The search for additional plant-based sources of nutrients has led us back to the Atlantic coasts of North America and Europe for sea moss, a type of seaweed that grows among the rockier shores of these continents.
It’s been used in herbal medicine and as sustenance, especially during periods of famine when few other sources were available, but most often for its carrageenan, used as a thickening agent in foods and beverages.
Scientists have found sea moss has a variety of nutrients including iodine, iron, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, vitamins B6 and C, zinc, folate and dietary fiber. The actual content varies between brands, where the sea moss was grown and how it’s stored and prepared.
It’s sold in health food stores and online in bunches, as capsules and in powdered and gel forms that can be added to smoothies, baked goods and other meals.
The potential health benefits of sea moss include:
Aiding thyroid function
Sea moss has high levels of iodine, a nutrient mostly consumed via fish and dairy products, which the body requires to make hormones that control metabolism, heartbeat and other vital functions. These hormones also support healthy development in the womb and after birth. Vegans, pregnant women and those who don’t consume iodized salt are at highest risk for iodine deficiency.
Consuming too much iodine can lead to thyroid dysfunction, however; the National Institutes of Health recommend teens and adults have no more than 150 micrograms daily, rising to 220 mcg for those who are pregnant and 290 mcg for those who are breastfeeding.
Boosting gut health
Sea moss has abundant dietary fiber, including lots of polysaccharides that act as prebiotics, fueling beneficial bacteria that maintain the gut biome. Lab studies have found rats whose diets included sea moss had higher levels of good bacteria and lower levels of potentially harmful varieties in their digestive tract, but further research in humans is needed.
Beta-carotene is the most abundant antioxidant in sea moss, but it also contains other anti-inflammatory substances including potassium chloride, vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids, the last of which is also hard to obtain from plant foods.