Note to our followers: Our nearly 13-year run of daily publication of new content on HealthNewsReview.org came to a close at the end of 2018. Publisher Gary Schwitzer and other contributors may post new articles periodically. But all of the 6,000+ articles we have published contain lessons to help you improve your critical thinking about health care interventions. And those will be still be alive on the site for a couple of years.
Read Original Release

Seaweed touted as solution to making junk food healthier — but wild claims not backed up

Food industry can help lower cardiovascular diseases by adding little seaweed to products

Our Review Summary

seaweedThis release describes what is apparently a summary of studies related to 35 different types of seaweed and their purported health benefits. Only one study is glancingly referenced, and no real, quantitative evidence is presented to back up any of the claims. A single source — the author of books promoting seaweed as a healthier eating option — is quoted, repeatedly. No counter arguments are caveats are raised, other than the overall idea that it is difficult to nail down the health benefits of seaweed. Precisely! Which is why we wonder why this news release was issued at all.

 

Why This Matters

The poor quality of the American diet, and its contribution to a litany of health problems, is well documented. But the idea that adding seaweed to unhealthy foods is going to make a dent in this problem is dubious. And this release doesn’t give us any reason to think otherwise.

Criteria

Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There is no discussion of costs in this piece. This is odd for two reasons: 1. Seaweed of certain varieties is readily available in grocery stores and a staple of sushi bars and other restaurants. 2. The authors are advocating that seaweed become a regular part of baking and cooking, which means that costs need to be considered.

Does the news release adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

There are no actual quantifications of benefits in this release. It says that, “By eating bread containing 4% of dried seaweed the overweight men ingested more dietary fiber (4.5 g more fiber per. 100 g) than when they ate the control whole-meal bread. Another effect was that they consumed 16.4% less energy in the 24 hour period after eating the seaweed enriched bread.” Honestly, we have no idea what this means. Is 4.5 grams more fiber meaningful? Does it have any measurable health impact? Does consuming less energy during a 24-hour period lead to positive health benefits or negative? There’s no help in interpreting this information.

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There are some vague references to harms in a list of bullet points at the end of the release. We do not think this satisfies the criteria but, instead, creates more confusion. It says:

  • Hijiki contains arsenic, which is carcinogenic and therefore some national food authorities recommend that you do not eat it. Despite these warnings, you can buy dried hijiki in many stores.
  • Some species may contain large amounts of iodine.
  • Never eat seaweed that is washed up on the beach

What is one to make of that?

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

There’s very little information provided about any of these studies or the study of the studies purportedly undertaken. What type of studies were these? How many people were involved? Were there any limitations? etc.

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The release does not engage in any disease mongering.

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The only clue as to why this news release was written comes when it says that the author of the study in question “has authored several books on seaweed as food.” This seems to be promotional material for his books and little more.

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

No alternatives are discussed. In fact, why not simply talk about less salt instead of salt substitutes. The seaweed being added is at such a marginal percentage as to beg the question: why bother?

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

We are going to assume here that most people think seaweed is widely available as a food product.

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The idea of adding “healthier” ingredients to processed foods to make them better is not new (e.g. fiber, vitamins, potassium, “healthy” oils) and hasn’t produced much if any tangible benefit. Why will seaweed be any different? Many wild claims are made in this release. None are backed up.

Does the news release include unjustifiable, sensational language, including in the quotes of researchers?

Not Satisfactory

Let’s start with the headline:

“Food industry can help lower cardiovascular diseases by adding little seaweed to products.”

There is no evidence presented in this news release to support this statement. Nor this one:

“Seaweed’s content of potassium salts does not led to high blood pressure – unlike the sodium salts, typically encountered in the processed food.”

Total Score: 3 of 10 Satisfactory

Comments

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.