If you want to incorporate more healthful foods into your diet, consider adding algae -- you can likely find it in your local health food store, labeled as seaweed. Some algae form large, leaflike structures -- the seaweed "plant" -- while others, such as spirulina, exist as single cells. Algae offers a wealth of nutritional value, significantly increasing your nutrient intake, but it also contains a considerable amount of sodium.
Basic Nutrition Information
Algae is low in calories -- agar, kelp, raw spirulina and wakame contain just 21, 34, 26 and 36 calories per 1-cup serving, respectively. Most of algae's calories come from carbohydrates, which promote intestinal health and provide energy to fuel your cells' function. Kelp and wakame are higher in carbohydrates than agar and spirulina -- they offer roughly 7.5 grams of carbohydrates per serving compared to agar's 5.5 and spirulina's 2.4 grams. Agar, kelp and wakame are low in protein, at less than 3 grams per serving, while spirulina offers 6 grams per cup.
Consuming algae helps boost your vitamin intake. Choosing agar, kelp or wakame boosts your folate intake -- they provide 17 percent, 36 percent or 39 percent of the recommended daily intake for folate, respectively, according to the Institute of Medicine. This folate helps you synthesize DNA, which supports new cell growth, and also regulates gene activity. Spirulina comes packed with riboflavin, a vitamin important for liver function. Kelp also contains vitamin K, a nutrient involved in kidney health and blood clotting, while wakame offers vitamin A, which is important for immune system function.
Use algae as a source of essential minerals. Kelp, spirulina, agar and wakame all provide significant amounts of iron -- 2.3, 2.8, 1.5 and 1.7 milligrams per cup, respectively -- to help you consume the 18 milligrams needed daily by women and 8 milligrams needed by men, according to the Institute of Medicine. Iron supports your health because it helps provide your cells with a continual supply of oxygen and also aids in energy production. Algae also contains smaller amounts of other minerals, including magnesium and calcium, two nutrients needed for healthy bones.
Consume some types of algae in moderation to avoid consuming too much sodium. Your diet should not contain more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily, and ideally you should cap your intake at 1,500 milligrams, recommends the Institute of Medicine. A single serving of wakame algae contributes a significant amount toward your daily allowance -- each cup contains 698 milligrams, which is 30 percent of your maximum daily limit. Instead, opt for agar as a low-sodium algae -- a serving contains just 7 milligrams -- or kelp or spirulina as a moderate sodium sources. Kelp contains 186 milligrams per serving and spirulina weighs in at 98 milligrams.
- University of Florida: Macroalgae (Seaweed)
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Seaweed, Kelp, Raw
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Seaweed, Agar, Raw
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Seaweed, Wakame, Raw
- McKinley Health Center: Macronutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat
- Linus Pauling Institute: Folic Acid
- Colorado State University Extension: Fat-Soluble Vitamins: A, D, E, and K
- Linus Pauling Institute: Iron
- Linus Pauling Institute: Sodium (Chloride)
- Linus Pauling Institute: Magnesium