Emergence of Seaweed and Seaweed-Containing Foods in the UK: Focus on Labeling, Iodine Content, Toxicity and Nutrition

Foods. 2015 Jun 15;4(2):240-253. doi: 10.3390/foods4020240.


Seaweed (edible algae) is not a staple food in the Western diet, despite occasional use as a traditional ingredient in coastal areas. High nutritional value, combined with the expansion of the health-food industry, has led to a resurgence of seaweed in the British diet. While seaweed could be useful in tackling dietary iodine insufficiency, consumption of some species and sources of seaweed has also been associated with risks, such as toxicity from high iodine levels, or accumulation of arsenic, heavy metals and contaminants. The current retail level of seaweed and edible algae in the UK market, either as whole foods or ingredients, was evaluated with particular focus on labelling and iodine content. Seaweed-containing products (n = 224) were identified. Only 22 products (10%) stated information regarding iodine content and another 40 (18%) provided information sufficient to estimate the iodine content. For these products, the median iodine content was 110 μg/g (IQR 21-503) and 585 μg per estimated serving (IQR 105-2520). While calculations for iodine exposure per serving relied on assumptions, 26 products could potentially lead to an iodine intake above the (European) tolerable adult upper level of 600 μg/day. In the context of the data presented, there is scope to improve product labelling (species, source, processing, content).

Keywords: availability; consumer; edible algae; functional ingredient; iodine, market; labelling; retail landscape; seaweed.