Are Those Buzzy Sea Moss Smoothies a Gift from the Gods of Gut Health or Way Overhyped?

Photo: Stocksy/ Juan Moyano
Just a few years ago, the thought of adding a heaping pile of kale, spinach, or even tomatoes to a smoothie recipe might have instantly triggered your internal ick factor. In the early 2000s, my go-to smoothies were exclusively limited to banana and strawberry combinations like my ride-or-die Jamba Juice order: The 16-ounce Razzmatazz with extra strawberries, please.

However, as I entered adulthood and my palate became much more *refined* (TYSM, Ina Garten), the thought of slurping on a green smoothie became something I enjoyed and, dare I say, even craved. These days, experimenting with loads of healthy, novel ingredients in a smoothie has become as popular as Hailey Bieber (and her 17-dollar smoothie at Erewhon).

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TBH, sometimes it feels like I'm conducting an elaborate science experiment when I toss in a dash of maca, a pinch of cayenne, and a splash of coconut kefir into the blender. And with smoothie and juice bars stepping up to the challenge, you can find boatloads of highly nutritious add-ons like collagen powder or blue spirulina on most menus. However, one that has recently caught our attention is sea moss. If you're curious whether or not there are any real-deal health benefits to sea moss and why everyone seems to be adding it to their smoothies right now, you've come to the right place.

In all honesty, Well+Good saw this coming last year. One of the key wellness trends we predicted would be hugely popular in 2020 was eating sea greens, aka what’s used to make the 145 edible forms of algae, such as wakame, kombu, nori, and, of course, sea moss. “Since 2018 in particular, the seaweed category has grown over 63 percent in sales with strong double digit growth year over year,” Diego Norris, chief marketing officer of gimMe snacks," told Well+Good. Sea greens have already popped up in vegan crab cakes, packaged ramen noodles, and even kelp cubes meant for blending into smoothies this year—and ICYMI, spirulina is a form of seaweed, too. So are we surprised by this new (ahem) wave of smoothies? Not exactly. But because sea moss smoothies are the latest manifestation of the sea greens trend, we obviously had to learn more about them.

To better understand what the deal is with this oceanic drink, we spoke with two registered dietitians that shared their honest thoughts on sea moss and revealed whether it’s a smoothie hit or miss—and the answer was…maybe?

What exactly is sea moss?

Sea moss, also known as Chondrus crispus, or Irish moss, is a common edible red seaweed found on rocky shores in the Northern Atlantic. It can vary in color: You might spot green, yellow, red, brown, or black varieties. And much like other forms of seaweed, algae, and kelp, sea moss is an edible sea plant with a bounty of impressive health benefits.

Although you might be unfamiliar with sea moss as an ingredient on its own, you may be surprised to hear that it’s found in several commonly eaten foods—like ice cream, cottage cheese, and non-dairy milk—in the form of carrageenan. The cell wall of sea moss contains carrageenan, and C. crispus is the original source of this commercially used thickener and gelling agent widely used in the food industry. This food additive is produced by mixing seaweed extract with alkaline substances.

Health benefits of sea moss

"Sea moss is definitely making big waves as the new smoothie go-to ingredient," says Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “While it may not be the first thing you would think of to add to your blender when whipping up a smoothie, it’s quite nutrient-dense and has been linked to a lot of health benefits. For one, it has been said to support gut health, be antibacterial, anti-viral, help support a strong and healthy immune system, and boost heart health."

When breaking down the nutrient content, Ehsani explains that a quarter cup of sea moss is contains ten calories, zero grams of fat, three grams of carbohydrates, half a gram of dietary fiber, and another half a gram of protein. However, she notes that a lot more research needs to be done to evaluate the conclusive evidence regarding sea moss health benefits.

Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian, founder, and director of Real Nutrition, also praises the health perk potential of eating this oceanic moss. “We love all things seaweed and sea moss, as these plants provide a variety of minerals including iodine that we do not receive from our regular diet efficiently,” Shapiro says. “Sea moss is rich in fiber, which not only helps to decrease cholesterol levels but may help assist with digestion, regularity, and gut health overall." And that’s not all: Shapiro also says that sea moss is packed with antioxidants and iron.

Before you dive into the ocean or run to the store to get your hands on some sea moss for your daily smoothie concoctions, Shapiro points out that it's good to keep in mind that sea moss is not regulated by the FDA just yet. “The nutritional breakdown of sea moss changes based on where they grow, too. Some sea moss may be too high in iodine, which can be harmful to thyroid health,” Ehsani adds. To err on the side of caution, she advises consuming sea moss in moderation until research regarding it is clearer.

What’s the best way to consume sea moss?

“Sea moss has a strong smell, taste, and texture, which may make it a bit difficult for some individuals to get down with. However, when blended with delicious, decadent smoothie ingredients, you may not taste the flavor,” Shapiro says. Ehsani adds that you should check with your health care provider before consuming sea moss.

This gut-healthy golden milk smoothie recipe tastes like sunshine in a cup:

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