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Wakame: The Sea Vegetable You Should Be Eating

February 18, 2014

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Wakame, the greenish sea vegetable served with many Japanese dishes, is making waves beyond the miso soup bowl as a superfood packed with powerful antioxidants and essential nutrients. This seaweed from the brown macro-algae family is an important component of the Japanese-influenced macrobiotic diet and is beloved in Asian cuisine for its cooling nature and its sweet, slightly salty flavor. From wakame pasta to seaweed tea, this marine treasure is a nutrient powerhouse in any form, boasting high protein and calcium content, plus plenty of anti-inflammatory and healing properties to boot.

Wakame is used in Eastern medicine for detoxifying the blood, easing digestive distress, and improving reproductive health, and has been found to reduce the size of tumors and goiters. Wakame has also been touted for its anti-aging properties and ability to energize and rehydrate skin and hair. Because of this, you’ll find it listed as an ingredient in some beauty products, though you can get the same benefits by eating it.

Throughout Japan, China, and Korea, wakame grows in large brown seaweed forests that use green, eco-sustainable techniques. In this pesticide- and fertilizer-free environment, the ocean plants literally drink up nutrients from the cold sea to survive. Even so, it’s still important to go organic with your sea veggies, due to potential exposure to hard metals and water pollutants.

Wakame’s kin include alaria, arame, kelp, kombu, sea palm, and hijiki, all of which get their color from carotenoid pigments, powerful immunity-boosting and disease-fighting antioxidants. These brown algae also produce a unique starch called laminarin, a carbohydrate that may quell inflammation and rev up immune system functioning. But wakame may be the star of the bunch. Here’s the full list of health perks that crown wakame as the ultimate superfood of the sea: 

Antioxidant-rich: Wakame contains the compound fucoxanthins, a metabolism-supportive chemical that assists your body in weight loss, as the antioxidant activity of the enzymes helps break down fat. It also contains lignans, a plant-based antioxidant that’s been used in cancer treatments to combat tumor and cancer cell growth.

Cancer-fighting:  Beyond the lignan content, wakame and similar marine plants are high in iodine and selenium, two nutrients that may lower breast cancer risk, according to a recent study of Japanese women with seaweed-rich diets. The iodine seems to trigger apoptosis, or cellular suicide, in the breast cancer cells.

Protein-packed: Wakame is a high-quality protein full of essential amino acids, such as alanine and glycine. It also contains the cardio-protective amino acid laminine, which works against artery calcification and high blood pressure to make wakame a heart-healthy pick. 

Nutrient-dense: Fuel up on fiber, bone-strengthening calcium, and energizing iron with wakame, since it’s full of these potent nutrients. It’s also a great source of magnesium, a digestive-friendly mineral that may relieve bloating. It contains valuable vitamins, from A to D, including vitamin B-12, making wakame a great pick for vegans and vegetarians.

Fatty Acids: Wakame contains the highest content of omega-3 fatty acids compared to all other seaweeds. It also contains the fatty fish acid eicosapentaenoic (EPA), which has been found to lower body inflammation and boost brain functioning, and may lower your risk of depression and heart disease.

Whether you scoop some seaweed powder into your smoothie, pickle it, or garnish your salad with some dried shreds of wakame, you’re wise to add this sea vegetable into your diet. It’s an easy, healthy addition to your weekly grocery list, and cooks up quickly in soups, rice bowls, and stews.

Have you ever tried wakame or other sea veggies such as nori, dulse, kelp, agar agar, carrageen (Irish moss), sea lettuce, sea palm, or sea beans? What’s your favorite?