Debunking Seaweed Myths: Common Misconceptions

Experts tell us that what we eat will determine our life span. So healthy consumption is an extremely important issue. But with all the different food trends and diets available, choosing healthy foods can be confusing. Each person seems to have their own opinion on what’s good to eat and what’s not. The information on what is healthy keeps changing, and it can be overwhelming to stay on top of things. How do you know which food is bad for you? Countless ideas concerning healthy eating are based on myths.

Seaweed has been around for centuries, dating back to the ancient Japanese, who developed a highly advanced form of Nori aquaculture. Today, seaweed is globally touted as a cure for everything from thyroid disease to wrinkles. Others claim it causes cancer and allergies. Yet, it seems as though there is still some confusion about this seemingly mysterious ocean plant. 

Truth or myth – are you curious about which is which when it comes to seaweed? We’re here to unmask 12 seaweed myths and explain the facts. Read on to find out all the information you need about seaweed facts and fiction.

1. Seaweed Prevents Gray Hair

More and more women have been following Japanese practices for beauty tips. One Japanese beauty secret is turning to seaweed for lustrous, healthy hair. But some go to the lengths to claim that eating seaweed prevents grey hair! Japanese people eat a lot of seaweed and also have dark hair. But is this the reason between the two links?

Seaweed does contain antioxidants, collagen, minerals, and vitamins that help keep you strong and healthy. Unfortunately, there’s no proof that eating seaweed keeps the greys away. So, if you want healthy, great-looking hair, including some seaweed in your diet is no problem at all. However, don’t expect that it will cover the greys for you!

2. Seaweed Causes Cancer

Carrageenan is a widely used food ingredient that comes from red seaweed. It’s used as a thickener for soups, sauces, and puddings. It’s added to your ice cream and yogurt to make them creamier. It’s also used to prevent spoilage and suspend nutrients in baby formula.

Despite the many benefits of carrageenan, some people believe that seaweed causes cancer. Not only is this untrue, but some types of seaweed can prevent and slow the spread of cancer.

3. Seaweed Provides Limited Vitamins and Minerals

Seaweed is well known for iodine and calcium, but the countless other benefits it offers are still unknown to most people. Most seaweeds contain many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential amino acids, which your body needs. For example, Nori is a popular seaweed that’s high in B vitamins. Furthermore, seaweeds are one of the few plant-based foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. 

4. Dried Seaweed Is The Same Seaweed That Washes Ashore

For people who aren’t from seafood culture countries, seaweed is an exotic food choice. Dried seaweed is now readily available in supermarkets worldwide, but how are these paper-thin seaweed sheets made? Are they the same slimy weeds that wash up to seashores?

The truth is that most dried seaweed is farmed rather than gathered in the wild. The seaweed industry is a major business and highly developed form of agriculture in Japan and other East Asian countries. Large areas of water farther off the shore are designated to grow these plants and washed, prepared, and packaged with high security and safety checks in on-shore facilities.

5. Seaweed Cosmetics Cause Skin Allergies

While some have embraced seaweed to enhance their beauty, others are worried that seaweed beauty products might cause severe allergic skin reactions, such as redness, swelling, itching, and flaking. Some perfumes and oils, like tree tea oil, can cause allergies in some people. Other allergens are poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. So what about seaweed? A type of seaweed that causes skin irritation is poisonous blue-green algae that thrive in Hawaii and tropical zones.

Concluding that all seaweeds cause skin irritations just because one of them does is unreasonable! In fact, seaweeds are anti-allergenic. The American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry claims that many seaweeds contain polysaccharides with anti-asthmatic and anti-allergy effects.

6. Seaweed Causes Inflammation

There has been concern among some people that carrageenan in seaweed causes inflammation. This can be a serious issue, for inflammation precedes many severe conditions such as heart diseases, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. 

However, this concern is solely based on Joanne Tobacman’s faulty claims, which were based on questionable research methods. Non-biased researchers have repeatedly shown that carrageenan is a safe food ingredient.

7. Seaweed Has Way Too Much Iodine

There can be a lot of confusion about iodine in seaweed. Iodine is a mineral that your body uses to make thyroid hormones. These hormones control many functions, including metabolism, proper brain function, and bone development during pregnancy and childhood. A lack of iodine can result in severe symptoms, including a goiter, weight gain, learning difficulties, and pregnancy-related problems. On the other hand, too much iodine can also change the way your thyroid glands function.

Many people are concerned that all seaweeds contain too much iodine, which isn’t true. Not all seaweeds have the same level of iodine. For example, the three most common seaweeds – Kombu, Wakame, and Nori – all have different amounts of iodine.

