Wakame Seaweed is a superfood that you won’t want to miss. It’s rich in a number of vitamins and minerals, it supports the cardiovascular system, maintains hormonal balance, strengthens bones, improves circulation and promotes healthy skin. And according to researchers at the University of California Wakame Seaweed may lower breast cancer incidence and mortality among postmenopausal women. Which is good to know if you’re at or near that stage of life.
You can find Wakame at Whole Foods, local health food stores, Asian grocers and online (Amazon carry it). But do check out the heavy metals testing on the brand that you buy. An investigation by Natural News found that New Zealand Wakame contained zero lead while the Fueru brand wakame seaweed from the Wel Pac company in China contained a very high 0.851 ppm of lead.
What Is Wakame Seaweed?
Wakame seaweed (Undaria pinnatifida) also known as Sea Mustard, is a sea vegetable, or edible seaweed that grows to a size that can reach 9 feet. Dried wakame has a slightly sweet, briny flavour and is most often served in miso soup and salads. Fresh Atlantic Wakame tastes very much like rocket, a leafy green vegetable similar to lettuce
Seaweed has long been a staple of the Japanese diet and has been cultivated there since around 710 AD.
A member of the algae family, Wakame is a deep green brown seaweed and makes a delicious addition to a wide variety of meals, but its recent popularity is due to its many health benefits.
In Oriental medicine it has been used for blood purification, intestinal strength, skin, hair, reproductive organs and menstrual regularity.
In Korea, a soup containing wakame is consumed by women after giving birth as it contains high amounts of calcium and iodine, which are important nutrients for new and nursing mothers. It is traditionally eaten on birthdays as a reminder of the first food the mother ate and passed on to her infant through her milk, thus bringing good fortune for the rest of the year.
While native to the cold temperate coastal areas of Japan, Korea, southeastern Russia and China, wakame has in recent decades become established in other temperate regions around the world, including New Zealand, the United States, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Argentina, Australia and Mexico.
Wakame was nominated one of the 100 worst invasive species on the Global Invasive Species Database. It was deliberately introduced as a crop in Brittany, France, and in Ireland, which gave it a foothold in Europe, while its spread to the US, Australia and New Zealand is believed to be due to the seaweed have ‘stowed away’ in ballast water on international cargo ships coming from the Far East.
As an invasive species, with healthy proliferation it means that there is plenty of wakame for us to eat, but the downside of that heavy growth is that it is very damaging to existing marine ecology and its presence pushes other species out of their habitat. The large canopy formed by adult seaweed modifies the habitats of the species that end up underneath it, reducing light levels and water movement. The fronds also attach to shellfish on the seabed, disturbing the shellfish and their prey.
Reverses Insulin Resistance
Wakame contains a carotenoid called fucoxanthin which is responsible for the seaweeds color and which provides some potent health benefits.
Fucoxanthin is a xanthophyll, a molecule similar in structure to beta-carotene and vitamin A, although it does not carry out vitamin-like activity in the body.
A 2009 study conducted in Japan examined the antiobesity and antidiabetic effects of fucoxanthin rich wakame lipids in obese mice. When Wakame was added to the high-fat diet, it significantly suppressed body weight.
Prior to the addition of wakame lipids, the mice exhibited signs of hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia and hyperleptinemia, but after consuming wakame in their diet these conditions normalized. Researchers concluded that wakame has the ability to prevent diabetes by reversing high insulin production.
Promotes Fat Burning
Fucoxanthin, once it has been metabolized, appears to be stored in fat cells for a prolonged period of time and can kick start fat loss while preventing fat cell proliferation. So far only one human study has been published which appears to show that fucoxanthin is a promising non-stimulatory fat loss agent, although it does require some time to begin to show results (5-16 weeks) at doses of 5mg.
“In a double-blind, placebo-controlled human study of females with liver disease using supplementation with seaweed extract containing fucoxanthin in combination with pomegranate seed oil showed in an average 4.9 kg (11 lb) weight loss in obese women over a 16-week period.”
In animal studies, dietary fucoxanthin significantly reduced the levels of abdominal white adipose tissue when compared to the animals fed the control diet. And the daily intake of fucoxanthin in mice also caused a significant reduction of body weight.
