Sea cucumber might not be a dietary staple stateside, but if you're looking to expand your culinary horizons, consider adding it to your grocery list. The seafood is a staple in many East and Southeast Asian cuisines, where it shows up boiled, baked, fried or even braised. With its mild flavor but fishy scent, this seafood may be somewhat of an acquired taste, but it offers a range of health benefits that make it worth trying as part of your balanced diet.
Calories and Protein
Like most seafood, sea cucumber is a good source of protein. A 3.5-ounce serving boasts 13 grams of high-quality protein. Your body needs protein to build and repair strong muscle, hair, skin, bone and connective tissue and also relies on protein from your diet to support your immune system.
Getting all that protein from sea cucumber requires very little calorie investment, too. Each serving has just 56 calories, which means you can enjoy it without worrying too much about your waistline.
A Source of Niacin
Including sea cucumber in your diet will help you consume more vitamin B-3, also called niacin. One of niacin's most important roles in your body is promoting energy production; your body turns niacin into a related compound, called NAD, then uses the NAD to produce fuel. Meeting your daily niacin needs is also important for healthy skin, since pellagra – the condition caused by niacin deficiency – leads to skin rashes. A serving of sea cucumber supplies 3.2 milligrams of niacin. That covers 23 percent of the daily niacin intake requirements for women and 20 percent for men.
Good for More Vitamin A
Eating sea cucumber also helps you up your vitamin A intake. Each serving of sea cucumber provides 310 international units of vitamin A, which covers 13 percent of the vitamin A needs for women and 10 percent for men. Like niacin, vitamin A is good for your skin – it's important for cell growth, including the growth of your skin cells – and it also plays a critical role in supporting healthy eyesight, immunity and energy production.
Serving Sea Cucumber
Sea cucumber can be tricky to prepare. It's mild flavor and fishy scent mean you'll need to work with other ingredients to balance its flavors. Start small by including some rehydrated and thoroughly cleaned sea cucumber in noodle soup, adding shiitake mushrooms, bok choi and chili oil for well-rounded flavor. As you get more experienced cooking with sea cucumber, try using it to make sushi, or braising it with your favorite vegetables.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Protein
Linus Pauling Institute: Niacin
Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin A
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Based in Ontario, Canada, Tremblay is an experienced journalist and blogger specializing in nutrition, fitness, lifestyle, and health.