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Seaweed in the Daily Diet and Nutrition

by Simon Ranger(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 210 - November 2013

Seaweed, or macro-algae as it is known scientifically, includes over 10,000 species of the fastest growing plants on ‘earth’.

Seaforth

Often confused with ‘blue-green’ micro-algae which are fresh water organisms including spirulina and chlorella, seaweed species grow only in the oceans, giving them distinct properties and nutritional values. And too often associated with Asian cuisine, seaweeds have been eaten in the West since at least Neolithic times, due to their remarkable nutritional and health benefits, diversity and abundance. 

Seaweed is categorised into three groups according to the predominant colour, and some common names include:

  • Brown: Bladder Wrack, Kelp, Kombu, Wakame;
  • Red: Dulse, Laver, Nori;
  • Green: Sea lettuce, Enteromorpha.

Some of these names are associated exclusively with oriental cuisine, like the ubiquitous sushi wrap of Nori - the Japanese alone consume an annual 10 billion sheets of it. But all of these species are among over 630 which grow around our own Atlantic shores!

Different from Land Vegetation

There are stark differences between land and ocean vegetables, which rank among the earliest forms of vegetation. Their ‘soil’ is the moving ocean - a nutritious ‘soup’, repository of all the earth’s nutrients. Wherever the same seaweed species are found suitable as human food, their nutritional profile will be remarkably consistent and virtually identical.

In contrast, the nutrient levels and quality of food grown on the land - including micro-algae - whether plant or livestock, vary widely according to location and growing medium. And foods have much narrower profiles of nutrients, hence the need for a varied daily diet.

Certain species have a broader and more balanced range of nutrients than others and in this article we focus on Seagreens’ wild ‘wrack’ species which we harvest among the remote islands of the Scottish Outer Hebrides.

This particular family of the cold water ‘brown’ seaweeds provide in themselves an outstanding balance of virtually all the nutrients. It includes an unusual range of ‘micro’ nutrients like all the B vitamins, trace minerals and complex micronutrients as well as all the antioxidants, the same form of vitamin E as in wheat germ, and a full complement of proteins.[1, 2, 3]

Dr Vogel observed in The Nature Doctor that the rain does not return nutrients to the soil and except by flood, volcanic eruption or other catastrophic event, Nature has few means of replenishing the earth.[4] The soil’s continuous nutrient loss is the ocean’s gain. Returning seaweed responsibly to land and food helps complete the natural cycle.

Methods of seaweed selection, harvesting and production can affect nutritional quality in much the same way as different agricultural practices. But however well the soil is husbanded, the seaweed micronutrients may still be deficient in land foods, particularly difficult to obtain in special diets, and wholly absent from processed manufactured foods.

Whereas the best seaweeds grow in the coldest waters, the best land vegetables grow in warmer climes. Seaweeds have survived the most adverse and hostile environments and are consequently rich in protective nutrients and plant growth hormones, beloved of gardeners everywhere. Soaking bean sprout seeds overnight with a sprinkling of Seagreens’ horticultural granules in the water is a cheap and adequate demonstration.[5]

Seaforth Harvest

Human Food Seaweed

Seagreens has been developing its Human Food Seaweed™ production standards (Patents Pending) for 15 years and you will now find the nutritional profile explained on each of our products. The most recent analytical study of seaweed products from five countries, independently conducted by the Centre for Food Innovation at Sheffield Hallam University, concluded that Seagreens “meet the current EU Food Guidelines” (2012).

But the best news was contained in the detailed nutritional composition. Compared to conventional methods of production for the same species, Seagreens’ standards - which cover every aspect of wild plant management, harvesting, handling and processing - were shown to have produced higher levels of the most delicate nutrients including vitamins, phenols and antioxidants. For similar reasons, Seagreens are free of allergens and contaminants.

Table of markers

Local artisan production should be safe, but the seaweeds you can buy today, even if they meet the (very minimal) Organic Regulations, can be ‘storm-cast’ hauled dead off the beach, dried at temperatures exceeding 100ºC or be many years old and nutritionally decomposing. Many used as food and supplement ingredients are industrially harvested for agriculture and their extracts. In very recent years the Food Standards Agency has had to withdraw contaminated seaweed on more than one occasion which should not have entered the human food chain.

