Discover the hidden treasure to weight management: sea vegetables.

Guest Blogger Post: Cheryl Fitzgerald, Dominican University Nutrition Student

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. Its residents 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 No Diet 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? Translation: Eat until you’re no longer hungry, not exactly stuffed, but satisfied. The West calls this philosophy mindful eating, and it’s becoming very popular 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 sea vegetables to your plate, too. Here’s a list to help you get started along with some tasty tips for adding sea vegetables to your family’s favorite foods and recipes.

Sea Vegetables You Can Find In The Supermarket

Brown seaweed:

  • 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.

Red seaweed:

  • 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.

Green seaweed: 

  • 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.)

Sea Veggie Eating Tips

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.

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About Author


Jodie Shield, M.Ed., R.D., L.D.N. Jodie Shield has been a consultant and spokesperson in the field of nutrition for over two decades. A former national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (1989-1995), she has worked extensively with the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center and taught nutrition and medical dietetics at the University of Illinois. Currently she is a complemental faculty member of the College of Health Sciences in the Department of Clinical Nutrition at Rush University in Chicago.

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