Kombu, which is also known as kelp, has the highest estimate being 2,660µg per gram. Thus, consuming 9 grams of Kombu would exceed your daily recommended intake by 240 times over. Although Nori contains a low estimate of 12µg per gram, it seldom poses any significant health risk. Wakame lies somewhere in the middle, and moderate consumption should be acceptable.

Assuming that all seaweed from everywhere has the same levels of iodine would be completely false. As a matter of fact, a US study found that nearly two billion people worldwide were iodine deficient. So consuming seaweed moderately can be good for you and nothing to lose sleep about!

8. Seaweed Is Bad For The Environment

While more and more people are chowing down seaweed, concerns over seaweed harvesting have also been building. It’s been said that harvesting seagrass for food can cause a loss of habitat for marine life that depends on it for shelter and food. What is the truth? Are we harming our planet by eating seaweed?

Conversely, almost all of the seaweed we eat is farmed rather than gathered from the wild. These seaweed farms improve wild population levels by creating safe, healthy grounds for young fish and crustaceans.

Did you know that 50 to 80% of the air we breathe comes from ocean plants? As a result, an idea is gaining ground that seaweed can help fight climate change since they are great at absorbing carbon emissions! Reducing carbon, regenerating marine ecosystems, creating biofuel and renewable plastics are just a few of the environmental benefits of seaweed we are beginning to learn about.

9. Eating It Is The Only Way To Use Seaweed

Seaweeds are indeed used as a source of food in many marine countries. The primary consumers of these plants are Japan, Korea, and China, where seaweed farming has become an enormous industry. 

Although seaweed can be a healthy part of your diet, there are many more ways to utilize this plant. For example, seaweeds are used in cosmetics, fertilizers, and medicine. In addition, seaweeds are used in face masks, anti-aging serums, shampoos, lotions, and even toothpaste! Scientists are also discovering ways to convert kelp into fuel. Additionally, it has been found that marine algae can help combat climate change. That’s a lot of uses for a humble weed!

10. Eating Seaweed Makes You Lose Weight

Is seaweed the magic bullet to slim you down? Seaweed is indeed a healthy food that helps burn fat and suppresses hunger, improving your overall health. But, unfortunately, as much as you would like it, nutrition is highly complex. If you aren’t eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and skip your regular exercise, no superfood can save you. 

11. Seaweed Is Only Used On Sushi

Seaweed is becoming more and more popular each day. With experts and nutritionists speaking out about it, this “superfood” has gained global attention and has become a food trend. For many people in the west, seaweed is still an alien and unfamiliar item in the kitchen. However, the East Asians who’ve relished sea plants for centuries have been going online to share a lot of insight on how to prepare and eat this food.

Nori, one of the major types of seaweed, comes in the form of dried sheets. Besides using as a wrapper for sushi or rice, it can be shredded and sprinkled on rice, salads, or any dish! Kombu and Wakame can be made into soups and salads. Preparing seaweed meals is easier than you think, so don’t hesitate to add this trendy item to your kitchen!

12. Seaweed Is Asian / Japanese

To most Westerners who encounter seaweed only in sushi, seaweed seems a particularly Japanese thing. And rightly so, because this country is the biggest consumer and producer of seaweed. However, seaweed has had a broader arena in world history. 

Records from 600 BC show that in Ancient China, seaweed was served to the king’s special guests. It’s also highly possible that seaweed use began here first, and other countries learned from the Chinese.

Back in Europe, people in the Roman Empire used Mediterranean seaweed as medicine. The Greeks fed their animals seaweed and used some algae types as a dying agent. In the 1200s, harvesting and consuming sea veggies were popular in Scotland and Ireland. Across the oceans, Hawaiians were proficient in seaweed—using up to 70 different types for food, medicine, and ceremonies. The people of Tonga likewise have long included brown seaweed as part of their diet.

Many countries and people around the world have used seaweed for a long time, and each has its unique history, perspectives, and myths about this mysterious gift from nature.

Despite the many myths surrounding it, there’s no denying that seaweed is good for food and health, not to mention its benefit for the well-being of our planet. So next time you have a dish with seaweed, you can enjoy it in the smartest way possible!

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This article was co-authored by our team of writers and editors who share one thing in common: their passion for food and drinks!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco works as a New York-based editor at Foodrinke, driven by his lifelong love for food. His culinary journey began in childhood, as he eagerly assisted his mother with her local sandwich and bakery business, relishing every opportunity to sample her creations. Known among family and friends as an easy eater, JC has a particular affinity for Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and Peruvian cuisine. At Foodrinke, he channels his passion for food into his work, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with readers.