Health Benefits of Kelp

Kelp in Tasmania

Kelp in Tasmania

Kelps are common marine plants. They belong to the brown algae group (Phaeophyta) under the order Laminariales, having approximately thirty genera. Kelp is known to have various medicinal uses. The health benefits of kelp include supplementing diet, preventing diseases and treating them.

Kelp thrives in cool, temperate waters. They form massive plantations or forests that become habitat to other marine  organisms. These fast growing plants have two life stages: a diploid spore releasing stage and a haploid gamete stage that cycle into each other.  Green, leaf-shaped structures compose the body or thallus of the algae. The kelp is anchored to the seafloor by means of the holdfast (pseudo root), preventing waves from washing them away. Some species have gas-filled bladders that help kelp maintain a surface presence, enabling them to access to sunlight easier. They are fast growing and large organisms with some species approaching growth rates of fifty centimeters per day and reaching approximately eighty meters in height.

Throughout the years, the health benefits of kelp have been enjoyed by cultures around the world. They have been used in ethnic cuisine, usually as a spice, although many cultures use them as vegetables and garnishes. Japanese cuisine extensively uses kelp as flavoring, food wrapper and even as candies or snack. They are either lightly cooked, eaten raw or simply immersed in vinegar.

Kelp was also a very valuable commodity early in history as a source of soda ash. Being mineral rich, it has, throughout history, been used as a fertilizer. Currently, there are many products which have components derived from kelp. Toothpaste, dog food, gelatin, and ice cream all have ingredients coming from kelp. With its high iodine content, it has been used as a medicinal treatment for goiter. Its fast growth rate, a lack of any need for irrigation and the ease by which it could be harvested makes kelp an ideal crop. Coupled with high methane and ethanol yield, kelp is seen as a viable alternative source of fuel. Since it is not really a “food” crop, utilizing kelp for fuel would not deprive the world of a vital food source.

One of the many health benefits of kelp is the fact that it is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins B1, B5, and B9 are all present in kelp with a single serving able to fill about 50% of a person vitamin B9 (folate) needs. These vitamins are essential in maintaining energy and vigor. It is also an excellent source of calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, zinc and iodine. These are some of the basic building blocks of the human body, essential in most processes that allow us to live a healthy life.

Aside from being an excellent addition to one’s diet, kelp also has many remedial and preventive health benefits. As mentioned, the high iodine content of kelp helps prevent and treat instances of goiter. Kelp can aid indigestion.  Indigestion is usually caused by the body’s inability to break down sugars and other substances. Kelp contains enzymes that allow it to break sugars, preventing indigestion and also reducing the occurrence of flatulence. Its high fiber content also relieves constipation, allowing the digestive system to efficiently remove waste material. Kelp can make our stomachs more efficient, and yet recent research has shown that a substance found in kelp could also help reduce the chance of obesity. Known as alginate, this substance can reduce the body’s fat absorption even better than some over-the-counter drugs.

The health benefits of kelp are substantial. Coupled with its properties as a very viable, easy to grow crop, it would not be surprising to find much more uses for kelp in the future.

References:

  • Druehl, L.D. (1988). Cultivated edible kelp: Algae and Human Affairs. Lembi, C.A. and Waaland, J.R. (Eds.)
  • Kazuko, Emi (2002), Japanese Cooking. Hermes House , p. 78,
  • Sky News (2010). Is Seaweed The Answer To A Dieter’s Prayer?

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