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Wakame Seaweed: The Anti-Cancer and Anti-Diabetic Sea Vegetable

Wakame seaweed (pronounced wah-kah-meh) is a long-standing ingredient in Japanese cuisine. It was even an accepted form of tax payment for thousands of years (along with arame and nori seaweeds). You may recognize it from seaweed salad found at your local sushi restaurant, but it's also often found in miso soup along with miso paste and dashi (stock). Wakame is dense with nutrient content and has been shown to have some amazing health benefits, including in areas as serious as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and breast cancer. We have the scientific evidence below.

Wakame Nutrition 

Seaweeds like wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) are popular medicinals in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. Wakame is a sometimes-green, sometimes-brown seaweed, and has been classically used as an immunomodulator and for thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. 

The health benefits of wakame are linked to its nutritional content (based on 100 grams of uncooked wakame):

  • Calories: 45
  • Carbohydrates: 9.1 grams
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Fat: 0.6 grams
  • Fiber: 0.5 grams
  • Manganese: 1.4 milligrams (70% DV)
  • Folate: 196 micrograms (49% DV)
  • Magnesium: 107 milligrams (27% DV)
  • Calcium: 150 milligrams (15% DV)
  • Copper: 0.3 milligrams (14% DV)
  • Vitamin B2: 0.2 milligrams (14% DV)
  • Iron: 2.2 milligrams (12% DV)
  • Phosphorus: 80 milligrams (8% DV)
  • Vitamin B3: 1.6 milligrams (8% DV)
  • Vitamin A: 360 international units (7% DV)
  • Vitamin K: 5.3 micrograms (7% DV)
  • Vitamin B5: 0.7 milligrams (7% DV)
  • Vitamin C: 3 milligrams (5% DV)
  • Vitamin E: 1 milligram (5% DV)
  • Vitamin B1: 0.1 milligrams (4% DV)
  • Zinc: 0.4 milligrams (3% DV)

How Does Wakame Compare to Other Seaweeds?

Like other edible seaweeds, wakame is readily found in the United States in health food stores and Asian-American grocery stores.

Found naturally growing off the coasts of Japan and Korea, wakame and other seaweeds like nori, kelp, and kombu are algaes consumed by humans and by sea creatures such as urchins, snails, and plant-eating fish such as the parrotfish. 

While various seaweeds have a lot in common, they're also nutritionally distinct and imbued with unique flavors.

Kelp and kombu (a member of the kelp family) are brown seaweeds used to make dashi in Japanese miso soup.

Nori seaweed is even more recognizable: it's the edible seaweed you can buy in crispy paper-like sheets for rolling sushi. You'll often find it on the same Japanese food aisle as rice vinegar and soy sauce.

Wakame is a brown or dark green, stringy seaweed that can be found either fresh or dried in stores. Even when it's partially dry, wakame seaweed still appears wet and is moist to the touch, unlike nori, which, when fully dried out, is brittle and flaky. Dried wakame is thicker and chewier, and can be rehydrated after purchase.

Just like land vegetables, different forms of seaweed are similar in many ways, but each is its own entity.

Wakame Nutrition anf The Top 5 Health Benefits

The Top 5 Health Benefits of Wakame Seaweed

A superfood full of vegan-friendly nutrients, wakame seaweed has been proven to offer up the following health benefits.

1. Anti-Diabetic Abilities

One of the unique attributes of brown seaweed is the plant compound fucoxanthin, which has been shown to have both an anti-diabetic and anti-obesity effect on obese mice. Fucoxanthin-rich wakame lipids added to the animals' high-fat diets helped suppress body weight and lower symptoms of hyperinsulinemia, hyperleptinemia, and hyperglycemia. Researchers concluded that wakame has the ability to reverse insulin resistance

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Content

Modern diets are often skewed in their essential fatty acid ratios. We should be eating a nearly 1:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, but due to the proliferation of refined vegetable oils (high in omega-6s) in processed foods and the lack of access many people have to more expensive omega-3 foods like fresh fish and nuts, the ratio can actually be closer to 1:20. This imbalance leads to increased inflammation, which can contribute to chronic conditions like diabetes and arthritis. 

Omega-3 foods are known to help lower cholesterol levels, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and improve skin health and radiance. Wakame and other seaweeds can help balance your omegas by contributing more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet.

3. Fat-Burning Fuel

Researchers at Hokkaido University in Japan have found that the fucoxanthin in wakame seaweed may help encourage fat burning by promoting the protein actions that cause fat oxidation and by promoting DHA production, which helps lower "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. Dried wakame powder added to the diets of rats has also been shown to help lower triglyceride levels, another step towards preventing hyperlipidemia and the health problems (like heart disease) that may accompany it.

4. Blood Pressure Control

Wakame seaweed may also help lower blood pressure, at least as shown in animal studies. These studies are not perfectly analogous to human results, but the evidence clearly suggests that wakame can substantially reduce systolic blood pressure, leading researchers to conclude it may be beneficial in humans as well.

Further human studies were conducted in 2011 to see how natural wakame influenced the blood pressure of school children between the ages of 3 and 6. In just 3 days, scientists found that seaweed appeared to have a beneficial influence on the blood pressure levels of preschool kids.

5. Anti-Cancer Effects

Those who consume seaweed regularly statistically have lower rates of breast cancer, and researchers have begun to investigate the connection. Scientists at the University of California have found that adding wakame to the diets of postmenopausal women reduced levels of urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor concentrations (uPAR), a protein known to operate with breast tissue responsiveness, growth, and cell adhesion. This may be the mechanism by which wakame helps prevent instances of breast cancer.

Moreover, the fucoxanthin we've mentioned before may have chemotherapeutic uses in colon cancer cells, another indication that wakame has real potential as an anti-cancer food.

Working with Wakame

Wakame seaweed can be eaten fresh, cooked, or dehydrated. Dried seaweed can be rehydrated easily by chopping it into small pieces and soaking it in water for about 30 minutes before eating. Once soft, wakame can be included in recipes like Japanese seaweed salad (just toss it with another type of seaweed and perhaps some sesame seeds and olive oil), wakame and cucumber salad with sesame oil, wakame brown rice for added umami flavor, and of course in homemade miso soup. However you consume this sea vegetable, there are scientifically proven health benefits that await you.

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