Seaweed gets popular, offers heart health

LOS ANGELES Seaweed comes wrapped around our sushi roll and is often served as a side salad in Japanese restaurants. We think it's good for us, but most of us don't really know.

"(It's) amazing for heart health. If we think about it, in order to lower homocystine, we want to make sure we have a good amount of folic acid, B6 and B12. Our seaweed is doing that right there," said dietitian Ashley Koff.

We may have heard of nori, which is the sushi seaweed, but now sea greens such as wakame, hijiki, arame, laver and kombu are all being packaged for us to try.

Nori and laver are good to start with, and arame and wakame a bit heartier in taste and texture.

"What seaweed ends up being is this beautiful mix of minerals as well as a really high level of B vitamins," Koff said.

Seaweed also provides much needed magnesium for strong bones and iodine, which is often added to our table salt.

Seaweed is a small-dose food. Try it snipped in soup or crumbled in popcorn or salad to offer that tangy, salty taste. Look for sesame seeds with flicks of seaweed, which offer a nutty flavor.

A fun way to give seaweed a sample is Sea's Gift, which has two styles of nori that are great for snacking. One box contains small sheets of tangy crunchy nori, which has only 20 calories. The other type is sweetened and crumbled that is a hit with kids.

"It's kind of like when you do caramel-covered popcorn," Koff said.

Once a delicacy for the wealthy, seaweed has been consumed for 10,000 years and is now gaining popularity in the West. Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Costco and Wal-Mart offer an assortment of seaweed.

"At the end of the day, what we're looking at is we've got heart health, we've got bone health," Koff said. "We also have great prenatal and pregnancy nutrition, so we've got a lot going on."

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