Quick, what’s red, salty, chewy and delicious? If you said bacon, you’re close… and not close at all.
I’m talking about dulse (rhymes with pulse), which is a kind of seaweed, or technically a form of algae that grows attached to rocks near the shore of the Northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It’s known as Palmaria palmata in the botanical world. Its leaves are roughly the same shape as bacon, which is interesting because when you pan fry it, it actually tastes kind of like bacon, especially if you’re drunk. Nah, I’m just kidding about being drunk… it really does taste a tad like bacon. Ocean-bacon, to be more descriptive. Don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m totally serious!
Dulse has been a staple food in Iceland, Ireland, and Nova Scotia for many years. Each region’s dulse has its own flavor profile, kind of like wine. (Do you like how I keep comparing it to things you already love? Yes, I am trying to sweet talk you into trying it!)
And unlike bacon, dulse is a superfood. Plus its vegan and contains no nitrites. It’s jam-packed with nutrients that your body needs to drive metabolic pathways. The high content of minerals make it particularly useful for the production of ‘thyroxine’ thyroid hormone, which is precisely why dulse is a key ingredient in one of my thyroid formulas, available at my shop site.
How to Eat Dulse
Now, don’t worry, you don’t have to choke down the salty, leathery leaves raw. The most convenient way to eat it is to buy it powdered and try it on various foods. Use it like you would salt, and just sprinkle it on soups, chicken, salads, popcorn and stir fries. It can replace some of the salt in your food and it adds a nice, deep, savory flavor. That delicious flavor profile is known as umami, or “the fifth taste” after sweet, salty, bitter, and astringent. The umami flavor is found in mushrooms, aged red meat, soy sauce, and, yes, bacon.
My very favorite way to eat dulse is pan-fried (just like bacon). I have included a simple recipe at the end of this article for a DLT which stands for Dulse, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich.
Why Would You Want to Eat Dulse Anyway?
Studies have shown that dulse has powerful antioxidant properties and can inhibit runaway cell proliferation, which is the type of cell growth and replication that happens with cancer. In addition, dulse provides an ample supply of the following nutrients. I’m going to talk about the benefits of each nutrient next, so you can get a better sense of what I mean by “superfood,” take a look:
Carotenoids. These antioxidants, like alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, are all known to be good for healthy eyesight, reducing free radical damage, and decreasing the risk of some persistent illness.
Fiber. Fiber is great for healthy digestion, colon health and cardiovascular health. Fiber has been scientifically shown to lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol without adversely affecting HDL (or “good”) cholesterol. Think of it this way, it helps scrub your arteries clean. But that’s not the only thing it scrubs clean. Not to be graphic, but insoluble fiber, also called cellulose, will scrub your colon clean. It will literally push waste material through your intestine making it useful for mild fecal impactions or constipation. You can buy fiber supplements from your local health food store or pharmacy of course, but with certain superfoods such as dulse, the fiber is readily available to you… and delicious too.
Be aware that fiber will drive out your medication faster too, so separate administration of fiber supplements from oral medications by 3 or 4 hours. If you’re constipated, drink lots of fresh water, consider taking aloe vera and eat vegetables and prunes. Yum! Think about your thyroid too, as one of the most common causes of chronic constipation is undiagnosed hypothyroidism. Labs are not great at detecting that. You can sometimes cure years of painful constipation and impactions within a week of starting thyroid medicine, your doctor just has to be good and spot it (by testing properly).
Iodine. Iodine is essential for your thyroid to be able to produce enough thyroid hormone and iodine deficiency is very common. But it’s not just for just for your thyroid, it’s needed in all your cells especially your prostate gland and breasts. Even your immune system cells rely on iodine. This may surprise you, but each and every cell has a receptor for it, and unfortunately to this day, most people only associate iodine with the thyroid.
Iron. This mineral is necessary to make a protein called hemoglobin, which acts like a tow truck and lugs oxygen all over the body and supports the health of your blood, preventing anemia. It is also is needed for proper chemical reactions throughout the body.