Standards and scientific research have been a huge part of what we have achieved and particularly through the Seaweed Health Foundation we are working with other producers and partners to establish a sustainable and world class seaweed industry in Britain. Seagreens’ founding goal was to get a gram a day of the best seaweed into the daily diet, because it can help address many of our most urgent public health concerns. Such an achievement is no longer a distant goal; in Europe and north America it is within our reach.

The Research and its Applications

The Wrack species selected for Seagreens® - to date Ascophyllum, Fucus, and Pelvetia - have been the subject of more scientific research than any others. But most of this has focused on plant and animal husbandry and the medical potential of its extracts, for example in tumour research - not as a daily or therapeutic whole food.

Wild species Ascophyllum

Wild species Ascophyllum

The Seagreens research is novel, firstly because it has focused exclusively on the use of whole seaweed (dried and cut or milled) in response to various public health concerns and food industry needs. It is also the first seaweed producer in the world to embark on a systematic research strategy to explore a range of related health applications.

Such a strategy is closely related to Seagreens’ work with medical practitioners and organisations and individuals like Planet Organic’s Renée Elliott who directly promote health in the community, as well as the food industry where “implicit improvements in the nutritional profile of foods are essential to have any substantial influence on public health”.[6]

The most developed result of this approach to research has been to replace sodium chloride with Seagreens in manufactured foods, combining the potential reduction of heart disease and related conditions in a response to the mandatory reduction of salt in all the industrial nations including China. An example of the related benefits of the dietary inclusion of Seagreens would be in obesity and weight regulation[7] where the seaweed responds to the concomitant needs, both to directly chelate toxins including heavy metals released from fat reduction, and to support the metabolism of thyroid hormones which can be inhibited as a result.

This 5-year independent research project, begun in 2007 with British government funding at Sheffield Hallam University, was commended by Research Councils UK in 2011 as “research that will have a profound effect on our future”.[8]

Already Seagreens ingredients are used extensively in nutritional supplements, smoothies, and a variety of foods providing distinct nutritional advantages not available from terrestrial foods. For everyday use the flavour profile of the seaweed works well in most foods due to its ‘minerally’ and umami flavours and it has healthy glutamates, rather than the monosodium glutamate widely used in ‘fast’ food.

Seagreens has been independently tested in a variety of foods including breads, pizzas, ready meals, sauces, cheeses and meats and it has extended the shelf-life of breads, sausages and cheeses in terms of the inhibition of mould and bacterial growth. Seagreens is already in niche and mainstream brands on health store and supermarket shelves throughout the UK. A typical application is a novel, nutritionally balanced pizza developed by Eat Balanced Ltd with Glasgow University which went on sale in UK supermarkets in 2012. Our research programme currently has around half a dozen studies under way at a similar number of British universities, expanding and exploring different aspects of these areas of health research.

General Nutrition

As an ingredient to add to almost any food or therapeutic protocol, Seagreens add significant nutritional value. This is not because of the completeness of the nutrient profile per se but because it permits the nutrients to combine and act upon others and make food or supplements more available. Quite separately the species are also a source of unusual individual nutrients and nutrient groups. Examples are the special seaweed polysaccharides which are slow digesting sugars with a natural prebiotic, antibacterial and restorative effect in the gut.  They are also an ideal source of naturally chelated, stable iodine compliant with the EU Approved Health Claims.

All the important minerals, trace elements, micro-nutrients, vitamin groups, amino acids and essential fatty acids are present, and the species are rich in antioxidants. A few of these might serve as examples.

Mineral composition of seaweed species

Prebiotic Effect on Gut Health

A prebiotic is colonised and fermented by beneficial bacteria of the gut microflora, enhancing their growth, the health of the gut and the absorption of nutrients. Foods and food components that make for good prebiotics must be able to pass through the stomach without being broken down by the gastric acidity and enzyme activity.