Feeding them fucoxanthin significantly increased their levels of hepatic docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an important polyunsaturated fatty acid. Researchers concluded “these multi-functionalities of fucoxanthin indicate that it is an important bioactive carotenoid that is beneficial for the prevention of the metabolic syndrome,”
Abdominal white fatty tissue is the dangerous fat that surrounds organs and its effects can be very harmful even if you don’t appear to be overweight. Scientists call having unhealthy levels of organ surrounding fat, while being a healthy weight, being skinny fat.
So adding some wakame seaweed to your diet will eventually yield some healthy fat loss and help to fight the weight gain associated with metabolic syndrome. Like vitamin A, fucoxanthin appears to require dietary fat for its absorption from the gut.
Helps to Balance Hormones
Wakame provides three minerals, manganese, iron and calcium, which help to balance hormones. Manganese and calcium both help to reduce the pain and mood swings associated with premenstrual syndrome.
Some experts estimate that as many as 37% of Americans do not get the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of manganese in their diet.
In one clinical study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, women who included 5.6 mg of manganese in their diets each day had fewer mood swings and cramps than those who ate just 1 mg of manganese, suggesting that a manganese-rich diet may help reduce symptoms of PMS. Another clinical study reported that patients suffering from PMS had much lower amounts of calcium, chromium, copper, and manganese in their blood than those without PMS
Because manganese assists with hormone regulation, eating wakame may also work as a natural infertility treatment.
Two tablespoons (10 grams) of wakame provides 15 milligrams of calcium, which is 2% of the recommended daily amount. Calcium is essential for strengthening bones and preventing osteopenia or osteoporosis. Calcium-rich foods help to increase bone growth and facilitate bone repair.
Osteoporosis is a common feature of aging, involving loss of bone density. It begins affecting men at around 55 years of age and women once they reach the menopause. Osteoporosis leads to an increase in bone fractures which is why it’s vital to get enough calcium in your diet.
Many older people take supplemental calcium in the hope that it will offer them protection from osteoporosis but the opposite is actually true. While obtaining calcium through natural food sources is protective, calcium supplements don’t confer any benefits and can actually cause harm.
A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that calcium supplements don’t reduce fracture rates in older women, and may even increase the rate of hip fractures.
And the risks of calcium supplementation don’t stop at possibly causing fractures.
Studies on the link between calcium and cardiovascular disease, suggest that dietary intake of calcium protects you from heart disease, but supplementing with calcium may increase your risk.
A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2012, followed 24,000 men and women aged 35–64 years. Researchers found that those who used calcium supplements had a 139% greater risk of heart attack during the course of the 11 year study period. While those who obtained their calcium from food did not have any increased risk.
A meta analysis of studies involving more than 12,000 participants found that calcium supplementation increased the risk of heart attack by 31%, stroke by 20% and death from all causes by 9%.
Bottom line – be safe and get your calcium from your food!
Reduces the Risk of Breast Cancer
In Traditional Chinese Medicine and Japanese folk medicine, seaweed is used to treat tumors. And people who regularly consume seaweed have much lower rates of breast and other cancers.
Seaweed is very high in lignans, plant substances that become phytoestrogens in the body, which are able to block the chemical estrogens that can lead to cancers such as breast cancer.
In 2013, researchers at the University of California recruited 15 healthy postmenopausal women for a 3 month trial, in order to assess the impact of wakame their diet. Five of the women with no history of breast cancer served as the control group while the other 10 women were breast cancer survivors.
Wakame consumption lowered the concentration of a protein called urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR), which is present in several locations and is typically higher among postmenopausal women.
Higher uPAR concentration is known to influence cell surface signaling, cell adhesion and growth factor communication and responsiveness in breast tissue. The researchers believe that wakame’s ability to lower the concentration of these receptors could help to explain the lower breast cancer rates and mortality among postmenopausal women in Japan.
The results of a 2015 study suggests that the fucoxanthin may be of use as chemotherapeutic agents in colorectal cancer cells and further research is ongoing.
Reduces High Blood Pressure
Wakame seaweed has been found to significantly reduce high blood pressure.
According to research published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, wakame (and other edible seaweeds) is a rich source of the proteins known as bioactive peptides. Bioactive peptides have a similar effect to ACE inhibitor drugs, which are widely prescribed to help lower blood pressure and prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Research from Kyoto University showed that the fibres from brown seaweed lowered blood pressure and reduced the risk of stroke in animals predisposed to cardiovascular problems.
