While marine algae have traditionally formed part of the Oriental diet, their major use in Western countries has been in the phytocolloid industry. Only a few coastal communities outside Asia have customarily used seaweeds as components of special dishes. Of late, however, seaweeds have gained importance as foodstuffs in Western countries and most recently as components of functional foods because of their high dietary fiber, mineral, vitamin, and phytochemical content, low energy levels, and high concentrations of certain polyunsaturated fatty acids. The present paper reviews the available data for some of the components of the major edible algae and studies several factors that can affect their physiochemical properties (e.g., hydration, water and oil-holding capacity, fermentability, binding capacity, etc.) and, in turn, their nutritional importance. The effects of marine alga consumption on growth and body weight, mineral availability, lipid metabolism, blood pressure, and antioxidant properties are reviewed, together with preliminary data on the effects of some functional foods containing seaweeds on lipid metabolism and gene expression of enzymes engaged in antioxidant protection. This review concludes with some remarks regarding the danger of the improper use of seaweeds in herbal medications. In addition, as the properties of algae are highly dependent on their individual composition, any generalization regarding these properties may be considered misleading and scientifically inappropriate.