Magnesium. This mineral loves your brain and vice versa. Magnesium is known to help memory, attention, depression and anxiety. Numerous studies show a correlation between low magnesium and depression and/or anxiety. A double-blind placebo-controlled study tested women with PMS-induced anxiety, mood swings and nervous tension. The researchers combined 200 mg of magnesium with 50mg vitamin B6 and gave it to the women for one month. It helped some of the women, but not all.
Potassium. Potassium is a vasodilator, meaning it improves high blood pressure and blood flow to the brain. Potassium works by balancing sodium, which is also naturally occurs in dulse, which helps regulate fluid balance in your cells. Be careful if you have kidney compromise though, as you do not want to get hyperkalemia. For the rest of the population, potassium is an incredible nutrient, and one we are often short of. In addition to the potassium content, another blood-pressure reducing effect is found in dulse because of the “phycobiliproteins” which act like ACE-inhibiting drugs (lisinopril, enalapril and others). This was shown in a 2016 study published in Marine Drugs.
Vitamin A. Natural Vitamin A is an antioxidant that is good for vision and boosts immunity by keeping your mucous membranes ‘wet’ and strong, meaning that they are empowered to filter particles and pathogens before they enter the body.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C is well-known for its role in immunity but also boosts collagen, which is good for tissue repair. It helps keep your skin supple as you age. It also boosts iron absorption. The human body doesn’t make vitamin C, so it’s important you get it from other sources such as supplements, dulse, citrus fruits, or vegetables such as bell peppers.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Most people know these natural fatty acids are found in fish oils, but they also occur in dulse, perfect for vegetarians. Omega 3s are are considered crucial for heart and brain health, and are incredibly beneficial for triglycerides and cholesterol ratios.
Free Glutamate. Dulse has a lot of glutamic acid, which is thought of as a natural digestive aid and flavor enhancer. Glutamic acid was discovered in 1908 and is very high in shellfish and seaweed. It is NOT the food additive MSG but it can sometimes behave that way in a small percentage of people.
So if you are prone to anxiety, or in withdrawal or recovery from alcohol or benzodiazepines, I would avoid dulse, or consume in small amounts because if you’re in this situation, you will have trouble converting the glutamine to GABA and it may exacerbate anxiety and withdrawal symptoms. You also may wish to avoid if you have a SNP in your GAD (glutamic acid decarboxylase) enzyme which is the enzyme that pushes glutamate into GABA. It specifically catalyzes the decarboxylation of excito glutamate to calming GABA and CO2.
For most people, free glutamate (as opposed to synthetic MSG) is really no problem and that’s good to know because this amino acid occurs naturally in thousands of foods, especially salmon, cheese and mushrooms. It’s very difficult to avoid in fact, since most foods have some amount. But some foods are simply higher in free glutamate than others, and dulse as well as bone broth are among the highest in naturally occurring free glutamate.
So in summary, most people do fine on these, but there’s a small group of you reading this who deal with anxiety, take benzos, or are in PAWS (protracted withdrawal). It is YOU who will be sensitive to high-glutamate foods, because glutamate builds up and acts like an excitotoxin, causing trouble forming GABA, and when GABA is actually formed, those receptors are downregulated anyway.
If this doesn’t make sense, use my search box above and put in the word GABA, or “anxiety” or “benzo withdrawal” and you can read more of my articles on those topics. I don’t want to scare you off seaweeds, or dulse, both of which are super superfoods, but I do have a responsibility to share what I know in an effort to protect those of you who could react.
Ok, that’s enough of the health information, facts and cautionary statements. Let’s talk food!
(Makes 2 sandwiches)
6 whole-leaf dried dulse pieces, separated
1 tbsp. oil (you can use grapeseed, olive or coconut)
4 leaves lettuce
4 slices toasted bread
2 tbsp. mayonnaise (or mashed avocado if you don’t eat mayo)
6 thin slices of tomato
Optional: sliced avocado slices
Salt/pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add dulse and cook until crisp, flipping halfway through. Remove dulse and drain on a paper towel while preparing the toast, spreading the mayo, slicing the tomatoes, and prepping the lettuce. Add everything to the bread to make two DLTs and enjoy!
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.