Health Benefits and Uses of Seaweed

Leafy Greens of the Sea, Plus Where to Find Seaweed

Seaweed, annotated

Photo: Alexandra Shytsman  

Seaweed is a potential wonder crop, with significant health benefits. For ages, the Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian cultures have eaten foods wrapped in dried seaweed. But increasingly, seaweed is making waves in the West. Should you start eating these leafy greens of the sea? Find out.

Why Is Seaweed Healthy?

Seaweed (obviously) grows in the ocean, where it picks up a range of minerals and other nutrients. It is also a fairly simple food, making it easy for the body to break down and release the healthful substances inside.

Seaweed has many nutrients that confer health benefits. It's rich in fiber, fatty acids, and polyphenols (antioxidant plant compounds that are linked to a reduced risk of certain diseases). An August 2015 study in Marine Drugs suggested that seaweed has compounds that may be useful for preventing or treating type 2 diabetes.

Seaweed provides a variety of vitamins and minerals that aren't as available in land-grown vegetables. This extra variety makes seaweed a good addition to your diet.

Nori (the sheets of seaweed used in sushi) has high levels of vitamin B12, making it a smart choice for vegetarians. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids and iron, according to an article in the May 2014 issue of Nutrients. There is also wakame, which is dried whole seaweed. In other words, there are many different ways to eat seaweed.

Seaweed is also a component of the Okinawan diet, an eating pattern from a part of Japan where inhabitants are known for their long lives.

Health Claims

It seems that no matter how healthy and nutritious a food is, marketing people and health fanatics always have to overdo the claims. That’s true of seaweed, where health claims boast it:

  • Increases sexual desire (because it contains manganese)
  • Can treat ulcers (a 2015 study found red seaweed has components that resemble standard ulcer treatment)
  • Treats some types of cancer
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Increases weight loss

While no food is a magic bullet, seaweed certainly is a nutritious food with several potential health benefits.

How to Eat Seaweed

The easiest way to eat seaweed is by using dried seaweed wrapper, the kind you find served in sushi restaurants. You can find packs of these wrappers (called "nori") in most grocery stores. The seaweed comes in thin dried sheets and can be used to wrap most anything. You can also break up these wrappers and sprinkle dried seaweed flakes onto a salad or anything else to increase the nutritional value. When eaten like this, it is almost tasteless. Another place to find seaweed is in many Asian soups, such as miso soup (just watch the sodium content).

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Bee, P. Let's eat seaweed. The Times Online. Sept. 23, 2007.
  • USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20 (2007).