Research has confirmed the benefits to the gut and bowel of the high fibre and specific polysaccharides in certain seaweeds including their action as effective prebiotics. Ascophyllum has more than twice the fibre yet less than 17% the carbohydrate of brown rice.[9] In addition, specific seaweed micronutrients, and their bioavailability, are believed to benefit gut health.[10]

More recent research, linking to findings in weight management and diabetes, has suggested that obesity and Type 2 diabetes are characterized / influenced?? by gut microbiota.[11]

Studies to date on Seagreens Ascophyllum species at Teesside University are extremely positive, with examples including improved feed intake in post-weaning pigs, reduced diarrhoea, increased presence of ‘good’ bacteria (Lactobacilli) and reduced presence of ‘bad’ bacteria (E. coli) when diets were supplemented. An unrelated study in supplemented dairy cows, resulted in increased blood glucose, thought to be due to the improved digestion and utilization of feed.[12]

The results to date show Seagreens promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, whilst concurrent studies at Newcastle University indicate that a high concentration of antioxidants will be released within the gut lumen where the seaweed can deliver cellular protection.

Iodine Sufficiency

In the UK, 66% of adult women and 76% of school aged girls are estimated to be iodine deficient. Deficiency is recognised by the World Health Organisation as the world’s most prevalent, yet easily preventable cause of brain damage and one of the main causes of impaired cognitive development in children.[13]

A comparative study with Glasgow University on the iodine in Seagreens has been submitted for publication in 2013. It is an ideal natural source of iodine contributing to normal thyroid, nervous system and cognitive function, the normal growth of children, normal energy-yielding metabolism, and the maintenance of normal skin.

Iodine in the natural environment is found in a variety of different forms. It is one of the least abundant elements in topsoils and in the body has to compete with halogens like fluorine, chlorine and bromine. But sufficient iodine will bind to these potential toxins and remove them.

Whilst some seaweed species contain very high levels of iodine - particularly ‘kelp’ (the Laminaria species) - Seagreens’ wild Wracks have safe, adequate levels of absorbable iodine ranging from 240 to 700 micrograms per gram, naturally bound to protein ions which ensures sustained release or excretion as compared to artificial forms of iodine.

Iodine in Seagreens products

A study by Bristol and Surrey Universities in 2012 found 75% of pregnant women were iodine deficient and that babies deprived of iodine are 50% more likely to be among the least intelligent quarter of children by the age of 8.[14]

Wild species Fucus

Wild species Fucus

The so-called Avon study revealed significant deficiencies particularly among school-aged children and a group of academics has called on the UK Government to re-introduce iodine supplementation of table salt. But such an approach is misguided because most salt enters the human diet through manufactured foods, and governments worldwide are trying to reduce salt intake, particularly from manufactured foods. It is impractical because of the vast array of different kinds and brands of salt, and is it not contrary to individual freedom?

Many nutrition experts believe the European and US iodine RDIs are too conservative, and higher intakes from seaweed have been shown to provide a protective effect.[15] The annual cost of healthcare and lost work time due to iodine deficiency and thyroid disorders in Germany has been estimated at US$1 billion.[16]

World Health Organisation guidelines advise a safe maximum daily intake of 1000µg and the British Health Food Manufacturers Association advises that food supplements should not deliver more than 500µg per day.

Antioxidant Capacity

Research on Seagreens at Newcastle University (2012) compared the antioxidant capacity of Seagreens with everyday fruit and vegetables. The research concluded that the antioxidant capacity of all Seagreens species remained high through simulated enzymatic digestion in the gut, suggesting that Seagreens products:

  • Will release a high concentration of antioxidants within the gut lumen where they can provide protection against oxidative damage;
  • Could be more effective radical scavengers than green teas;
  • Are comparable to other polyphenol-rich food sources.

Comparison of the antioxidant capacity of Seagreens products

Obesity and Weight Management

More than 1.4 billion adults and 40 million pre-school children were overweight in 2008, and 500 million adults were obese. At least 2.8 million people each year die as a result of being overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008. Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. 

