Spectacular Seaweed

by Danielle Charles

Reports have now confirmed that radiation has leaked into the waters surrounding Japan after the tsunami and earthquake tragedy that wreaked havoc on a nuclear plant there. Already this radiation has reached the coast of Southern California. While you might comfort yourself that the amount of radiation reaching our coastline is very small, there is still cause to be concerned. As John Gofman, a physician and physicist who spent a good part of his career investigating the effects of radiation on human health concluded,

“There is no safe dose of radiation since radiation is cumulative. Harm in the form of excess human cancer occurs at all doses of ionizing radiation, down to the lowest conceivable dose and dose rate.”

In other words,  most radioactive isotopes are active for a very long time (some up to 500,000 years!), so any exposure to such radioactive elements throughout your life accumulates within the body,  cumulatively damaging your cells and your DNA over time. You might feel the need to despair at this, and I certainly wouldn’t blame you, but I would also encourage you with the news that there is a rather delicious food that seems perfectly designed to protect against the harmful effects of radiation: Seaweed.

Seaweeds are protective through two mechanisms.  Radiation is often taken into the body in the form of  radioactive isotopes – ie minerals that are molecularly changed and rendered unstable through radioactive activity –  such as iodine-131, strontium-90, potassium-40, etc. One of the best ways of preventing your body from absorbing such radioactive elements is to ensure that there are so many healthy minerals available to your cells that there will be no need (or room) for the absorption of the radioactive minerals. It just so happens that seaweeds are, ounce per ounce, higher than any other food in vitamins and minerals!

Seaweed contains up to 56 minerals in all, with at least 10 times the potassium of bananas and 10 times the calcium of milk. They also contain ample levels of iodine – the mineral necessary for thyroid function, and you would need to eat up to 40 lbs of vegetables to get the iodine content in just 1 gram of seaweed.  Eating one ounce of seaweed per day will provide your body with ample amounts of vitamins, minerals and trace minerals which will saturate your cells with health minerals, and thus selectively prevent the uptake of radioactive elements.

The second strategy for protecting oneself from radioactive elements is chelation. This word refers to the process of bringing harmful elements to the digestive tract, where they can be bound to benign substances and excreted from the body. One of the best chelators of radioactive elements (as well as heavy metals, PCBs and many other environmental pollutants) is sodium alginate, a constituent found primarily, and in very high amounts, in seaweeds.  Sodium alginate was found to reduce strontium-90 (a common radioactive element released from nuclear reactors) deposition in the bone by 70-90% in one study and shown to reduce the absorption of strontium-90 from effected food by a factor of 9 in another study.

Aside from their protective effects against radiation and their amazing nutritional benefits, seaweeds offer us many other benefits to our health. They are incredibly soothing to the lungs and digestive tract – helping to heal inflammation and restore function to damaged membranes in such conditions as GERD, colitis, gastritis or chronic bronchitis. They have strong antibiotic and anti-viral properties, shown effective against penicillin resistant bacteria, HPV and Herpes simplex. They help to soften hardened masses such as fibroids, tumors and cysts. Many people assert that they are reproductive tonics and fertility aids as well – whether through their ability to mineralize and deeply nourish the body, or through their ability to bind excess sex hormones and carry them out of the body, thus balancing hormonal levels (probably both).  And, as any mermaid would tell you, they promote glowing, radiant skin and lustrous hair.

So, we know that seaweeds are a great idea to include in the diet each and every day – and especially with the added radiation load we are experiencing from this recent disaster. But the question is, how do we do this?  Seaweeds aren’t exactly first on everyone’s list of delicious foods – and I would venture that far more find them entirely disagreeable then completely delicious. There are several ways you can sneak them into the diet without hardly noticing:

  • Add them to flavoring mixes, such as this seaweed-nettle gamasio
  • Add them to soup stocks
  • Throw them in breads or crackers
  • Toast them and throw them in salads, sandwiches or nut mixes
  • Add cooked seaweeds to grain dishes, soups or casseroles

Here is one of my favorite ways to eat seaweed, adapted from the recipe in Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal. As she says, “the hundreds of people I have served [this recipe] to have loved seaweed prepared in this way.” It is so delicious you hardly notice the seaweed at all – that is if you don’t want to!

Spicy Asian Seaweed Rice with Stir-fried vegetables and cashews

You could easily add in some tempeh, tofu, chicken or pork to make this a more substantial meal if you’d like.

  • olive or sesame oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 2 cups carrots, thinly sliced into half moons
  • 2 heads broccoli, chopped roughly into florets
  • 1 cup white cabbage or thinly sliced collard greens
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice (or other grain of choice)
  • 2 cups toasted cashews
  • 2 cups hijiki or arame seaweed, soaked in a bowl of water
  • 1/3 cup tamari
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons miso
  • 1 chopped red chili, or 1 teaspoon chili flakes

1. Heat the oil in a saucepan or wok and add the onions. Cook until the are golden brown, and then add the garlic and ginger. Cook for a few minutes, then add the carrots. Cover the pan and let steam over low heat for 8-10 minutes, or until the carrots are somewhat softened, but still have a nice bite.

2. Drain the seaweed, add it the pan and stir well.

3. In another pan, combine the soy sauce, honey, toasted sesame oil, miso and chile and heat until the honey and miso are just dissolved.

4. Add the broccoli and cabbage to the vegetable mix, and cook just until the broccoli turns bright green. Turn of the heat, add the rice and pour over the dressing, mixing well to evenly incorporate it through.

5. Serve in bowls with a good handful of toasted cashews.