Let me introduce you to one of the newest foods to be called a superfood: Irish moss. I admit, overall, I have a bit of problem with the word “superfood.” I guess it stems from the fact that every other day a new food is being touted as such.
There is NO official definition from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for superfood, but if you looked it up in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it’s defined as “a food (such as salmon, broccoli or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person’s health.”
So, is Irish moss beneficial to our health? Let’s take a look.
What Is Irish Moss?
First, Irish moss is not actually moss but seaweed. This species of red algae grows on the Irish coast and other rocky coastlines of Europe and North America in the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean. In the British Isles, it’s been used in traditional cooking for hundreds of years. Scientifically, it is referred to as Chondrus crispus.
Irish moss has been found to include vitamins A, E, K and folate and several minerals, including iron, iodine, magnesium, phosphorous and calcium. A one-ounce serving (28 grams) of raw Irish moss is 13 calories, almost 100% from carbohydrates.
There have been a number of beneficial health claims in regard to Irish moss, including improved gut health, lowering of cholesterol, anti-inflammatory properties and strong antioxidant support, resulting in decreased risk for certain cancers. I think the important thing to decipher here is whether or not those claims are backed by actual scientific evidence.
To date, most research on Irish moss has been done in-vitro, meaning on individuals cells in test tubes – not on animals or people. In addition, the research didn’t look specifically at Irish moss. Rather, the studies looked at carrageenan, an extract from Irish moss.
Carrageenan is actually a popular food ingredient. Because it’s rich in soluble fiber, it’s commonly used as a thickening agent in everything from non-dairy milks and creamers to salad dressings and yogurts. In recent years, it has created quite the controversy – not for its health benefits, but rather for its safety.
Some believe that carrageenan can cause digestive problems, such as bloating and irritable bowel disease, inflammation and even colon cancer. However, there are actually two types of carrageenan, and it’s very important to know the difference: food-grade and degraded.
Degraded, also called poligeenan, is not approved as a food additive and may cause inflammation. On the other hand, food-grade carrageenan is approved safe by the FDA as a food additive for human consumption.
One review study looking at just carrageenan concluded that “more research is needed to elucidate the possibility that continued exposure to increasing levels of carrageenan in the human diet may compromise human health and well-being.”
However, one study that examined the whole food, not the extract, found that the seaweed might indeed provide digestive health benefits. And another study showed prebiotic effects and improved gut health in rats.
I would add that irregardless of the studies mentioned above, the whole food form, not the extract, has nutritional value. For example, a 1/2 cup serving of Irish moss provides 36% of the daily value of magnesium. Magnesium may help keep our bones strong and our blood pressure normal. But as with any food, it depends on how much you consume of it to reap any health benefits, as well as what your entire diet looks.
How to Buy and Use Irish Moss
You can find Irish moss available as a gel, dried and ground as powder, or dried and packaged to look like “pasta,” all mostly sold as supplements with specific daily dose recommendations. You can also buy it raw, but you really want to make sure it’s washed and soaked well before using. Its most popular use though is as a thickener for home-made puddings, smoothies, cakes and soups. The amount used may vary depending on the recipe.
Potential Side Effects
There have been some reports of nausea, vomiting or itchy, burning and irritated skin. Since Irish moss is high in iodine, those individuals with autoimmune thyroid conditions, such as Hashimoto’s disease, would be best to limit or avoid its use.
If you want to add some for thickening or a little extra nutrition and still want to call it a superfood – ENJOY! But if you think it’s the next best answer for your health, please stay tuned till more research is available.