Seaside Nutrition

By: 

Juliet Dennis BSc, Nutritional therapist and general health and nutrition feature writer

Issue: 
Summer
Year of publication: 
2010

seawThe fact that our shores naturally provide some of the most nutrient-dense, edible plants, marine algae, shellfish and fish is not news – these foods have been enjoyed for centuries. But over time modern trends have relegated these national nutrient treasures to a less glorified status in our culinary world. Trends are changing and these foods are returning to our tables for good reasons, they are packed with powerful organic goodness.

The humble sea vegetable

Seaweed gets a bad rap from us Brits. But according to Professor Arasaki from the University of Tokyo, seaweeds, also known as sea vegetables, “have more minerals than any other kind of food”. Sea vegetables contain powerful compounds which have been shown to possess antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties. Studies also suggest they have the ability to impede the development of various cancers. The food industry has snapped up an extract from seaweed called Algin, which is used as a thickening agent. This mucilaginous gel has been shown to bind to heavy metals and toxins in the body, safely getting rid of them while also soothingly rejuvenating the lungs and intestinal tract. In addition, high levels of iodine in seaweed benefit the thyroid gland and stimulate the parathyroid gland, helping the absorption of calcium and nourishing bones and joints – an excellent antidote for arthritis sufferers. As more research comes to light, sea vegetables are getting noticed, their nutritional value is too important to be ignored. While Asians have integrated seaweed successfully into their diets for generations, we need to look to our ancestors for whom seaweed was an important food source, to inspire us. Cooking with sea vegetables may be a novel experience but definitely one worth a try.

New berry on the block

 Found in sand dunes and shrubby areas from July until winter, sea buckthorn’s deliciously tart orange-yellow berries contain more than 200 bioactive compounds. The secret to its potency lies in its exceptionally high levels of antioxidant nutrients (Vitamin C, E, carotenoids, flavonoids), plant sterols and minerals plus high levels of palmitoleic acid, an omega-7 fatty acid that’s rarely found in the plant kingdom. The buckthorn berry has been at the centre of several studies showing it to have an astonishing effect on skin and mucous membranes (digestive, respiratory, urogenital) protecting against factors such as toxins, stress, ageing and drugs. Its high levels of flavonoids have been used to great effect on cardiovascular health, reducing cholesterol levels and have been used in research as a protective agent against the side effects of cancer drugs. Find them, pick them and freeze them for antioxidant protection all year round.

Wild sea asparagus - a delicacy with clout

Marsh Samphire, also known as glasswort or sea asparagus is coral-like in appearance and has gorgeous green stems. Found in salt marshes and mud flats from June until September, it is known for its digestive and anti-flatulent properties. Nicholas Culpepper (the 17th century English physician) wrote that samphire was useful in curing ailments relating to “ill digestions and obstructions” likely due to its diuretic and depurative properties. It is rich in iodine and is packed with phytochemicals that protect the liver, heart and cellular DNA. It is also rich in vitamins A, C, B2, B15, amino acids, and minerals, such as iron, calcium and magnesium phosphorus, calcium, silica, zinc, manganese and vitamin D. Not surprising, therefore, that it was used by sailors on ocean voyages to combat scurvy. Eaten raw, lightly blanched, or steamed, sea asparagus is fast gaining new heights of fame in our kitchens.

Shellfish from our shores…

Although burdened with myths of cholesterol and unfairly branded as a villainous food their important nutrient value has afforded shellfish new respect. Whilst it’s true that shellfish should be eaten with caution, they are packed with bio-available nutrients. Selenium, lacking in our depleted soil, is plentiful in shellfish, zinc from oysters is more absorbable than that found in plants or grains, and iron from mussels checks in at more than twice the amount found in red meat. Getting reacquainted with our own local shellfish provides more than just a delicious meal. The terrific nutritional content helps protect the heart, improve immune function and is likely to leave you feeling more energetic.

Mackerel, the hearty fish

Line-caught mackerel is the silvery succulent king of oily fish. Its virtues lie in the fact that it also contains omega- 3 fatty acids, selenium and vitamin D which functions as a hormone, regulating calcium and phosphorous metabolism. Combined essential fatty acids and vitamin D act synergistically; studies have suggested that together they possess an anti-inflammatory and preventative effect for heart disease and cancer. Boasting over 11,000 miles of coastline we are blessed with such delicious and nutritious sea-related food. Embracing the British seaside and the seasonal local food from its shores not only affords more tasty meals, but also more goodness without the carbon footprint associated with imported foods. 

Keywords: 
FOOD, seaweed, buckthorn, sea asparagus, mackerel
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