Belize is blessed with an abundance of tropical fruit, a plethora of medicinal bark, roots, and herbs, and a bounty of super foods such as cacao and Eucheuma Seaweed. Over the past 6 years that I’ve lived here I’m made a valiant attempt to try them all but I’m especially drawn to the seaweed- a low-calorie, nutrient-dense, high-iron food that is sustainably farmed in the waters not far from Placencia. Seaweed is a beloved and time-honored ingredient in local cuisine and I recommend visitors try one of the deliciously cold, creamy, and super sweet Seaweed Shakes from Brewed Awakenings or The Shak while they’re here. Typically used in small quantities as a thickening agent, seaweed is an occasional consumable rather than a staple of the local diet. But I wondered what would happen if I ate seaweed on a consistent basis, say…for 2 weeks. Would I reap any health benefits from this purported super food? Would I lose weight? Increase strength? Have glowing skin and glossy hair? Well, here’s what happened!
How to Eat Seaweed
When we talk about eating seaweed, most people envision the flat sheets of Nori you would get as a snack or the binding of your sushi. Or perhaps maybe the Wakame variety used in Asian seaweed salads. But the seaweed we grow and eat in Belize is Eucheuma Isoforme, a red alga variety that is typically boiled down to a thick jelly and then used in smoothies or custards. I got a bag of the dried seaweed from my favorite little local shop- Taste Belize. The instructions on the package say to cover a handful of the seaweed with water in a pot and boil until dissolved. When it cools to room temperature it will be a thick jelly. It doesn’t have much of a taste, perhaps a little ocean-y, and virtually no scent so it blends in to shakes, soups, and other things almost undetectably. I use a bit of the jelly in tomato sauce when I serve pasta (as long as the sauce stays warm you would never guess that there’s seaweed added to it, only when it cools does it become a little gelatinous) and any time I make a protein shake or smoothie. I even added a spoonful to my morning coffee! I’ll have to ask the experts (my creole neighbors and certainly Dr. Lyra Spang) for other ideas on how to incorporate seaweed in to more recipes. For the majority of my experiment I simply took a spoonful of the jelly (that I stored in a jar in the fridge) on it’s own- doing a quick chew and chasing it down with water. It isn’t bad on it’s own but its certainly not good. (remember the petri dishes from your High School biology class? this is probably the taste and texture of eating the inside of one of those) I just sort of treated it like taking vitamins: it might not be pleasant but its good for you so just slug it down.
What Makes Seaweed a Superfood?
Seaweed really is a superfood! While it doesn’t put up the proteins numbers that beans do (seaweed has around 10% protein by weight where as beans are more around 20-25%), it is still a decent plant-based source of the muscle-building macro. It contains 92 of the 102 essential minerals our bodies need for optimal function including calcium; seaweed actually contains 600 times more calcium than animal sources like milk. Another surprise- iron! Seaweed would be perfect to combat anemia as it contains 28 times more iron then liver by weight and the iron is much more bioavailable than iron in meat. Seaweed is also a natural source of iodine which is an essential mineral our bodies need to support thyroid function and if you’ve tried to cut down or out your use of table salt (good for you!) you may need an alternative source of iodine in your daily diet. It may be good for your skin because it contains antioxidants like Vitamin E as well as natural collagen. Seaweed is anti-inflammatory and a good diuretic so it promotes your body’s inherent detox processes. It obviously has plenty of soluble fiber so it is wonderful for your GI tract and for lowering cholesterol. What can’t seaweed do?!
How Do You Feel on Seaweed?
I’m on weed, man… and it feels goooood. The results of my totally unscientific, single-case study are promising! Starting weight was 136.4 and end weight is 133.0 (this is where we insert a Regina George/ Mean Girls meme… “I really want to lose 3 pounds”) but honestly this mean NOTHING because my weight yo-yo’s drastically, literally all the time. I could “lose 3 pounds” during my morning jog then gain it back plus some by the end of a good eating day so I’m not putting much stock in seaweed’s incredible weight lose abilities but perhaps with consistent consumption it could aid in a weight lose journey. What I do put stock in is the muscle recovery properties of seaweed. Our seaweed is loaded with potassium, the primary electrolyte responsible for muscle function, and I felt less sore for a shorter time during workouts in this 2-week span. Most remarkable though was the improvement in knee pain! I’m going to be 40 soon and I’ll be real with you guys- these old knees ain’t what they used to be. Shucks. Just before the seaweed experiment I attempted some mobility exercises that were at best, painful and at worst, dang near impossible but at the end of my 2 weeks I’m able to do at least a few sissy squats without crying or falling on my butt. I can only assume that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of the seaweed have had a positive effect on my joints… even if this is purely the placebo effect- I’ll freaking take it!
So that is all I’ve noticed but I think it’s worth continuing with the experimental consumption for a bit longer. I didn’t get glossy hair from eating seaweed but you can get perfect curls from Jolie Pollard’s local seaweed based product, Ikooma. Ikooma and the dried seaweed from the Placencia Seaweed Farmers Co-op are both available for purchase at Taste Belize.
Want to know more about seaweed, the future of seaweed farming, and what awesome local initiatives are in the works? Here is a bunch of recommended reading!
https://www.bwsfa.com/home (Belize Women’s Seaweed Farmers Assoc)