The use of seaweed extracts (alginates) as an aid to weight management has been researched over many years and these extracts are incorporated in many weight loss products. They are typically combined with a catalyst to ‘fill’ the gut and cause satiety.

In 2009 the first study of its kind using Seagreens Human Food Seaweed™ demonstrated significant reduction in calorie intake in overweight but otherwise healthy males. The whole seaweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) was used as a dried, granulated ingredient in a typical everyday breakfast, ensuring the other nutritional benefits are available to the body; something not possible from an extract. For example, the results indicated an inhibitory effect on starch enzymes, likely due to specific phenols in the seaweed.

In the study at Sheffield’s Centre for Food Innovation, the men consumed on average 179 fewer calories each day (with a reduction of 100 calories being significant in aiding weight loss) after eating bread with Seagreens in it. Importantly there was no effect on the uptake of nutrients (which was found in a study using Nori) or on glucose and cholesterol levels.

Wild species Pelvetia

Wild species Pelvetia

This award-winning study was published in the journal Appetite in 2012,[6] and further research continues at Newcastle University. The current studies are application focused, designed to show the effect of Seagreens specifically in foods with a high Glycaemic Index.

Diabetes

Linked to obesity, diabetes is another growing health concern with massive societal costs. Globally, 44% of diabetes, 23% of ischaemic heart disease and 7-41% of certain cancers are attributable to overweight and obesity. Around 347 million people worldwide have diabetes, predicted to become the 7th largest cause of death in the world by 2030. Type 2 diabetes - its most common form - can be prevented.[17]

In the UK, the average presentation of diabetes is 4.6% of the population (www.diabetes.org.uk ). Type 2 is certainly treatable with foods including seaweed. Figures from the USA (2007), where 7.8% of the population (23.6 million) are diabetic, show that the diabetic packaged food market reached US$282.9 million in 2009, and is forecast to rise to US$316.5 million by 2014. A similar trend is emerging in the UK.

All Seagreens products are certified allergen free and its latest product received a commendation in the London Free From Food Awards in 2011. The research with Seagreens on managing satiety and the release of sugars to the blood provides strong evidence that the seaweed can benefit diabetics through the inhibition of amylase and slowing the release of sugars to the blood.[18] These benefits and a broad dietary foundation tick all the boxes as an ingredient in diabetic, Free From and all special needs food and diets.

Natural Food Nutrients

Seaweed offers such a natural abundance of nutrients it is worth considering their special usefulness to the body. For example, where synthetic vitamins are created in isolated samples, natural vitamins exist as complexes.[19] The presence of the additional organic molecules such as phytonutrients, minerals, enzymes, carbohydrates, proteins and lipids found within food substances, enhance the function of that vitamin, affecting its binding affinity and its utilisation. In the absence of these additional co-factors the body needs to draw on its own reserves which can lead to further deficiencies and imbalances in the body. Many examples demonstrate the point - in terms of particle size, oxidant capacity, concentration, vitality - the natural form has greater efficacy in vivo.

Typical nutritional values per gram

If ‘food’ is the means of introducing nutrients, ‘nutrition’ is the act of using them; it is sobering to remember that the established relationship between natural nutrients and the human body began well before our species evolved. It is understood to have taken about 250 million years for fish to evolve into amphibians and then into reptiles, a process which occurred on the sea shores, in estuaries and swamps.

“When the first terrestrial reptilian vertebrate left the littoral [the part of a sea, lake or river that is close to the shore] to walk or slither on land, the (nutritional) problems it met were enormous. Its internal composition was established by the environment from which it came, but this reptile no longer could return to the sea to replenish it. This reptile went from an environment of evenly distributed plenitude to one of uneven superabundance and deficiency. For example zinc, copper, iron and manganese were plentiful wherever there was vegetation. Cobalt, molybdenum, fluorine and boron were not distributed uniformly. Therefore to survive, this land-based animal had to adapt not only to conserve essential elements, but to reject excesses of both essential and non-essential elements which could be toxic. Exquisite homeostatic mechanisms have evolved to achieve this” (homeostasis - the maintenance of a steady optimal concentration of an element in the body).[20]

Cobalt, for example, was not understood to be important to human health until the late 1940s yet today it is recognized as the active centre of coenzymes and cobalamins - the most common example of which is the essential vitamin B12.

