The Teacup Chronicles

Category: seaweed

Spectacular Seaweed

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.

Turmeric Popcorn with Seaweed-Nettle Gomasio and Ghee Drizzle

Today is the type of day that you find yourself needing, “a little smackeral of something,” as the wise and noble Pooh bear said. Yes, there are those few glory be-speckled days where you crave carrot sticks and sprouts and feel like hiking up a mountain to unwind, but today is not one. Today is the type of gray, wet, excruciatingly drawn out sort of day that you find yourself trying to put on the sweat pants before you even get through the door after work and want nothing more than to plant yourself on the couch with a pint of ice-cream in one hand and a book full of dark and cynical humor in the other. If someone were to mention that you at one time thought hiking up a mountain was great fun, you would contemptuously chortle (yes chortle) and quickly implant a book between yourself and the face of the person who had suggested something so ridiculous.

So, when I have a day like this, I know that there isn’t going to be any snacking on cold vegetable sticks or yoga marathons, but at least I can try to save myself from the dark abyss of total indulgence. I make  popcorn, and not just any popcorn – popcorn embellished with the guise of health and a good helping of melted ghee.  It is a delicious bargain with myself, a choice of lesser evils, and a glorious trick on the part of my brain that directs me to consume junk food against my better judgement. And, it satisfies in a way that doesn’t make me cringe several hours later when I’ve awoken from my sugar induced coma. In fact, it actually makes you feel good about yourself – which is saying a lot for junk food.

First, you must put on a Jolie Holland record – her voice is sufficiently melancholy and dragging in husky notes of realism  yet somehow uplifting and wholesome. You feel satisfied in your need to wallow in the murkiness of your spirit while not weighted down by it. It’s quite perfect.

Next, you put the kettle on (when its raining and gray and indescribably chilly for being 65 degrees it seems appropriate to feign Britishness), because a good cup of strong black tea can cure nearly anything according to the British Grandmother that I wish I had. (A strange tangential note – if your relatives don’t quite live up to your expectations, just invent them and put invented words in their mouths. No one will know the difference and eventually you won’t either).

While your tea is steeping to reach the sufficient blackness of your spirit and mood, make the gamasio (note: if you aren’t a health obsessed foodie like myself, you will need to stock your kitchen ahead of time with these ingredients so that when a popcorn day hits, you will be prepared). Heat a small skillet on medium heat and add a good handful each of sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. Stir them frequently until they begin to take on a toasty golden hue and smell delicious. Pour the seeds into a bowl and let cool a moment, then add them to a spice grinder with a few tablespoons of course sea salt. Pulse it a few times to very coarsely break things up, then pour into a jar with a good handful of dulse, wakame or kelp flakes and a few tablespoons of dried nettle leaf. Mix it all together well and taste for salt content, adding more if you deem necessary.

Now,  put a pan on the burner. Add a few heaped spoonfuls of ghee, and 1-2 tsp of turmeric or curry powder and let the powder dissolve into the ghee, stirring occasionally. When you splash a drop of water in and it sizzles, you know you’re ready for action.

Add a good handful or two of popcorn. I tend to sway towards the one handful arena, because with popcorn, a person generally doesn’t stop until the bowl is empty. Your brain won’t notice much in the difference between 4 and 12 cups of popcorn besides a slight time difference in reaching the bottom of the bowl. If you’re in such a mood that you actually feel like sharing, then make enough for everyone to have their own bowl (trust me, the fight for those last salty dregs at the bottom of the bowl won’t be pretty). If you’re not in the sharing mood, that’s just fine too.

Shake the pan around a bit to coat the kernels in the oil spice mix, then put the cover on. While you wait for the pop pop pop to begin, sit and think amount about how healthy your snack will be. For one, popcorn is mostly just air and some fiber. Each cup provides a scant 55 calories and a gram of fiber (4% of your daily intake for an average person).  But the popcorn is really just the vehicle for the anti-inflammatory turmeric, nutrient dense gomasio and healthy fats of the ghee and pumpkin seeds. Turmeric, as you may have heard, is a great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It has been found to protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s. The seaweed and nettles are nutrient dense and boost your mineral and vitamin intake for the day, providing you with B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, and hard to get trace minerals like chromium and zinc that will make almost every part of your body (from bones and skin to your nerves) happy. The pumpkin and sesame seeds also boost your zinc intake, as well as your calcium, iron and magnesium, and provide healthy omega 3 essential fatty acids.

Shake the pan around a few times when you start hearing the popping. Every few moments or so, give the pan a rigorous jerk pack and forth to be sure that those delicate white kernels aren’t burning. Once the popping begins to slow to an occasional pop-pop rather than a steady beat of popping, shake the pan one last time and turn off  the heat, letting it stand for a few moments to give an opportunity to those last few late bloomers.

Pour the popcorn in a large bowl. Now, take a good spoonful of ghee and drizzle it over the popcorn. In case the idea of slathering your popcorn in ghee seems like it might spoil the healthful guise I’ve created, refer back to me ghee post. Ghee is full of good fats, lacks the irritating proteins and sugars found in milk and butter, and is chocked full of antioxidants. Drizzle on a little more for good measure…yum.

Now, liberally sprinkle your gomasio mix over the popcorn, adding a good size handful or more. Stir everything together with a wooden spoon (or better yet your hands), until every kernel is slathered in ghee and the gomasio is equally dispersed. Lick your fingers and carry the bowl and your hot cup of tea to a comfortable spot. Pick up a good book or turn on your most favorite vegging out movie or show, and indulge, trying not to shove too many pieces in your mouth at the same time.

So, while you started off on a track to nowhere good, you are now sitting on the couch satisfying your need for something indulgent and junk-food like while simultaneously delivering your body a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals, fiber, good fats, and anti-oxidants. Not bad. There’s nothing quite like the blissful abandon into indulgence paired with the smug satisfaction of doing something good for yourself.