Kelp powder is a nutritional supplement made from dried and powdered seaweed called kelp. Kelp is a type of large, brown algae that grows in shallow, nutrient-rich ocean waters near coastal fronts around the world. Kelp powder has become increasingly popular due to its high content of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial nutrients.
Kelp powder can be added to smoothies, soups, baked goods, and more to provide a boost of nutrition. Some key potential benefits of kelp powder include supporting thyroid health, aiding digestion, promoting bone health, and providing antioxidants.
What is Kelp?
Kelp refers to several different species of brown algae seaweed from the Laminariaceae family. Some common varieties include:
- Kombu - The most popular edible kelp used frequently in Japanese dishes. This variety grows in shallow, nutrient-rich waters off the coasts of Japan and Korea.
- Alaria - A type of wild kelp that grows along the Pacific coast of North America. Has a mild, sweet flavor.
- Wakame - Another edible brown seaweed popular in Japanese cuisine. It has a subtly sweet, ocean-like flavor.
- Bladderwrack - A common, bushy kelp found on rocky coastlines of the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Has a strong, seaweed taste.
Kelp grows very rapidly, up to two feet per day. It thrives on rocky surfaces in shallow, sunlit waters. Kelp forests provide an important habitat and source of food for many marine organisms.
Humans have used kelp as a food source for centuries, especially in Asian cuisines. More recently, kelp has become prized for its nutritional content. Dried kelp can be ground into a fine greenish-brown powder to make kelp powder supplements.
Nutrition Profile of Kelp Powder
What makes kelp so nutritious? As kelp grows in the ocean, it absorbs a wide variety of minerals and nutrients from the surrounding seawater. As a result, dried kelp powder is rich in:
- Iodine - Kelp is one of the best natural sources of iodine, which is crucial for healthy thyroid hormone production. The thyroid regulates metabolism, growth, and other vital processes.
- Antioxidants - Contains carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamins C and E, zinc, and manganese to combat oxidative stress.
- Vitamin K - Needed for proper blood clotting and bone health.
- Folate - Important for cell division and preventing anemia.
- Calcium - Vital for bone strength, muscle function, and nerve signaling.
- Magnesium - Supports over 300 enzyme reactions in the body and aids muscle and nerve function.
- Iron - Helps transport oxygen in the blood as part of hemoglobin.
Kelp powder is low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates. It provides dietary fiber and protein as well. The specific nutrition profile can vary slightly depending on the kelp variety. However, kelp powder is dense in minerals and includes over 70 trace elements needed by the human body.
Potential Health Benefits of Kelp Powder
Due to its stellar nutritional profile, kelp powder supplementation may provide the following health benefits:
1. Supports Thyroid Health
Kelp is one of the best natural food sources of iodine, which is an essential mineral needed for proper thyroid function. The thyroid gland requires iodine to produce thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).
These hormones regulate your metabolism, temperature, growth, and other vital processes. Not consuming enough iodine can lead to hypothyroidism, causing fatigue, weight gain, and other symptoms.
The iodine in kelp powder helps ensure your thyroid gets enough of this crucial mineral. However, too much iodine can also disrupt thyroid function. The recommended daily iodine intake for most adults is 150 mcg. Using kelp powder sparingly is best, especially if you have thyroid issues.
2. May Aid in Digestion
The type of fiber found in kelp powder, known as alginate fiber, may promote gut health in several ways. Soluble alginate fiber forms a gel-like substance when mixed with water.
Research indicates alginate fiber may help:
- Slow digestion to support satiety and weight management
- Reduce fat absorption by up to 75% by blocking digestive enzymes
- Provide food for beneficial gut bacteria
- Soothe gastrointestinal inflammation
By supporting healthy digestion and microbiome balance, kelp powder supplementation may ease digestive issues like bloating, constipation, and acid reflux.
3. Contains Anti-Inflammatory Compounds
Chronic inflammation is linked to many diseases. Kelp powder's antioxidants, including carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamins C and E, zinc, and manganese, combat inflammation by neutralizing free radicals in your body.
Kelp also contains a unique antioxidant called fucoidan. Studies suggest fucoidan blocks inflammatory pathways and may help prevent certain cancers from metastasizing.
Adding kelp powder to your diet provides anti-inflammatory protection to support overall health.
4. Promotes Bone Health
Kelp powder is a plant-based source of calcium, providing about 13% of the daily value per serving. Calcium is essential for building and maintaining strong, dense bones throughout life.
Kelp powder also supplies vitamin K, which aids calcium absorption and reduces calcium loss from bone. The magnesium and trace minerals in kelp further support bone structure and strength.
Consuming kelp powder daily provides bone-protective nutrients, especially helpful for preventing osteoporosis.
5. May Boost Immunity
Kelp powder contains various nutrients that help support immune function. For example, vitamin C stimulates white blood cells and acts as an antioxidant to fight infection.
Zinc aids in wound healing, DNA synthesis, and enzyme activity to keep your immune system working properly. The antioxidant carotenoids found in kelp help defend your cells from free radical damage as well.
Kelp powder may also have prebiotic effects, boosting populations of beneficial bacteria that influence immune responses. A stronger immune system defends better against pathogens, promoting wellness.
