Rachel Kelly
Writer, Mental Health Campaigner, Public Speaker

Seaweed, the single best mood food

By Xa Milne Co Founder, Mara Seaweed, author of The Seaweed Cookbook, Michael Joseph, Penguin 2016.

"Over the last decade, since Fiona Houston and I first discovered the wonders of seaweed and founded Mara, we have discovered a passion for its myriad nutritional benefits."

“You are what you eat.”

If the saying is true, we should all be eating seaweed. Seaweed is a truly ancient food, one of the first known to man. Containing high concentrations of micro-nutrients vital for brain development and cognitive function, it’s been key to human development.

​What seaweed can do to improve our general health and wellbeing, and, most importantly, nourish our mental health, is significant.

Seaweed has been treasured for centuries by Eastern societies and our coastal-dwelling ancestors, as a central part of their cuisine and as a traditional medicine. But it’s only in the West that we have recently come to rediscover how seaweed can ‘Nourish Body and Soul.

Seaweed is the most highly mineralized vegetable on earth, containing all the 56 minerals and trace elements required for the body’s physiological functions. Seaweed contains 10-20 times the minerals of land vegetables, and being in plant form they are easy for the body absorb.

Seaweed also provides a high proportion of other minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium, chromium and anti-oxidant vitamins A, B, B12, C, and E. These help prevent cell damage in our body, including within the nervous system, and are key to maintaining good mental health.

Iodine for all

However, it’s the mineral iodine, abundant in seaweed, which can have the most dramatic impact on your mood. Since 1992 iodine deficiency has been identified by the World Health Organisation as a serious problem in Europe, affecting two thirds of women. Global iodine deficiency has been declared “the single most preventable cause of brain damage.”

Iodine is an essential mineral for thyroid health; the thyroid gland being the body’s metabolic regulator and vital for our general well-being. Hypothyroidism, brought about by iodine deficiency, can result in depression, confusion and memory loss. Iodine is also vital for brain development, especially in the early years, and it’s hugely important that breast feeding mothers have enough iodine in their diet.

WHO, UNICEF, ICCID, p1 Assessment of iodine deficiency disorders and monitoring their elimination, 3rd edn. Geneva; World Health Organisation 2007.

Feed me 'weed

The best way to ensure you get enough iodine in your diet? Eat seaweed. All seaweeds are a rich source of iodine, but particularly the brown kelps (Kombu).

At Mara, we harvest and process our seaweeds so that they are pure and incredibly nutrient dense. A single teaspoonful, incorporated into any meal as a seasoning, can deliver a day’s worth of iodine.

Although fish, dairy, eggs and iodised salt provide iodine, concentrations in raw food are reduced through cooking. Most crucially, seaweed is the best bio-available source of natural iodine, meaning it is easily absorbed by the body.

Where did all the nutrients go?

Modern intensive farming is largely to blame for soil depletion; in the last 50 years land has been stripped of up to 80% of its goodness. We increasingly eat processed and refined foods which lack essential nutrients.

Dr Linus Pauling, double Nobel Prize winner, stated “you can trace every sickness, every disease and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.” Too many toxins, brought about by poor diet, can be just as detrimental, causing depression and mental illness.

That’s where sea vegetables come in. Even the nori wrapped around your sushi is high in minerals and vitamins; including taurine, an amino acid that stimulates the release of chemicals to the brain which leave you feeling relaxed and happy.

Seaweed contains a good level of healthy complex salts too, each with its own nutritional benefits, and sodium is an effective stabilizer of lithium levels. In seaweed, sodium levels are lower than table salt, so it remains a healthier option.

Let's eat

Even if you’re not a fan of sushi, seaweed flakes are easily incorporated into soups, stews, sauces, smoothies, salads... The list goes on. Simply use seaweed for seasoning as a substitute for salt. The flavours are more complex than you may imagine, making culinary exploration a worthwhile adventure for your taste buds as well as your wellbeing.

Iodine Factsheet for Health Professionals (2016, Dec 8): https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/iodine-HealthProfessional



from The Seaweed Cookbook by Xa Milne / Michael Joseph, Penguin 2016.

"When I first ate tabbouleh I could not believe how much flavour was packed into what appeared to be a simple salad with few ingredients. The seaweed-flavoured seeds take the salad one step further in terms of complexity and I think it works well. There’s a lot going on here.Surprisingly filling, this could be a whole meal, or a good accompaniment to chicken, salmon or falafels. The nuttiness of the barley goes superbly well with the toasted seaweed seeds."

Serves 4

50g pearl barley

a generous glug of good-quality olive oil

50g cashew or pistachio nuts

1 tablespoon Shony flakes

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

80g fresh flat-leaf parsley

80g fresh mint

6 spring onions

¼ cucumber, diced into 1cm cubes

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

juice of 2 limes

1 teaspoon allspice

3 cloves of garlic, minced


Submerge your pearl barley in water and boil for 30 to 35 minutesuntil tender. Drain and set aside and, while still warm, pour over a generous glug of olive oil.

Toast the nuts, seaweed and spices in a medium-hot dry frying panuntil they turn pale golden and aromatic. Crush them all in a pestleand mortar. Add the nuts and spiced seeds to the tabbouleh.

Finely slice your parsley leaves and stems, mint and spring onions. Add to your salad along with the cucumber and tomatoes. Mix together with your pearl barley, and finally, add your lime juice, allspice and garlic cloves.

Enjoyed this post? 

Read Rachel's blog - The Power of Seaweed for Menopausal Women

Find out more about Maraweed and the benefits of seaweed: 


The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food

by Rachel Kelly

Together Alice Mackintosh and I have developed recipes to boost your energy, nourish your spirit, and help you sleep....

I found my mental health improved so much working with Alice that I wanted to share what I've learnt.