When we think about ‘seafood’, we usually think about fish. However, there are other forms of seafood that we should be trying to include more of in our diets, especially algae and seaweeds, such as kelp.
What is Kelp?
Kelp is a type of brown-coloured seaweed which tends to grow in shallow oceans, which makes it very easy to harvest. In the UK, it is most commonly used as a natural thickener for foods, pet products, and cosmetics, although it’s fast becoming a popular ingredient for a wide range of delicious dishes, too.
The Rise of Kelp
There has been a massive increase in the adoption of Asian foods in the United Kingdom; not only are we becoming more adventurous eaters, but thanks to social media we’re also becoming more aware of alternative food experiences all around the world. Over in Japan, kelp has been on the menu for many years already. Known as ‘kombu’, kelp is frequently used to add flavour to broths, stews, and soups. It can be dried and crumbled as a topping for okonomiyaki (a type of Japanese pancake), or it can be made into sheets and used in a similar way to nori for sushi making. It really is a very versatile type of seaweed.
A question that many are asking, however, is ‘why?’ Not only is kelp widely available in Japan thanks to the numerous dense forests located off the coast of Hokkaido, but it is also believed that there are many health benefits to consuming kelp, particularly in terms of hormone secretion and weight management.
The Benefits of Kelp
Kelp is naturally high in a number of essential vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, and vitamin C, so it really is a great ‘all-rounder’ to add to your diet. It’s also very low in calories, so it’s a great way to give your body all the nutrition it needs without providing it with energy that it simply cannot use up.
However, there are a couple of specific health benefits of kelp that are important to consider, too:
Seafood contains iodine, which helps to create thyroid hormones and keep these hormones regulated. Regular consumption of kelp could help to manage both overactive and underactive thyroid conditions, as well as significantly reduce the risk of goitre, which can be caused by an iodine deficiency. Studies have found that low-dose kelp supplementation is successful in increasing thyroid-stimulating hormone.
According to the NHS, kelp could be ‘the key to weight loss’, holding the potential to ‘slow the obesity tidal wave’ that is being experienced in many western countries, including the UK. Kelp contains alginates, which minimise the amount of fat that is absorbed by the body. Studies have found that 12 week kelp supplementation was successfully able to reduce body fat percentage in obese individuals.
How to Use Kelp
Believe it or not, kelp is actually very quick and easy to cook, and is best steamed or blanched before being added to soups and stews. Kelp can also be dried in a food dehydrator and blitzed into a fine powder for topping pastas, rice dishes, and practically anything else that you can think of. For those who lead very busy, on-the-go lifestyles, kelp can also be purchased as a food supplement in tablet or liquid form. These can be taken just like other food supplements for complete ease and convenience.
Kelp Safety & Toxicity
As a naturally derived product, kelp is typically very safe to include in your diet. However, due to the high levels of iodine found in kelp, it is important to enjoy this food from the sea in moderation. It is advised that healthy adults consume around 150 mcg of iodine per day, although research suggests that amounts of up to 1100 mcg per day are still considered to be very safe for those aged 18 and over.