Following a healthy diet is very important to stave off diseases. Foods with high levels of critical nutrients provide us with the best chance of living healthy. One such food is kelp which belongs to the brown algae family. This underwater seaweed is widely used for medicinal purposes as a supplement or as food for humans and animals. Kelp is considered a superfood for it has over 70 nutrients – zinc, manganese, copper, potassium and iron. It is the best source of bioavailable iodine. Kelp is also rich in sodium, Vitamins A, D, E, B1, B12, B2, K and amino acids. It is popularly used as a substitute for salt and also as an addition to various dishes.
There are different varieties of kelp and knowing their origins is critical, for most of the world’s oceans are polluted. This can cause kelp harvested in these waters to be contaminated by harmful toxins. Hence choose kelp harvested from protected waters which can be found off the coasts of Norway, Iceland, North West United States, Hawaii and Canada.
Kelp is used as granules, powders, liquids or supplements and is added to foods like salads, entrees, stir-fries, and drinks like smoothies, iced teas etc. It is also a popular dietary supplement.
Health Benefits of Kelp
Iodine is present abundantly in marine animals and plants due to their ability to absorb iodine present in sea water. Hence, sea kelp is one of the best sources of iodine, along with deep-water white fish and shellfish. Including these foods in our diet will provide us with our required quantities of iodine. In fact, in some cuisines, kelp is substituted for table salt (the most common source of iodine).
Iodine offers various health benefits. The most important function is to maintain Basic Metabolic Rates (BMR) and sustain optimal functioning of the thyroid glands. It helps in production of thyroid hormones – thyroxin and triodothyronine – which in turn influence blood pressure levels, heart rate, body temperature and weight gain or loss. Iodine helps to improve energy levels and ensures proper utilization of calories. It helps maintain healthy hair, nails and teeth. Lack of iodine can cause hair loss.
The normal growth of reproductive organs requires the presence of iodine. Iodine deficiency in pregnant women can cause neuro-cognitive problems in their fetuses and lead to stillbirths. Iodine helps with programmed cell death required for creation of new cells and removal of diseased cells from the body. Iodine has anti-cancer properties. Cancer cells can shrink with the help of iodine. Iodine deficiency causes various thyroid disorders, especially goiter. Iodine is also used as a stabilizing agent by bakers.
These various benefits of iodine can be enjoyed by including right quantities of kelp in our diet. Overdose of iodine (>2000 mg per day) can cause serious disorders of the kidney and worsen thyroid problems. Hence, always check with your doctor if you decide to use iodine-based supplements like kelp. Pregnant and breastfeeding women must be especially careful not to take an overdose.
Thyroid diseases affect many people world over – especially women. People who have thyroid diseases could have over an active thyroid (hyperthyroidism) or inactive thyroid which uses body energy too slowly (hypothyroidism). There are other thyroid diseases too which can cause various health problems. A thyroid diet requires the inclusion of iodine-rich foods like kelp and avoiding saturated fats, refined foods, all products made with white flour and sugars. Those with iodine deficiency can include kelp supplements in their diets. Apart from maintaining normal functioning of the thyroid, algin content in kelp removes radiation and harmful toxins from the body, therefore providing a protective barrier for the thyroid gland. This also reduces our risk from thyroid cancer
Benefit for Pets
Kelp offers various health benefits when added to the diet of pets and livestock. It can help maintain a shiny and healthy skin and coat, protect pets from alopecia, dry skin and skin allergies, manage tissue repair in dogs, protect them from flea and other pest manifestations, help maintain optimal weight by improving metabolism rates, improve glandular function, reduce risk of heart disease and maintain normal cholesterol levels. Introducing kelp to your pet’s diet will keep them happy and healthy with strong bones and lesser inflammatory diseases. Kelp helps females produce larger litters, with easier birthing and is also good to improve digestion. The high fiber content in kelp has anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and anti-rheumatic properties that benefit our pets.
Benefits for Hair
Deficiency in certain vitamins like magnesium, iron, zinc, folate and B vitamins leads to dry, dull hair and hair loss. Kelp contains all these essential nutrients which are required for maintaining healthy hair. Sea kelp is used in many hair grooming products like growth treatments, hair shampoos and conditioners etc. These help strengthen hair, provide nourishment and help with hair growth.
The nutrient content is kelp like vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and iodine could benefit weight loss programs. Thyroid disorders cause obesity and by preventing iodine deficiency, kelp prevents these disorders and helps maintain optimal weight. Eating a balanced diet that includes kelp can improve digestion and fluid balance, leading to weight loss. The dietary fiber content in kelp improves digestion and relieves constipation. The iodine content in kelp helps restore electrolyte levels in the body which are lost during strenuous exercise. Kelp is low in carbohydrates. One of the key ways of losing weight is to consume a mainly low carb diet.
Other health benefits of Kelp
- Japan is a country where kelp is widely used in diet. Some studies have found that overall, Japanese women have lower rates of endometrial, breast and ovarian cancer. Kelp is said to lower serum estradiol levels, therefore benefiting women.
- Women suffering from endometriosis have reduced pain levels when using kelp supplements.
Kelp contains fucoidan which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, therefore providing benefits to those with osteoporosis, arthritis and other bone problems.
- It is high in anti-oxidants which offer various health benefits including fighting free radicals which harm the body.
- Women also benefit from the high levels of calcium found in kelp which helps maintain normal menstrual periods.
- Kelp provides benefits to the prostate and pancreas, prevents tumors, maintains good functioning of the digestive system, and protects the body from harmful effects of radiation.
- Kelp prevents deficiency of various vitamins and minerals.
- It can lower cholesterol levels, boost immunity, help with brain development, suppress AIDS, provides benefits to those who suffer from anemia, impotence and emaciation and improves liver function.
While kelp offers numerous health benefits, we need to be cautious when using it to prevent an overdose of iodine. This can be achieved by using sea kelp for 2 weeks at a time. Always take a break and start again. Pregnant and breastfeeding women must not use kelp unless they suffer from an iodine deficiency. Anyone including nutritional supplements must consult their doctor before doing so. Kelp supplements could interact adversely with thyroid or other medications. Follow all relevant dosages mentioned on the label to make sure you take the appropriate dosage for your age and health condition.