During the millions of years of Earth’s existence algae have acquired unique properties that no terrestrial plants have.
Recognized leaders in the consumption of algae are the Japanese. An average consumption of seaweed in Japan is about 10 kg per person (we are talking about dry weight) per year. Among European countries, the leader of the algae consumption is France. Funny enough, the French eat only as much as 10 g of (dried) seaweed per person per year, which is exactly a thousand times less than in Japan.
Algae can be green, purple, brown… All types of algae are a great source of the essential mineral iodine, but brown algae is the richest source of it from all the other seaweed types. Kelp or laminaria are examples of edible brown algae. Brown edible seaweed contains on average slightly more than 1 % of iodine, which is 30.000 times greater than the concentration of iodine in seawater. Thus, in one gram of kelp iodine content equals to that of 100 litres of seawater!
Why do we need iodine
Iodine deficiency is a serious health problem in the world, according to the World Health Organization (as of 2003), at least 54 countries are affected by iodine deficiency, and nearly 2 billion people lack adequate iodine intake. It is about one third of Earth population.
In my home country, Belarus, pretty much all the salt you can buy at a supermarket is enriched with iodine. This measure is the consequence of the Chernobyl disaster and is simply absolutely necessary to ensure adequate iodine intake in the country. Otherwise your body will uptake the radioactive iodine. In many countries (including the Netherlands) iodine is always added to the bread salt (which is used by bakeries to make bread). If bread is not an essential part of your diet, the chance is pretty big that you might be deficient in Iodine. Seaweed is the richest organic source of iodine on our planet.
43 million people worldwide suffer from mental retardation, which developed as a result of iodine deficiency
Iodine is present in the body in small amounts (15-20 mg), almost exclusively in the thyroid gland. Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism in most cells, and play a crucial role in the early growth and development of most organs, especially the brain. In humans, much of the growth and brain development occurs during the foetal period and during the first three years of life. A significant lack of Iodine during this critical period may cause hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone level) and brain damage. The clinical consequence would be an irreversible mental retardation. 43 million people worldwide suffer from mental retardation, which developed as a result of iodine deficiency. Deficiency of iodine in any period of life, including adulthood can cause the development of goitre and / or failure of the thyroid gland.
How much iodine we need
The recommended dietary allowance of iodine depends on the age and physiological state, and varies from 90 to 250 micrograms.
Edible seaweed has an extremely large amount of iodine, it varies from 1.600 to 8.000 micrograms per 100 grams of dried weight.
The content of iodine in sea-fish and shellfish is 100-500 mg per 100 g. Other, non-marine, foods contain non-essential amount of iodine.
Other health benefits of seaweed
Besides iodine, algae are an excellent source of many vitamins (B1, B5, B11, B12, C, D and E), as well as minerals calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.
In addition to vitamins and minerals, seaweed contains a great number of bio-active elements. Several studies have found that the biologically active compounds from marine algae have strong antiviral, anticancer (studies show in particular that the consumption of iodine reduces the risk of cancer of the thyroid gland, mammary gland and stomach), hypolipidemic (lowers “bad” blood lipids, including cholesterol), hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and other beneficial properties.
In addition, seaweed is extremely low in calories. Its energy value is between 10- 25 calories per 100 g, and therefore it is an excellent dietary product. It satiates greatly and prevents overeating and associated problems.