Discover the hidden treasure to weight management: sea vegetables.
Guest Blogger Post: Cheryl Fitzgerald, Dominican University Dietetic Intern
Hara Hachi Bu, wakame, and nori. What do these words mean and what do they all have in common? They are all important parts of the daily regimen and dietary intake of some of the healthiest and longest living people in the world. Okinawa, Japan is a tiny island and home to a multitude of centenarians. Okinawans maintain a stable weight from age twenty and beyond, while the average American gains one pound per year after age thirty. Today marks the annual National Seaweed Day. So tell your diet to walk the plank and let’s explore the healthy habits from the Far East and the nutritious vegetation from the deep blue.
Eat, But Don’t Overeat
In Japanese, Hara Hachi Bu is the phrase used to express their way of eating, “Eat until you’re eighty percent full.” What exactly does that mean? Eat until you’re no longer hungry, not exactly stuffed, but satisfied. The West is finally catching onto this philosophy since mindful eating has become more practiced on this side of the ocean. Recently, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines For Americans acknowledged the need to shift towards healthier eating patterns. The new recommendations focus on a healthy eating pattern for a lifetime, not just during certain times such as in restrictive dieting. So say no to diets and yes to eating healthy as a way of life.
The Sea Holds The Key
What else are the Okinawans doing differently to stay slim and trim throughout their lifetime? And more importantly, what are they eating? On average, Okinawans eat three pounds of sea vegetables each year and live an average of five years longer than Americans while having little to no deaths from cancer. Sea vegetables (AKA seaweed) offer an abundance of nutrients. They’re low in calories, while high in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamins (C, B12, folate, E, and K), and minerals (iron, iodine, calcium, potassium, and magnesium). While all of seaweed’s nutrients play a role in keeping you healthy, some are exceptionally noteworthy. The vitamin C in these plants naturally improves your body’s ability to absorb iron. Their fiber helps you feel full. And their high iodine content assists with proper thyroid function, which regulates metabolism.
The Dietary Guidelines recommend eating about 2 ½ cups of vegetables each day. In addition to “land” veggies, go ahead and add a sea vegetable to your plate, too. Here’s a list to help you get started along with some tips to help you add sea vegetables to recipes your family enjoys. Try my favorite Seaside Butter Cookies avaivlable by downloading Eat Healthy Homemade Meals, a FREE app available from iTunes and Google Play.
Common Sea Vegetables You Can Find In The Supermarket
- Kelp – Slightly salty, fresh and an excellent flavor enhancer. Has the ability to make the food it is cooked with softer and more digestible.
- Wakame – Subtly, sweet flavor and satiny texture. Delicious and expands a lot when rehydrated.
- Dulse – Chewy texture and umami flavor. It has the highest iron content of any sea vegetable.
- Nori – Mild and grassy taste. Traditionally used for sushi rolls.
- Sea Lettuce – Mild iodine taste. Leafy, vibrant dark green, with a distinctive flavor and aroma. (Difficult to find unless you have access to Asian grocery store or available online.)
Kelp granules – Sprinkle on anywhere you’d use salt. Top off your popcorn, salads, and soups.
Kelp noodles – Substitute for cold or hot noodle dishes such as spaghetti, ramen, or rice noodles.
Wakame – Best used in soups and salads. Try seaweed salad and miso soup the next time you’re out for sushi and add wakame into any broth soup you make at home.
Dulse – Add to salads. Replace your bacon bits with this rich, meaty flavor from the sea.
Nori – Sushi and snacking. Ask for less rice and double up on the Nori in your sushi rolls. Nori sheets are sold in stores as snacks in a variety of flavors to satisfy salty, crunchy cravings.
Sea lettuce leaves – Best eaten raw to avoid bitter taste when cooked. Chop and add to your favorite salad.
Say “no” to diets and “yes” to filling your plate with veggies from the land and sea!