Hot Nutrition Topics - Sea Cucumbers

United Christian Nethersole Community Health Service
Preventive Medicine and Clinical Services (PMCS)
Community Nutrition Service (CN)
Website: www.ucn.org.hk 
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ucnchs

Ms. Heidi Chan 
Assistant Service Manager/Community Dietitian
Registered Dietitian (CDR, USA)
Accredited Dietitian ( HKDA, HK)

Treasure of The Ocean : Sea Cucumbers

The article on diving was reminiscent and recollecting my leisure vacation spent in the vast ocean and under the blue sky. More so, I miss the abundant and diversified range of deep sea creatures, from coral reefs to tropical fish and in particular sea cucumbers, a non eye-catching and quiet jewel in the deep sea.

The first encounter with live sea cucumbers
I still vividly remember while traveling in Male, I saw numerous creatures as thick as the human thigh lying on the seabed, only to find out later that they were live sea cucumbers. The local people in Male do not consume them even though their place is well known for abundant production of sea cucumbers. With my shown interest to sea cucumbers, they even asked me whether I was from Hong Kong, as they knew a large amount of sea cucumbers are exported to Hong Kong.

Hundreds of varieties of sea cucumbers
Sea cucumber is in fact also known by other names, such as stone fish, deep water red fish and black fish. There are approximately 500 types of sea cucumbers from different origins such as the Southern Pacific Ocean, Western Indian Ocean, Southern China Sea, Africa, Hawaii, Southern California, Australia, New Zealand and the East Coast of Scotland. According to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, India is the largest exporting country for sea cucumbers, while China and Hong Kong have shown great demand, importing around 40-80% of the sea cucumbers produced.

The nutrition profile of sea cucumbers
You may ask why the sea cucumber is such a popular food amongst Chinese population. it is simply because of its nourishing content. Even though there are so many varieties of sea cucumbers available, only around 20 species have been confirmed to be nutritious and have market value. The market value is based on the quality, appearance, species, color, smell and thickness of the sea cucumber, while the demand and supply around the world will also affect their market price. Sea cucumbers from different regions contain different nutritional values. Generally, water constitutes 80% of a fresh sea cucumber; naturally the weight of dried and fresh sea cucumbers would be vastly different. The energy content of fresh sea cucumbers is low, containing around 56 kcal per 100 g, half of what abalones provide. With the main source of energy (calories) coming from protein, sea cucumbers can be considered as low fat and low carbohydrate, and is also a source of calcium, vitamin A and B. I am aware that lots of people query about the cholesterol content of sea cucumbers. Since dietary cholesterols play a minor role in the development of heart disease, you can still enjoy sea cucumbers with moderation.

The hidden benefits of sea cucumbers
Apart from the nutritional aspect, sea cucumbers have been researched for different disease preventative and therapeutic purposes. These include the amount of antioxidants it contains and the ability to reduce harm from free radicals. Other research looked at nutrients and minerals in sea cucumbers such as fatty acids, enzymes and carbohydrates, and their effects on immunity, cancer susceptibility, inflammation, and nervous system of the human body.

Perhaps the ocean has a lot of exciting produce in store for us, but please refrain from overexploiting natural resources and most importantly, remember to eat in moderation!

Translated by Danica Yau, Accredited Practising Dietitian (Australia), Editor of HKDA