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Health Benefits of Sea Cucumber

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 18, 2020

Despite what the name suggests, sea cucumbers are not vegetables. They’re a tube-shaped sea creature that has been an important part of Chinese cuisine for centuries. In fact, it has been referenced since the Ming dynasty. Today, this little animal is seeing a renaissance in restaurants around the world.

Sea cucumbers are more than just historical; they’re also healthy. High in protein, they’re a great alternative to red meat. These slippery sea creatures offer an array of health benefits for those who are brave enough to try them.

Health Benefits

Sea cucumbers possess vital vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that provide important health benefits. For example, they contain riboflavin, which is an essential vitamin for your body’s energy production and metabolism. Riboflavin also helps process other nutrients and medications in the body, making it a critical component of your diet.

Sea cucumbers are also a good source of magnesium, which helps your heart beat and bones grow while contributing to the production of healthy DNA.

In addition, sea cucumbers can provide other health benefits like:

Heart Health

Regularly eating sea cucumber may help you improve aspects of your heart health, such as a  reduction in cholesterol levels. Studies also suggest that sea cucumber may help reduce blood pressure levels. It’s important to note that these studies were conducted on rodents, and the effects on humans may differ. Furthermore, sea cucumbers contain low levels of fat, making them an excellent source of lean protein, which the American Heart Association suggests is important for heart health.

Liver Health

Your liver is a critical part of keeping your blood and digestive system healthy. Early research suggests that consuming sea cucumber may help reduce your risk of liver damage. A study found that sea cucumber reduced oxidative stress in rats. In humans, lowering oxidative stress reduces the risk of health problems such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Reduced Risk of Cancer

Sea cucumbers are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols (micronutrients from plant-based foods), which have been linked to a reduction inflammation in the body. This is connected to a lower risk of chronic diseases. In fact, inflammation is linked to a higher risk of cancer, and therefore, consuming dietary polyphenols can help reduce your risk of cancer. 

Nutrition

Sea cucumber is an excellent source of niacin, which is an essential nutrient; however, it’s not easily produced on its own within the body.  Consuming enough niacin helps your body process food into energy and keeps your skin healthy while preventing conditions like pellagra — a disease characterized by diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia that can be fatal if left untreated.

Additionally, sea cucumbers are an excellent source of:

Nutrients per Serving

A 100 gram serving of sea cucumber contains:

Things to Watch Out For

Different species of sea cucumber may have varying effects on the body when consumed. Many species have minor blood-thinning properties. While this will not affect most people, anyone on Warfarin or other blood-thinning medications should avoid eating large amounts of sea cucumber. 

Another important thing to watch for is shellfish allergies. While sea cucumbers are not shellfish, they are often processed alongside shellfish and could trigger a similar allergic reaction. 

How to Eat Sea Cucumber

Sea cucumbers can be found year-round in specialty grocery stores such as Asian supermarkets. Fresh sea cucumbers are most easily found along coastal regions; however, dried sea cucumbers can be found throughout the country.

Sea cucumbers are best prepared by soaking them in water before cooking them. You should soak the sea cucumber for at least two days, changing the water at least once a day. Once the sea cucumber has softened in the water, season it, then add oil. 

After the sea cucumber has soaked, boil it for half an hour. Next, clean it, being sure to remove its internal organs. Once these steps are complete, slice the sea cucumber and pair it with other, strongly-flavored foods such as winter melon, shiitake mushrooms, and Chinese cabbage. 

Here are some ways you can include sea cucumber in your diet:

  • Braised sea cucumber
  • Add sea cucumber to stir fry
  • Make sweet and sour sea cucumber
  • Try sea cucumber sorbet
  • Make sea cucumber congee (a porridge made from rice)

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: “Protein and Heart Health.”

BioMedical Research International: “Protective and Curative Effects of the Sea Cucumber Holothuria atra Extract against DMBA-Induced Hepatorenal Diseases in Rats.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

Food Allergy Research and Education: “Shellfish Allergy.”

Food Chemistry: “Quantification of phenolic contents and antioxidant capacity of Atlantic sea cucumber, Cucumaria frondosa.”

FoodData Central: “Sea cucumber, yane (Alaskan Native).”

Marine Drugs: “Angiotensin-I Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitory and Anti-Hypertensive Effect of Protein Hydrolysate from Actinopyga lecanora (Sea Cucumber) in Rats.”

Marine Drugs: “Structural Analysis and Anticoagulant Activities of the Novel Sulfated Fucan Possessing a Regular Well-Defined Repeating Unit from Sea Cucumber.”

Michelin Guide: “All About Sea Cucumbers.”

National Institutes of Health: “Magnesium.”

National Institutes of Health: “Niacin.”

National Institutes of Health: “Riboflavin.”

Nutrition and Cancer: “Dietary polyphenols, inflammation, and cancer.”

Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: “Oxidative Stress: Harms and Benefits for Human Health”

PLoS One: “Diets containing sea cucumber (Isostichopus badionotus) meals are hypocholesterolemic in young rats.”

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