By Saba Zahid, RD
Patient Experience Manager, Unidine Corporation
You’ve probably heard many times that it is important to eat your vegetables. But there may be a vegetable you may not even realize is a vegetable. Move over cauliflower, because the new “IT” vegetable in town is kelp. Yes, you read that right – kelp, a type of seaweed, is the new rising star in the food world.
What is kelp?
Kelp is already a staple in many Asian cuisines, but it is now being harvested in countries outside of Asia, including the east coast of the US as well as in Europe. Kelp is a large sea plant that grows in underwater forests. It can grow to be up to 150 feet long!
Kelp is good for the planet
Kelp plays an important role in the ocean because it removes excess phosphorous, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. Additionally, harvesting kelp requires minimal input since it is naturally growing and there is no need for farmland, fresh water, or fertilizer. The environmentally-friendly aspect of farming kelp has helped kelp gain its newfound notoriety.
Kelp is chockful of nutrition
Kelp is a nutrient powerhouse. It is rich in vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. It also contains numerous minerals, including potassium, calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, zinc, copper, chromium, and selenium. Kelp is particularly concentrated in iodine, a mineral which is important for thyroid function and metabolism. In addition to all those vitamins and minerals, kelp is abundant in fiber. (It is sea grass after all!) Some sea kelp may contain plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat our body needs but cannot make on its own.
Kelp has been studied for its potential anti-inflammatory properties. It is also being studied to determine if it may play a role in managing blood glucose levels or aiding weight loss.
Where can I get some kelp?
You may not realize it but if you have eaten a wakame salad from a Japanese restaurant, you’ve probably had kelp before. If you are looking to get some kelp to use at home, it may be difficult to find kelp fronds in your traditional grocery store. You may be able to find them at your local Asian market though. Kelp is also available in other forms, such as dried, powdered or granulated kelp. Dried kelp is sold in sheets and can be added to soups, stir-fries and other dishes. There are also kelp noodles that you may be able to order online or find in select stores. Kelp supplements are also sold, but be cautious as supplements are not regulated and there’s no guarantee that it’s actually kelp in that bottle!
A Word of Caution
Before you jump on the kelp bandwagon and try making yourself a kelp smoothie, there are a few things to keep in mind. Because kelp grows in salty ocean water, it is naturally high in sodium. If you are watching your sodium intake, you may want to pass on the kelp. Kelp also contains a high amount of iodine, so it is important to limit your intake if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you have any kidney or thyroid issues. Lastly, keep an eye out for artificially dyed sea kelp. Make sure what you are purchasing is natural kelp without any dyes.
For more information or to set up an appointment with one of Shore’s dietitians, call 609-653-4600, option 5, or click here.