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Seaweed may conjure up thoughts of the slimy, sticky feeling of this plant wrapped around your feet while you’re in the ocean. But have you ever thought about adding some seaweed into your morning smoothie or sprinkling it over a finished dish for a salty kick? While it might not be an ingredient you use often, seaweed – or kelp – deserves a place on your plate.
Kelp might seem like a tricky food to try at first glance. However, it’s widely used in countries like Japan and China, prized for its surprisingly nutritious content. And it’s also a pretty impressive food when it comes to weight loss.
What is kelp?
Kelp is a type of seaweed – a kind of large, long brown algae growing along the ocean floor. Common in cool, shallow waters along the shoreline of the Pacific Coast, kelp typically grows in dense, towering forests that you can see just underneath the water’s surface. But you’re more likely to find it washing up on the beach in long tangles and fluttering leaves.
In the ocean, kelp is a source of both shelter and food for fish and marine mammals. And it’s plentiful too.
This seaweed is popular among humans too, and it’s a sustainable food source. Seaweed, which includes different kelp varieties and types of brown, green and red algae, is a pretty common marine vegetable. It’s a common ingredient in many cultures; in Japan, for example, varieties like nori and a type of kelp called kombu are used to make sushi, dashi broth and even seaweed salad. All kinds of kelp are also part of daily diets in China and Korea. Even the US is getting on board, with increasingly more restaurants in states like California and Washington putting dishes made with kelp on their menus.
Kelp is packed with nutrients – but light in calories
One reason kelp is such a popular food in certain areas of the world? It’s loaded with good-for-you nutrients.
Kelp is an incredibly nutrient-dense food, despite its thin, flaky nature. When you snack on bites of crispy, wafer-thin kelp, mix it into veggies and rice or eat kelp noodles for dinner, you’re getting all of the following vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
Kelp is also a fantastic natural source of iodine, which controls your hormones. In fact, seaweed has such a high iodine content that it’s considered a super source of this particular mineral.
Although kelp includes all of these awesome vitamins and minerals, it isn’t high in calories or fat. Kelp is actually quite light: a 100-gram serving, or 1¼ cups, contains just 43 calories. You can eat a lot to punch up your nutrients, without having to worry about how calorically dense or rich in fat it is.
It’s fiber-filled and fat-blocking
Another benefit of kelp is its high fiber content. But this seaweed doesn’t just contain the usual kind of fiber you’d find in typical fruits and vegetables. It’s a particularly special fiber – one that could help you maintain a healthy weight.
Kelp contains a natural fiber called alginate, which research shows can stop fat from getting absorbed. Alginate blocks lipase, an enzyme that works to digest fat. And it’s so effective that it blocks more than 70 percent of any lipase present. Essentially, alginate stops your gut from absorbing as much fat as it normally would.
Alginate is so effective that it’s actually used in weight loss products and supplements. While there isn’t any information on the long-term effects of these alginate-filled products, getting this fiber naturally from seaweed is perfectly healthy.
There’s even more good news for weight loss: kelp also contains a special carotenoid compound that can encourage weight loss in those with obesity. A research study found that some brown kelp (specifically, a variety called fucoxanthin) could make it easier for obese individuals to lose weight.
How to give kelp a try
With its powerful punch of vitamins and minerals, low calorie count and fat-blocking fiber content, kelp could make for the perfect addition to a weight loss-focused diet. It’s healthy and nutritious, and it could offer a bit of a boost as you work towards your goals.
And kelp is so easy to incorporate into different meals and snacks. Common in Japanese or Korean grocery stores, it’s also available at health food stores. You can also check out the international aisle of your favorite grocery store – it’s becoming so popular that it’s stocked at shops like Kroger, Publix and Walmart.
Wondering how to cook with this sea veggie? It’s available in so many different forms that it can be a central ingredient in dishes like our Cashew Broccoli Kelp Noodles. You can often find prepackaged kelp noodles at your local grocery store, or you might spot it mixed into packaged spice blends. It’s also sold in the form of packaged snacks like kelp jerky; just make sure to double-check the nutritional information to make sure these packaged foods are clean. You can also try different types of algae, or even algae supplements, are another option.