Quinoa, the healthy food du jour that now rolls off people’s tongues with ease (no more, wait — ‘how do you say that again?’ happening), is a mainstream grain super star. Of course, for every one stellar food that hits the top of the healthy food charts — and stays there — there are countless others that turn out to be simply hype. Lately, we’ve been hearing buzz around raw kelp noodles — a pasta-like food that has been put on a pedestal by gluten-free advocates and raw foodists — so we wanted to check in with the pros to see if it's as good for us as everyone claims it to be.
“Many people looking to lose weight or follow a raw food diet may look at raw kelp noodles as the holy grail of pasta,” says Jeffrey Morrison, M.D., founder of the Morrison Center in New York City. “It can replace pasta in recipes without adding any substantial calories while making you feel full.” Which means you can have seconds if the first bowl doesn’t cut it, without any over-eating guilt. “It can be consumed in relatively large quantities without adding calories and thereby helping with weight loss,” he says. Kelp noodles typically provide 15 percent of your daily calcium needs and four percent of your daily iron needs per serving and most kinds contain fewer than 10 calories per serving.
Another plus: It’s essentially the lazy girl’s noodle. “Raw kelp noodles are made of kelp and contain high amounts of iodine, sodium alginate (salt from seaweed), and water,” explains Samantha Lynch, R.D., a nutritionist in NYC and founder of Samantha Lynch Nutrition. “It is a low-calorie, gluten-free alternative to pasta; requires no cooking; and there is some, although minimal and inconclusive, research that suggests that kelp noodles improve thyroid health, promote weight loss, protect against osteoporosis, and enhance heart health."
However, according to Morrison, it is not the same as eating raw seaweed. "It's the processed extract of seaweed — sodium alginate — that people are eating,” says Morrison. “Sodium alginate has almost no nutritional value. It is a non-digestible complex sugar that is used in the food industry as a thickener in other foods, it has the ability to absorb large amounts of water, and is used as a food thickener and additive rather than a stand alone ingredient.”
So, for the reasons above, Morrison says he doesn’t steer his patients to make it a regular part of their diet, more of a replacement for carb-loading here and there. “Because it is a processed ingredient from kelp, I question how it can be called a raw food. If you want the nutritional value of eating raw kelp, it's best to eat seaweed and if you want to have a nutritious substitute to pasta, try spaghetti squash.” And now you know.