Kelp, a kind of sea weed is a highly nutritious food that has been consumed for several years in the eastern parts of world like Japan and China. However, recently the popularity of this sea vegetable has increased so much that it has made its way as a food item as well as a major food supplement in other parts of the world. It has been found that there are about 30 different kinds of kelp available. They have no stems, roots, or flowers but have thin leaf like blades that are packed with nutrients. There are mostly two types of kelp that are popularly used – Kombu and Arame. Both of these are widely used in Japanese cuisine to make soups, salads etc.
Processing of kelp
Nowadays, Kelp used for medicinal purposes is grown in kelp farms. The natural balance and environment of the sea is maintained in these farms. Proper maintenance of the balance ensures that the kelp you obtain is free from contaminants and is high in nutritional value. After harvesting, the sea weed is cut into small pieces, dried, and is then ground into a fine powder. This powder is then converted into tablets or capsules. You can also obtain kelp in the dried form that can be used in cooking. Powdered kelp is often used as a substitute for salt.
Nutritional value of kelp
Since kelp grows in sea water, it offers all the nutrients that the ocean holds. Most of these nutrients are essential for the growth and development of the human body. Kelp is found to contain around 70 minerals, 21 amino acids, trace elements, enzymes, calcium, iodine, iron, potassium and magnesium. The iodine content in kelp is very high, and this helps in the normal functioning of the thyroid gland. Kelp is also low in calories. 100 grams of kelp provides only 43 calories. It is also a good source of carbohydrates, protein and fiber. It also contains considerable amounts of amino acids like cysteine, isoleucine, tryptophan, methionine, threonine, and valine. Kelp is a rich source of vitamin K, which is very essential for your body. It also contains vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin B9, vitamin C, vitamin E, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, and pantothenic acid.
Health benefits of kelp
Kelp is an excellent source of iodine and various other nutrients. Consumption of kelp is a great way to improve your overall health the natural way.
Kelp for the healthy functioning of thyroid
In order to maintain proper metabolism, it is important that your thyroid gland is healthy and functions normally. An underactive thyroid gland can slow down your metabolism and make you gain weight. By increasing the consumption of iodine, you can normalize the functioning of your thyroid gland. Kelp is a wonderful source of iodine and hence is sometimes used for treating people having thyroid problems. Kelp supplements your body with adequate iodine, thereby improving your thyroid function.
Kelp can boost your energy levels
Kelp, being rich in iodine content stimulates your thyroid and increases your metabolism. This helps in increasing your stamina and energy levels.
Kelp improves immunity
Another important benefit of kelp is that it can significantly boost your immune system. Kelp contains high amounts of iodine and a wide range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are very important for keeping your immune system healthy. A strong immune system helps to fight the disease causing microbes and keep many of the illnesses at bay.
Kelp improves digestion
Kelp is a good source of fiber that helps in easy digestion and in preventing digestive disorders like constipation. It can normalize your bowel movements and can promote the healthy functioning of your digestive system.
Kelp helps in weight loss
Kelp is an ideal food to be included in a weight loss diet. It is low in calories and at the same time rich in nutrients and fiber. The fiber content ensures that you stay full for a long period. So with kelp, not only does your body get the essential nutrients it needs, you also feel satiated. Kelp is also a rich source of iodine, which increases your metabolism, aiding in weight loss.
Kelp is beneficial for your liver
Kelp provides many health benefits to your liver. It is capable of enhancing the smooth functioning of the liver. Kelp also helps to detoxify and cleanse the liver. It also helps in the decongestion of liver. Because of the high levels of iodine in kelp, it is very useful in treating various disorders of the liver.
Kelp fights cancer
Cancer is a killer disease that has victims all over the world. While a lot of research for the prevention and cure of cancer is continuing, researchers have found out that a new component called fucoidan, obtained from sea weeds like kelp has anti-cancer properties. Tests were conducted where the cells of colon cancer and skin cancer were exposed to various fucoidan extracts. The results showed that fucoidan blocked the formation of cancer cell colonies, making it a potent anti-cancer substance.
Kelp lowers cholesterol
Kelp is helpful in increasing the HDL or good cholesterol levels in the blood and lowering the level of LDL or bad cholesterol. This effect is attributed to the large amount of plant sterols (phytosterols) in kelp that helps in slowing down the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine.
Kelp supports your cardiovascular system
Kelp is a rich source of minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium that helps in muscle contraction, vascular permeability and in controlling the blood pressure. Kelp lowers cholesterol, thereby preventing conditions like atherosclerosis and heart attacks.
Kelp prevents hair loss
For healthy hair, your body needs a constant supply of essential vitamins and minerals. Kelp is a storehouse of minerals that can promote beautiful looking healthy hair. It can also help in preventing hair loss. For hair care, kelp is available in the form of diet supplement capsules. It is also an ingredient in many hair care products, shampoos and conditioners.
Kelp can fight acne
Kelp can do wonders to your skin health too. It contains ingredients that regulate the production of oil on your skin. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties help to remove bacteria and inflammation on the skin. Kelp can also be used to exfoliate your skin to remove the dry and dead cells that may block the pores of your skin and cause acne breakouts.
Kelp maintains proper pH balance
Proper pH balance has to be maintained in order for our body to function well. The ideal pH of your body is 7.3 to 7.45, which is slightly alkaline. So when your body becomes acidic, it is important to bring it back to the ideal alkaline level. Daily consumption of kelp can allow your body to maintain its correct pH balance.
Kelp for bone health
The high mineral content in kelp including vital minerals like boron, calcium, copper, zinc, and manganese helps in the growth and strengthening of your bones. By making kelp, a part of your diet, you can prevent the occurrence of conditions like osteoporosis.
Kelp has anti-aging properties
Studies reveal that the iodine content in kelp can get rid of the free radicals that speed up the process of aging.
Side effects of kelp
Most of the side effects of kelp arise due to overconsumption of the sea weed. One of the side effects associated with the consumption of kelp is the intake of too much of iodine. Excess amounts of iodine can cause the thyroid glands to increase the production of thyroid hormones. This may lead to hyperthyroidism leading to symptoms which include palpitations, fatigue, shortness of breath, increased bowel movements, absence of menstrual period, and continuous weight loss. Gastrointestinal problems are another side effect of kelp intake. It may occur in the form of diarrhea, heartburn, and stomach upset. There are also the chances of developing allergic reactions, which include the rapid heartbeat, swollen lips, difficulty in breathing, and itchiness.
Precautions and warnings
People who have high blood pressure should consult their doctor before consuming kelp, since it is high in sodium content. Too much of sodium can raise your blood pressure. It is also not recommended for people who are following a low sodium diet. It is best for pregnant ladies and breast feeding mothers to avoid consuming kelp, as it is found to have an effect on the hormones. Kelp can cause a dangerous increase in the potassium and iodine levels. So avoid kelp if you are having kidney problems. Kelp grown in contaminated waters can contain toxic heavy metals and hence the intake of such contaminated kelp can lead to serious health problems.
Sea weeds like kelp may not have made it to your pantry yet. But it’s high time that you tried these wonderful plants and enjoy the health benefits it offers. Kelp, with all its benefits is an extremely nutritious food that is inexpensive, easily available, and is safe too. Although it has not yet been added to the list of super foods, research suggests that the nutritional value of kelp and its benefits makes it worthy of being called a super food.Image Credits: Wikimedia - Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Flickr - Jim G