Sea moss (a.k.a Irish moss) is not something that you'll find in the typical American diet. But if you're of Jamaican or of Irish descent, there's a chance you've at least heard of it.
I'm first-generation Jamaican, and growing up, I was only exposed to sea moss in the form of a sugary beverage. When my family went out to a local restaurant to eat curry goat or jerk chicken, I would pick it out from the fridge in its non- branded, homemade bottle. The sweet, creamy mixture of condensed milk, moss, vanilla, and nutmeg was a real treat after some spicy delights. But as tasty as this drink was, I knew it wasn't really healthy. So as a kid, I never thought that pure Irish moss had any beneficial properties on its own. That is until I did some reading....
Sea moss is a type of red algae that grows on the Atlantic coastlines of North America, Europe, and the Caribbean Islands. Since the 1800s, the Irish have been harvesting it from their rocky shores to use as medicine. They even used it to get the nutrients they needed during times of famine. Jamaicans have also traditionally used sea moss to treat illness, and some have touted it to be the perfect elixir to increase male libido. Unfortunately, there's no scientific proof for the latter (sorry, guys), but there's a lot of research showing that our ancestors understood the healing potential of this plant.
While it's been embraced by Irish and Jamaican cultures, sea moss has been getting a bad rap lately. Carrageenan, a derivative of this seaweed, is a thickening agent that can be found in dairy and alt-milk products. This ingredient is said to cause inflammation and was labeled as "a possible human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. That's some scary news that has certainly discouraged many people from consuming this algae.
However, it's important to note that carrageenan (a chemically processed ingredient) is different than sea moss. Sea moss is a whole food that is in fact chockfull of beneficial vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. So while our forefathers and foremothers have used sea moss for old-time remedies they may or may not have been able to explain, here are six ways this red seaweed can improve your health along with the science to back it up.
The Health Benefits of Sea Moss
It may help you digest your food.
Like chia seeds, aloe, and okra, sea moss is a mucilaginous food. As gross as this sounds, its snotty texture makes it a great healing/soothing agent for mucus membranes in the body, including in the respiratory and digestive systems. According to some animal studies, sea moss can have a prebiotic effect during digestion. This means that it can increase beneficial short-chain fatty acids in the colon, get rid of bad bacteria in the gut, and improve overall gut health and immunity.
It can improve your thyroid function.
Irish moss is full of different iodine compounds that your thyroid needs to healthily chug along. It contains DI-Iodothyronine, which is actually used to treat thyroid disorders. And it also contains high amounts of concentrated iodine, which your thyroid uses to make hormones that regulate your metabolism, digestion, mood, and more.
It may help to improve your energy levels.
When it comes to capitalizing the energy stored in food, you need B vitamins. Sea moss contains a decent amount of riboflavin (B2) and folate (B9). Riboflavin is needed to break down proteins, carbs, and fats, while folate is needed to form DNA and other genetic material. When folate pairs up with B12, it also helps to create red blood cells.
It'll boost your immunity.
During cold and flu season, sea moss smoothies could become your go-to meal. It has potassium iodide, which is great for dissolving troublesome phlegm in clogged airways. It also rich in amino acids, vitamin C, antioxidants, as well as a host of antiviral and antimicrobial agents. These nutrients can help you to fight or ward off infections.
It may nourish your skin.
Because of its vitamin and mineral packed gelatin-like quality, many people use sea moss masks to soothe eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and burns. Studies have found that citrulline–arginine, a compound found in Irish moss, can improve cell growth and metabolism. This compound also releases amino acids that are essential for protein and collagen synthesis. Collagen is the protein that maintains smooth skin and silky hair.
It could improve your emotional health.
Sea moss has a bunch of magnesium and potassium, which are known mood boosters. Both minerals play a key role in brain function, and when we are low on either, we might feel crankier than usual. Some research indicates that sea moss may protect brain tissue from degeneration and Parkinson's disease.
How You Can Add Sea Moss to Your Diet
If you are looking to get your hands on some sea moss, you can either buy it raw or in gel form. If you buy it raw, you're going to have to prepare it by washing the moss thoroughly, soaking it for about a day, then tossing it in the blender until you get the right consistency.
Sea moss is tasteless so you can add it to a variety of dishes. In fact, it's an especially great plant-based substitute for gelatin or other thickening agents. The traditional Jamaican Irish moss drink is a popular option, but you can also put it in:
- Homemade ice cream
- Stews and soups
Remember, since Irish moss has little to no flavor, you can get creative when it comes to reaping the benefits of this nutritious algae. So don't be afraid to experiment. You might come up with a new, tasty recipe.