A 25 year study of Okinawans, who have clear arteries, low cholesterol and low homocysteine (a heart-damaging chemical) levels, showed that sea vegetables made up some of the 7 to 10 portions of daily vegetables eaten.
Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Wakame is a rich source of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3 isn’t made by the human body and must be obtained from the diet. A diet rich in Omega-3 is known to lower cholesterol, help depression, treat diabetes, reduce anxiety, relieve arthritis, reduce inflammation, promote healthy skin, support weight loss, aid athletic recovery and strengthen hair and nails.
The western diet contains an abundance of omega-6 fatty acids, which are inflammatory, but generally very little omega-3. We’ve got our consumption of these two backwards.
Throughout our 4 to 5 million years of hominid evolution, our diets were rich in fish and seafood and other sources of omega-3 long chain fatty acids (EPA & DHA), but quite low in omega-6 seed oils.
Anthropological research suggests that our ancestors consumed omega-6 and omega-3 fats in a ratio of roughly 1:1. The same research also shows that our ancestors were free of the inflammatory diseases, like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, that plague us today.
What is the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the modern diet? Research puts it at an average of between 10:1 to 20:1, with some individuals consuming at a ratio of 25:1.
Omega-6 and omega-3 directly compete for the same conversion enzymes, so if you have a high intake of omega-6 you’ll have a limited ability to utilize the small amounts of omega-3 fats in your diet. Omega-6 fatty acids are inflammatory and once they’re in your tissues will cause inflammation and contribute to cardiovascular problems. If your diet is rich in omega-3, then the beneficial fatty acids will saturate your tissues instead, leaving very little room for the damaging omega-6 acids.
Rich In Folate To Support a Healthy Pregnancy
Folate, or B9, is an essential vitamin and is present in good amounts in wakame, with a 2 tablespoon (10g) serving providing 19.6 micrograms of folate, which is 5% of the recommended daily intake.
Folate is not folic acid. Folic acid is a synthesised version of this nutrient which is used in supplements and fortified foods.
I bet you can guess what I’m going to say next can’t you? Research is discovering that folic acid – first synthesized in 1943 and introduced as a mandatory food fortification in 1998 – might not be the helpful substance that we’ve been led to believe.
Some studies have found the presence of unmetabolized folic acid in the blood following the consumption of folic acid supplements or fortified foods. One of the major risks associated with excessive intake of folic acid is the development of cancer. A randomized trial found that daily supplementation with 1 mg of folic acid was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.
While synthetic folic acid could be contributing to cancer rates, natural folates pose no such risk and are needed for copying and synthesizing DNA, producing new cells, and supporting nerve and immune function. Folate is one of the most critical vitamins for a healthy pregnancy and is well known to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects.
Good Source of Iron
Iron is essential for the formation of red blood cells and helps with metabolic processes crucial to digest proteins and absorb nutrients from food. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, reduced immune system function, loss of energy and mental impairment to name a few.
Wakame provides a similar level of iron to that found in spinach. With a 2 tablespoon serving providing 0.2mg or 1% of the recommended daily amount. Supplementation with iron is not advisable as too much iron can cause just as many problems as too little. You’re unlikely to exceed safe levels if you make sure that you get your iron from food sources.
Has Heavy Duty Detox Properties
After the nuclear reactor meltdown at Chernobyl, sales of seaweed soared. Studies have shown that seaweed is a powerful way to detoxify the body from radioactive strontium. While we are unlikely (touch wood) to need its help in that regard, seaweed also detoxifies cadmium and lead which, according to senior science researcher at Greenpeace, Dr David Santillo, are in our environment from industrial emissions and cigarette smoke.
Traditional Korean Birthday Soup Recipe
Miyuk Guk is the Korean seaweed soup traditionally fed to new mothers. “Miyuk” refers to wakame.
Makes 2 to 3 servings
- ¼ cup dried wakame (0.3 ounces)
- 3 cups beef bone broth
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
Soak ¼ cup dried wakame in 2 cups of water for 20 minutes.
Drain, rinse 2 or 3 times, and drain again.
Squeeze all the water out of the seaweed.
Coarsely chop the wakame into small pieces.
Heat the bone broth over medium low heat. Add the seaweed and the garlic and bring to a gentle simmer.
Cook for 10 minutes to infuse the broth with the garlic flavor.
Stir in the sesame oil and fish sauce.
Ladle into bowls, garnish with the green onions and enjoy!