Super Seaweed: Is Kelp the New Kale?

May 24, 2017
By: Julia Pleasant, RDN, LD

Have you heard the buzz that kelp is the new kale? In fact, seaweed has been rated among the hottest food trends for the past few years by numerous health and nutrition publications. It’s no wonder why, considering that seaweed boasts a reputation for having nutritional superpowers that have been harnessed for centuries by adventurous eaters. No longer are seaweeds only good for wrapping sushi rolls and floating around in miso soup—these days you’ll find them playing a starring role in green smoothies, roasted into chip-like snacks, and nestled atop insta-worthy Buddha bowls.

Nutritionally speaking, seaweed is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, along with calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Seaweed is naturally high in iodine, with kelp and arame containing the highest concentrations of all the sea vegetables. Recent studies have also shown that seaweed —especially those from the brown and red families—contain high levels of a polysaccharide called fucoidan that is being researched for its cancer-fighting, immune-boosting properties.

Want to start incorporating seaweed into your diet but not sure where to start? Listed below are some of the most common seaweeds, along with some creative ways to use them to spruce up dishes:



Most well-known for its use in sushi rolls, nori is a slightly salty, versatile seaweed. Try it as a wrap by adding your favorite fillings and rolling it up burrito-style; cut it up into matchsticks to sprinkle over grain dishes; or try this recipe for Wasabi-Toasted Nori Crisps.



Wakame is a slippery, mild-tasting seaweed and a standout in miso soup. Since it’s typically sold dried, soak a few tablespoons of it in water for 3-4 minutes, drain, and gently squeeze out the extra water. After that, simply toss it with your favorite dressing and serve over salads or bowls!



Dulse is a red-blue seaweed overtaking the plant-based food world as a bacon substitute. Dried dulse can be pan-fried (straight from the package) for a few seconds and eaten as chips, crumbled over veggies, or added to sandwiches (DLT, anyone?) for a hit of umami.



Hijiki is a high-fiber, mild and sweet seaweed very common in Japanese dishes. If purchased dried, it requires soaking for about an hour before being added to recipes. Hijiki pairs great with carrots and soybeans in this hearty salad.



Kombu, also known as kelp, is widely used as a seasoning for miso and noodle soups where it imparts a meaty flavor to the broth. Add dried kombu to the cooking liquid of beans to improve their digestibility, or crush it up and use as a salt substitute.

As the popularity of sea vegetables continues to grow, you can expect more questions from your clients on how they can be incorporated into their diets. Keep in mind that, due to the high levels of nutrients such as iodine, vitamin K and potassium in seaweed that can be deleterious for some health conditions, it is best to recommend that seaweed is consumed as an ingredient in meals rather than in supplemental form. Further, since seaweeds readily absorb toxins and heavy metals from their environment it is crucial to source seaweeds from reliable sources and vary the type of seaweeds consumed.