ason Tetro writes in the Huffington Post that the history of seaweed at the dinner table is longstanding. Back in 600 BC, a Chinese author supposedly stated, “Some algae are a delicacy fit for the most honored guests, even for the King himself.” Back then, these water grasses were considered to be a delicacy rather than a source of healthy nutrients. Perhaps because of this limited perspective on health, these plants were only eaten regularly in seaside areas.
The change in view started only about a few decades ago when seaweeds were investigated as a possible source of fiber to help control the increasing rate of chronic digestive, metabolic, and cardiovascular diseases. Only a few of the thousands of species were tested but they all revealed a significant amount of fiber was present. The results suggested dietary algae might play a much larger role in health than otherwise believed.
Other researchers went on to look at seaweed to determine if there were any other health benefits. As a whole, the delicacy proved to be quite beneficial to health. But while these examinations offered nutritional perspectives, from a purely health-related viewpoint, there were still questions. After all, fiber and nutrients can only do so much; there had to be more to the story.
Before seaweed could become a “superfood,” researchers had to find the molecules responsible, the so-called bioactives. By 2011, a number of these bioactives were found and their functions understood. Some of these chemicals were known, such as polyunsaturated fats and antioxidants. But others were new – and in some cases practically unpronounceable. Take for example, phlorofucofuroeckol-B, which may help prevent allergies and dixinodehydroeckol, which may help to prevent cancer.
But among the various bioactives, none has gained as much attention as the sulfated polysaccharides. These chains of sugar molecules containing the element sulfur are not new, however. They are used in a variety of industries including biotechnology, cosmetics and even food, in the form of the preservative carrageenan. Studies have shown these molecules have a variety of effects ranging from anti-inflammatory activity to the prevention of UV-related aging. They also are great sources of energy for friendly microbes in the form of prebiotics.