Marine Algae As Food Health Promoters

Ancient times witnessed the health benefits linked to seaweed consumption by Eastern countries. This utilization of marine algae can be traced back to the fourth century in Japan and the sixth century in China, although archeological evidences also indicate that seaweeds were included in folk medicine for many thousands of years in Japan, China, Egypt, and India (Fakoya et al., 2011). Today, Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea are the largest consumers of seaweeds as food (FAO, 2003).

Despite the scarce knowledge on composition and nutritional value of marine algae, oriental communities included them in their dietetic habits centuries ago, and nowadays, they have a long traditional use of marine algae as food. As more information about algae components is being accumulated, more people around the world are becoming familiarized with ''sea vegetables'' as part of a regular diet and, slow but steadily, cooking recipes are incorporated in Western countries.

In the past three decades, many authors have published on the chemical composition of diverse species of algae; however, there is still a lack of studies on the nutritional properties of a great variety of species, and even the most popular edible seaweeds are incompletely known which is understandable, given the enormous number of species that occur worldwide, around 12,000. Despite this incompleteness, data on major edible seaweeds might be used to point out some representative nutritional facts to make some statements on their value as foodstuff. A comparison can be made using published data on the composition of edible seaweeds and the amounts of typical intakes through both western and eastern diets, applying typical nutritional indicators. Daily consumption of seaweed is difficult to establish since they are used in a variety of ways: noodles, soups, snacks, salads are some of the dishes that can be prepared. However, some approaches are useful to determine a common measure and be able to compare on a portion basis. According to the third Korean National Health and Nutrition Survey, the daily intake of seaweed is 8.5 g/d. In Japan, a daily typical consumption in that country is up to 10 g/d (Teas et al., 2004). For Koreans, diet is based on Porphyra sp., Undaria pinnatifida, and Laminaria sp. seaweeds which constitute over 95% of seaweed consumption in Korea. In Japan and China, Monostroma sp., Hizikiafusiformis, Ulva sp., and Palmaria palmata are also used as food, and all of them are among the most commonly consumed algae which are being incorporated into Western dietetic habits (FAO, 2003). Well known are also species of Gracilaria, Gellidium, Sargassum, Caulerpa, and Ascophyl-lum. Using this information, a comparison is made using common measures (portions) of usual foods in an occidental diet (Table 3.1).

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