6. Supports Heart Health
The vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber in kelp powder help reduce risk factors for heart disease in multiple ways.
For instance, kelp's potassium content helps lower blood pressure by balancing fluid levels. The anti-inflammatory effects also protect blood vessels and cholesterol from oxidative damage.
Folate helps convert homocysteine, a compound linked to heart disease risk, into benign forms. Plus, kelp's fiber content can help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol levels.
Overall, kelp powder provides cardiovascular support by improving circulation, lowering blood pressure, and reducing inflammation.
Key Takeaway: Kelp powder is rich in iodine, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that offer a variety of potential health benefits related to thyroid function, digestion, bone health, immunity, and heart health.
Potential Side Effects of Kelp Powder
When consumed in moderation, kelp powder is likely safe for most people. However, there are some potential side effects to be aware of:
- Since kelp is high in iodine, regularly consuming very high amounts may disrupt thyroid function and lead to hyperthyroidism symptoms like fatigue, weight loss, and heart palpitations.
- Contamination with heavy metals like arsenic is a concern with some kelp supplements. Excess arsenic can cause nausea, vomiting, and damage to organs like the kidneys and liver. Choosing reputable brands that test for heavy metals is important.
- People taking blood thinners (anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs) should avoid kelp powder due to its high vitamin K content, which aids blood clotting.
- Due to its blood pressure-lowering effects, kelp should be used cautiously with medications for hypertension.
- Kelp powder may cause mild digestive upset in some people, especially when first using it. Start with small amounts.
Talk to your healthcare provider before taking kelp supplements if you have any medical conditions or take medications. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also consult their doctor first.
How to Use Kelp Powder
There are many easy ways to use kelp powder as a nutritional supplement:
- Add to smoothies - Blend kelp powder into your favorite green, fruit, or protein smoothies. Start with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per serving.
- Sprinkle on meals - Sprinkle on top of salads, soups, grains, vegetables, eggs, meat, and fish for added nutrition. Use instead of salt.
- Mix into dressings and dips - Whisk a teaspoon of kelp powder into salad dressings, marinades, hummus, guacamole, yogurt dips,
- Add to baked goods - Use kelp powder in place of part of the flour in recipes for muffins, breads, pancakes, and more. Start by substituting 1-2 tablespoons per cup of flour.
- Make kelp tea - Steep 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of kelp powder in hot water for 5-10 minutes. Strain and drink. Add lemon, honey or milk if desired.
- Use in soups and stews - Add kelp powder to lentil, bean, vegetable, miso, or broth-based soups and stews. Use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per serving.
- Homemade broths and stocks - Put kelp powder in vegetable, chicken or bone broths while simmering for extra nutrients. Use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per cup of broth.
- Fermented foods - Add a pinch of kelp powder to homemade sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, yogurt, kefir, kombucha or other fermented foods.
- Make kelp noodles - Use kelp powder to coat spiralized zucchini or vegetables noodles. Or blend with water to form a kelp noodle dough.
The ocean-like taste of kelp pairs well with fish, eggs, grains, and legumes. Start with small amounts of kelp powder until your taste buds adjust. About 1/4 to 1 teaspoon daily is a good starting dosage. Too much may cause digestive issues.
Choose organic kelp powders whenever possible. Store in an airtight container away from heat, light, and moisture to preserve freshness. Kelp powder will keep for up to a year if stored properly.
Key Takeaway: Kelp powder is highly versatile and can be added to smoothies, dressings, baked goods, broths, and more to boost nutrition. Start with 1/4 to 1 teaspoon daily.
How much iodine is in kelp powder?
Iodine content varies by kelp species and growing conditions. On average, 1 teaspoon (about 4 grams) of kelp powder contains about 715 mcg of iodine. The recommended upper daily limit for iodine is 1,100 mcg for most adults.
What does kelp powder taste like?
Kelp powder has a salty, ocean-like, umami flavor. When used in small amounts, it adds a subtle briny taste and richness to foods without overpowering other ingredients.
Is kelp powder better than supplements?
Getting nutrients from whole food sources like kelp powder is preferable to synthetic supplements whenever possible. However, those with iodine sensitivities or on medications should consult a doctor before using kelp.
Can I put kelp powder in coffee?
Yes, adding a small pinch of kelp powder to your morning coffee can provide an extra boost of antioxidants and minerals. You likely won't notice the taste when mixed into the coffee.
How long does kelp powder last?
If stored properly away from heat, air, and moisture, kelp powder will stay fresh for up to 1 year. If it develops a smell or change in color, it has likely gone rancid and should be discarded.
Is kelp powder safe during pregnancy?
It's best to avoid kelp powder supplements when pregnant due to the high iodine content. Small amounts used occasionally in food should be fine, but check with your doctor first.
Kelp powder is an easy way to add nutrition from the sea to your diet. Made from dried, powdered kelp seaweed, kelp powder contains iodine, calcium, antioxidants, fiber, and various trace minerals.
Potential benefits include supporting thyroid function, digestion, bone health, immunity, and heart health. Kelp powder has an umami, ocean-like flavor and can be sprinkled onto foods or blended into smoothies, soups, baked goods and more.