By Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN
What It Is
Kelp is a brown seaweed that grows as big as a tree in the ocean. Kelp doesn’t have roots like most plants do, but anchors itself to the ocean floor through a system called a "holdfast." This "sea tree" algae is loaded with nutrition. I’m sold!
The Dirty Deets
Say you add a couple of tablespoons of kelp to your soup, green salad or stir-fry. Those spoonfuls will contribute only four calories -- and no protein, carbs or fat. On the other hand, you will get some calcium, iron, folate and magnesium -- and loads of iodine. It’s worth giving kelp a go.
- Kelp has been linked to many health benefits, including cancer prevention, thyroid regulation and weight management.
- If you have a family history of diabetes, you should know that kelp is rich in a little-known mineral called vanadium, which is being studied as an important regulator of insulin and blood sugar.
- The iodine content can vary in kelp, depending on where it was grown, the water, and other environmental factors. Your thyroid needs iodine to do its job (regulating hormones), but high concentrations can make it malfunction -- so check with your doc before going to town on kelp or other sea veggies.
How To Chow Down
While there are tons of kelp supplements out there, kelp is hard to standardize and the nutrition in supplements may be questionable. Go for the real deal instead. You can find kelp at most health-food markets or the Asian section of your regular grocery store. And look to the Far East for ideas on how to get kelp into your diet!
- If you don't eat gluten or are cutting back on carbs, try kelp noodles instead of your regular pasta. They're raw and work great as a substitute in any regular noodle dish.
- If you can only find dried kelp, reconstitute it with a little water (this doesn’t take long), then drain it and mix it with thinly sliced cucumbers, a splash of sesame oil and yummy Asian vinegar. Sprinkle it with sesame seeds and call it lunch!
- Don’t believe it that you can have yummy kelp in your breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts? Believe it.
In The Know
It’s good to step outside your food-comfort zone. I encourage you to challenge yourself by adding more variety to your everyday fare. In the ocean, everything from small fish to prickly sea urchins to crabs eat kelp. More likely than not, it's finding it’s way into your body already. So trust me on this, and toss some kelp into your cart.