Eating Kelp to Help Prevent the ‘Three Highs’

A dish of kelp with chopsticks.

Kelp, a type of seaweed, is full of healthy nutrients that can benefit your health and possibly even prevent disease. (Image: Edible Kelp via Dreamstime)

Eating kelp can help lower the “three highs.” The three highs in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. These are three common ailments for people after middle age, also known as metabolic syndrome.

You already know to eat your daily servings of vegetables, but when was the last time you gave any thought to your sea vegetables? Kelp, a type of seaweed, is full of healthy nutrients that can benefit your health and possibly even prevent disease.

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This type of sea algae is already a staple in many Asian cuisines. It’s a natural source of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

What is kelp?

You may have seen this marine plant at the beach. Kelp is a type of large, brown seaweed that grows in shallow, nutrient-rich saltwater near coastal fronts around the world. It differs slightly in color, flavor, and nutrient profile from the type you may see in sushi rolls.

Kelp also produces a compound called sodium alginate. Food manufacturers use sodium alginate as a thickener in many foods, including ice cream and salad dressing.

Because it absorbs the nutrients from its surrounding marine environment, kelp is rich in vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that seaweed, such as kelp, is one of the best natural food sources of iodine, an essential component in thyroid hormone production.

Eating kelp can help reduce the three highs.
Various varieties of edible kelp. (Image: Edible Kelp via Dreamstime)

The benefits of eating kelp in reducing the three highs

Kelp is the food that has the most impact on the three highs. So for people with any or all, kelp is an effective treatment in TCM.

Blood pressure

According to a major study, seaweed is a rich source of proteins known as bioactive peptides — which are also found in milk. These chemicals have a similar effect to ACE inhibitor drugs, which are widely prescribed to help lower blood pressure and prevent heart attacks and strokes.

A 2011 review of 100 studies on the benefits of seaweeds, published in the American Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, reported seaweeds may be used to help lower blood pressure and promote heart health.


Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Factors that increase your risk include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, and being physically inactive or overweight. Interestingly, seaweed, and kelp, in particular, may help reduce your blood cholesterol levels.

One eight-week study fed rats with high cholesterol a high-fat diet supplemented with 10 percent freeze-dried kelp. It found the rats had 40 percent lower total cholesterol, 36 percent lower LDL cholesterol, and 31 percent lower triglyceride levels.

Heart disease can also be caused by excessive blood clotting. Seaweed contains carbohydrates called fucans, which may help prevent blood from clotting. In fact, one animal study found that fucans extracted from seaweed prevented blood clotting as effectively as an anti-clotting drug.

Blood sugar

Diabetes occurs when your body is unable to balance your blood sugar levels over time. Interestingly, seaweed, and specifically kelp, have become a research focus for new ways to support people who are at risk of diabetes.

An eight-week study on 60 Japanese people revealed that fucoxanthin, a substance in brown seaweed, may help improve blood sugar control. Participants received a local kelp oil that contained either 0 mg, 1 mg, or 2 mg of fucoxanthin. The study found that those who received 2 mg of fucoxanthin had improved blood sugar levels, compared to the group who received 0 mg.

The study also noted additional improvements in blood sugar levels in those with a genetic disposition to insulin resistance, which usually accompanies type 2 diabetes. What’s more, another substance in kelp called alginate prevented blood sugar spikes in animals after they were fed a high-sugar meal. It’s thought that alginate may reduce the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.

The very popular miso seaweed tofu soup. (Image: Akiyoko74 via Dreamstime)

Miso seaweed tofu soup

Kelp is a key ingredient in many Asian dishes, and one of the most popular is miso seaweed tofu soup.


2 gdried kelp (Wakame type)
2 1/4 tspmiso (fermented soybean paste)10 g
1 1/2 cupwater375 mL
1/2green onions/scallions, finely chopped
100 gsoft tofu, cut into small dices7 tbsp


  1. Place seaweed into a bowl with 2 tbsp of water.
  2. Add the remaining water to a saucepan, then bring to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in the miso and mix well.
  3. Pour the broth into the bowl. Add the cubed tofu and chopped scallions, then serve.

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