMS, as evidenced by a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology which found that women who have lower levels of manganese in their blood experienced more pain and mood-related symptoms during PMS and menstruation.
- Cancer – as with most brown seaweeds, wakame offers a good supply of lignans, which are believed to have an important function in protecting against estrogen-related cancer, especially breast cancer. The findings of a 2005 study published in the journal Cancer Science showed wakame seaweed to be effective in suppressing breast tumour growth in rats, along with a 2004 study which suggested that the fucoxanthin found in wakame may act as a chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic compound in colon cancer cells
- Obesity – wakame contains elements which have been shown to have fat-burning properties. Scientists at the Hokkaido University in Japan carried out a study in which it was discovered that fucoxanthin (a pigment that facilitates photosynthesis, responsible for wakame’s typical brown colour) had the potential to reduce fat deposits in rats. Fucoxanthin fights fat in two ways: It encourages the action of protein that causes fat oxidation which is found in the type of fat that surrounds organs, and it promotes DHA production in the liver, which helps to decrease bad cholesterol or LDL. Fucoxanthin also reduced abdominal white adipose tissue weights of rats and mice which is accountable for heart health issues as well as obesity.
- Diabetes – wakame contains an important nutrient, fucoxanthin, which exerts an anti-diabetic effect. A 2009 study conducted in Japan examined the anti-obesity and anti-diabetic effects of fucoxanthin-rich wakame lipids on obese mice. Before the wakame treatment, the mice showed signs of hyperglycaemia, hyperinsulinemia and hyperleptinemia. Adding wakame to the mice’s diet improved their symptoms and minimised their conditions, leading researchers to conclude that wakame can assist in preventing and reversing diabetes, weight management for obesity and other related disorders by reversing insulin resistance.
- Reduces blood pressure and cholesterol – studies have analysed the positive effect of consumption of wakame on reducing hypertension and lowering cholesterol by altering the activities of enzymes involved in fatty acid metabolism in the liver.
Pacific Harvest offers a range of amazing wakame products, including the farmed wakame and wild harvested wakame. Both are excellent choices to support optimum wellness – not mention it is a delicious way to boost your health! Check out these wakame products, as well as our tips on how to get the most of our your wakame with recipe inspiration ranging from wakame potato cakes to miso soup!
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 may not include the latest research. We encourage you to do your own research and discuss your findings with a qualified health practitioner who can help you validate the outcomes in the context of your specific & individual health situation.