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What Are the Benefits of Kelp and Alfalfa?

By Sylvie Tremblay, MSc

Incorporating more diversity in your diet helps fight nutrient deficiencies. If you're looking to branch out with your food choices, consider giving kelp or alfalfa a try. You can generally find alfalfa -- sometimes labeled "alfalfa sprouts" -- at most grocery stores, while Asian grocery stores or healthy food stores stock kelp, a type of seaweed. Both foods are low in calories and provide vitamin K, and kelp also offers several other nutrients. However, they also have some potential drawbacks, and some people should avoid alfalfa or kelp altogether.

The Nutrition Basics

Both alfalfa and kelp make low-calorie additions to your diet -- a cup of kelp contains 34 calories, while an equivalent serving of alfalfa boasts just 8 calories per cup. Adding either kelp or alfalfa to your meals helps increase their volume, which helps to stave off hunger without contributing much to your daily calorie intake. Both foods contain a small amount of protein -- 1.3 grams per serving -- and less than 1/2 gram of fat per cup. Kelp also modestly contributes to your daily carbohydrate intake, offering 7.5 grams per serving, including 1 gram of fiber. Alfalfa is lower in carbohydrates at 0.7 gram per serving, with 0.6 gram coming from dietary fiber.

Vitamin K Content

Both kelp and alfalfa offer a significant amount of vitamin K, although kelp offers more per serving. A cup of alfalfa sprouts contains 10 micrograms of vitamin K, while an equivalent amount of kelp contains 53 micrograms. Both foods help you reach the daily vitamin K for men and women -- 125 and 90 micrograms, respectively. Vitamin K activates proteins essential for bone development, cartilage health and, most importantly, blood clotting. Without enough vitamin K, you risk excess bleeding, including bleeding gums and blood in your stool.

Other Benefits of Kelp

While alfalfa doesn't increase your intake of other nutrients, kelp offers lots more nutritional value. Each cup contains significant amounts of iron, copper and zinc -- three minerals you need for enzyme activity in your cells. You'll also get 144 micrograms of folate -- 36 percent of your daily needs. Folate supports nutrient metabolism and helps you produce red blood cells. Eating kelp boosts your calcium intake, which supports strong bones and helps with nerve function. Each cup contains 134 milligrams, or 13 percent of your intake requirement.

Serving Tips and Considerations

Add a handful of kelp to soups and salads, or wrap kelp, shredded carrots and shrimp or tofu in rice paper for healthful summer rolls. Alfalfa sprouts make welcome additions to sandwiches and wraps -- their mild taste works well with almost any flavor profile. However, some people -- including the elderly, children and anyone with chronic disease -- should avoid alfalfa due to the risk of foodborne illness, advises the NYU Langone Medical Center. People with thyroid problems should avoid kelp, recommends NYU, because its high iodine content can affect thyroid function.

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