Also known as seaweed, sea vegetables resemble plants but are actually varieties of algae that grow in the ocean as well as fresh water. The most popular are kelp, nori, dulse, wakame, kombu and hijiki.
Sea vegetables are usually found in health food stores, although some mainstream grocery stores carry them as well. I’ve recently started adding sea vegetables to my green smoothies because they have some great health benefits.
Sea Vegetable Nutrition and Health Benefits
Sea vegetables are a good source of minerals and trace minerals. They also contain good levels of magnesium, potassium, folate, vitamin K, calcium and iron as well as protein. They are especially rich in iodine which is crucial for a healthy metabolism and thyroid function. Just one teaspoon of dulse flakes contains over 100% of your daily value of iodine! Kelp is also rich in iodine with one serving having well over 100% DV.
Many sea vegetables contain vitamin B12, however, most experts agree that the vitamin B12 present isn’t available to humans because it is in an analogue form. Therefore, vegans should not assume they are getting enough vitamin B12 from algae and sea vegetables.
How To Use Sea Vegetables In Green Smoothies
Kelp powder and dulse flakes are the easiest of the sea vegetables to use in a green smoothie. Simply add a half to a full teaspoon to your smoothie and blend. Since most seaweeds have a somewhat salty, “ocean” flavor, you don’t want to add too much. However, a teaspoon or so doesn’t negatively impact the flavor of a fruit smoothie at all. I actually really like it. It cuts the overall sweetness of the fruit without asserting any sort of saltiness or “marine” flavor. It won’t make your smoothie taste “fishy” as long as you don’t add several heaping tablespoons of the stuff!
Other sea vegetables are available as dried whole leaves or strands and if you have a high speed blender like the Vita-Mix, you can probably add a piece and blend. Otherwise, it’s probably best to soak in water for a bit to soften up and then add them to your green smoothie.
Re-hydrated kelp is delicious and not salty. Add a few strands and blend up in any smoothie recipe and feel free to combine with other leafy greens. Nori sheets (the ones typically used for making sushi rolls) are not the most nutritionally-rich choice, so I don’t use them in smoothies.
You can add sea vegetables to just about any green smoothie recipe. I added a teaspoon of dulse flakes to a green smoothie that had 3 bananas, 1 mango, 4 strawberries and one head of romaine lettuce. The smoothie was delicious and did not taste like the ocean at all.
How To Select and Store Sea Vegetables
Sea vegetables can be found at most health food stores, Asian markets and in some regular supermarkets. You will most often find them in the “International” section with Asian foods like noodles and tofu. They come dried and pre-packaged. Most need to be soaked before consuming, although you can eat most of them as-is.
Dulse also comes in dried flakes which makes it easy to sprinkle. Kelp comes in powdered form which is convenient for adding to smoothies, but I prefer whole kelp to powder for overall freshness and potency of nutrients.
It is vitally important to choose organic sea vegetables whenever possible. The reason for this is that seaweeds have a great ability to absorb minerals from the water around them. Unfortunately, they also absorb all the bad stuff in the water around them too including heavy metals (mercury, arsenic) and other contaminants. Certified organic sea vegetables should be tested for heavy metals, fuel oil residues, PCBs, pesticides, herbicides and bacterial contaminants.
When selecting sea vegetables, choose organic and check the packaging to see that the company tests for contaminants. Also, look for brands that dry using low temperatures. Choose untoasted over toasted whenever possible to preserve any nutrients that might be affected by exposure to heat or cooking.
Store sea vegetables in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.
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Tracy Russell is the creator of the Green Smoothie Weight Loss Program, the 30-Day Whole Foods Challenge and founder of Incredible Smoothies. She is passionate about helping people improve their health with green smoothies and a whole foods lifestyle.