Nori seaweed is made from red algae and is often sold in dried nori sheets used for rolling sushi. These seaweed sheets come with an impressive list of health benefits, and we have the scientifically backed details here.
Different Types of Edible Seaweed
Before we get into the nitty gritty of nori, here's a quick rundown of the different types of edible seaweed you may find on grocery store shelves, in Asian dishes, or as part of many nutritional supplements.
- Nori: Derived from red algae, nori is pressed into paper-like dried seaweed sheets for sushi rolls and other Japanese dishes. The toasting that makes these sheets crispy also turns red algae into dark green sheets of nori.
- Dulse: Another red algae derivative that has a chewier and softer texture, dulse is often added as flakes to flavor a dish or is consumed as a dried snack.
- Kelp: This brown algae can serve as a gluten-free noodle alternative and is also found in dried sheets that are added to food by shredding them over the dish.
- Chlorella: A green freshwater algae, chlorella is usually purchased in powdered form and used as a nutritional supplement.
- Spirulina: A blue-green algae valued for its profound nutrient content, spirulina has more protein per serving than even animal foods and is an ideal ingredient for green smoothies.
- Sea lettuce: This so-called lettuce is a different type of green nori that resembles lettuce leaves and is often consumed uncooked in salads.
- Kombu: A form of kelp with a strong, distinct flavor, kombu is often used for making soup stock or for pickling.
- Arame: This is another variety of kelp, but with a sweeter, milder flavor and a firmer texture. Arame is used in a wide variety of dishes including baked foods (like stuffed mushroom caps).
- Wakame: This form of brown algae is commonly found in seaweed salads, but can also be included in hot dishes like soups and stews.
- Carrageenan and agar: These are jelly-like algae derivatives made to serve as plant-based thickening agents in vegan and vegetarian cooking or as binding agents in gluten-free baking.
The Top 5 Health Benefits of Nori Seaweed
Whether you're munching on a toasted sheet of nori as a snack (known as yaki-nori in Japanese), dipping your onigiri (rice balls wrapped in nori) into some soy sauce, enjoying a bowl of Korean bibimbap, or sprinkling furikake seasoning (which contains chopped, roasted seaweed) on anything, sea vegetables like seaweed add flavor and texture to your recipes, but also enough nutrients to be considered superfoods. Here are the amazing health benefits you can expect from nori seaweed.
1. Fiber for Gut Health
The balance of good vs. bad bacteria in your gut could be the difference between a strong immune system and chronic sickness. As the frontline of your immune defense, a robust battalion of gut bacteria can stop viruses from taking hold, prevent nutrient deficiencies before they happen, and keep your digestive tract running smoothly and comfortably. Prebiotic fiber feeds your good gut bacteria, strengthening them for this fight.
Dried seaweed can be anywhere from 25% to 75% pure fiber. That's more dietary fiber than just about any fruit or vegetable found on land. While that number varies between seaweed types and is dependent on processing (toasted nori has less fiber than fresh red algae, for example), all edible seaweeds have the potential to produce a beneficial effect on your gut function and microbiota.
2. Iodine for Thyroid Strength
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your throat. It regulates your metabolism and the hormones needed for energy production, fertility and reproduction, and cell repair and growth. The thyroid requires iodine to create these hormones, and seaweeds, including nori, are rich in iodine.
The daily recommended intake of iodine is 150 micrograms per day for adults (more for pregnant or nursing women). It's so important that table salt is often iodized to make sure we get enough and to prevent goiter (which is an enlarged thyroid).
Seaweeds absorb iodine from the oceans and seas they grow in. The average gram of nori contains 37 micrograms (25% of the RDI) of iodine, a gram of wakame has 139 micrograms (93% of the RDI), and kombu a staggering 2523 micrograms (1,682% of the RDI).
3. Aminos and Omegas for Vegans and Vegetarians
Nori is full of minerals like zinc, potassium, manganese, iron, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and more calcium than milk. Additionally, nori is rich in vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D (needed for calcium absorption), vitamin E, and vitamin K (just like other dark green leafy vegetables).
Aside from vitamins and minerals, seaweeds like nori contain plant protein (some more than others, like chlorella and spirulina which contain all nine of the essential amino acids), an important nutrient for those who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. The same goes for the omega-3 fatty acid content of seaweed: while pescatarians can get omega-3s from eating fatty fish like salmon or anchovies, vegans need to rely on plant sources for their essential fatty acids.
4. Compounds for Heart Health
Year after year, heart disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide. Lifestyle factors like obesity and smoking contribute to this epidemic, but there are also environmental and genetic factors that can cause high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
One animal study showed that dried seaweed lowered cholesterol levels by 36% in rats fed a high-fat diet. Triglyceride levels decreased by 31% and total cholesterol levels by 40%.
5. Antioxidants for Anti-Inflammatory Support
Seaweeds like sushi nori are full of antioxidants that can help guard against oxidative stress and fight free radicals in the body. Along with vitamins like A, C, and E that have antioxidant properties, red, green, and especially brown seaweeds contain carotenoids and flavonoids that have been proven to help guard human cells against free radical damage.
Edible seaweed is becoming more and more popular worldwide, not just for the taste it adds to dishes, but for its nutrient content as well. With vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for anti-inflammatory support, iodine for thyroid function, and fiber for digestion, seaweeds of every color are superfoods we can all enjoy.