A recent comprehensive study of mineral depletion tracked 72 foods between 1940 and 2002. Over the years for which precisely comparable data was available (51 years from 1940-1991) farmed meat lost 41% of its calcium and 54% of its iron, while vegetables lost an average 50% calcium, 25% iron and magnesium, 76% copper and 59% zinc. In whole milk there was a significant decline in all the essential minerals except sodium. In back bacon not only was there a marked decline in minerals and trace elements, but water content increased by 300%. Turkey and chicken meat lost almost 80% of its iron, beef almost 40%.

Seagreens is equal to

The author concluded that the character, growing method, preparation, source and ultimate presentation of basic staples has changed significantly to the extent that trace elements and micronutrient contents have been severely depleted. Concurrently “there has been a precipitous change towards convenience and pre-prepared foods containing saturated fats, highly processed meats and refined carbohydrates, often devoid of vital micronutrients yet packed with a cocktail of chemical additives including colours, flavours and preservatives.[21]

Ongoing research has demonstrated a significant relationship between deficiencies in micronutrients and physical and mental ill health.[22]

Nutrient comparison of fruti veg

 

Seagreens in a Loaf of Bread Same Vitamin B2 as 100g

Dietary and Therapeutic Uses

It may be seen that there are many and varied uses for Seagreens’ Human Food Seaweed™ and theoretically no obstacle to its inclusion at one or more meals each day in the general population - let alone in almost all special diets from the autism spectrum  to weight regulation. All this is supported by practitioner and consumer experience and rich anecdotal evidence gained over the past 15 years.

Such use is still embryonic in Europe and North America (almost everywhere outside South East Asia) whereas in Japan which was isolated for so long from western influences, seaweed remains a constant feature in traditional and modern food with a traditional daily intake of 4 to 5 grams per day - equivalent to a teaspoon of Seagreens Culinary Ingredient.

Seagreens Brand Partner Artisan Bread

Seagreens’ ‘Brand Partner’ Artisan Bread

Trying to find some data for one of the tables in this article, I stumbled on a short presentation made in Stratford, England to the International Food Industry on New Product Development in 2009. My opening slide then was “The right kind of seaweed in the daily diet may help our bodies to optimize the nutritional value of the food we eat” - an early fruit of our research programme. Four years later I see that I am still banging the same drum!

Seal in the Hebrdies
Seal in the Hebredies

Myths and misunderstandings still attach to seaweed, some useful, some not, like the one that says the oceans are hopelessly polluted. They are not. We are trying to do the research, set the standards, disseminate and educate - in our own and the public interest. Sometimes even the seals ask what we are doing among these lovely, remote Scottish islands! Time will tell.

References

1.         Blunden, G., M. D. Guiry, M. D. Seaweed Resources in Europe: Uses and Potential. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, New York. 1991.

2.         Cooksley, V. G. Seaweed, A Field Guide to Seaweed. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York, 2007 p. 172.

3.         Surey-Gent, S., Morris, G. Seaweed - A User’s Guide. Whittet Books. 1987.

4.         Vogel, H. C. A. The Nature Doctor (Manual of Traditional and Complementary Medicine). Mainstream Publishing Company, Edinburgh, 50th Edition, 1989

5.         Seagreens Direct 01342-888095 tradedirect@seagreens.co.uk .

6.         Foster, R. Factors affecting improvements in the British diet. National Health Dietician, Issue 29, p21 2007.

7.         Hall, A.C., Fairclough, A.C., Mahadevan, K., & Paxman, J.R. Ascophyllum nodosum enriched bread reduces subsequent energy intake with no effect on post-prandial glucose and cholesterol in healthy, overweight males. A pilot study. Appetite, v58, p379-386. 2012.

8.         Research Councils UK.  Big Ideas for the Future Report, 2011. Available to download: www.rcuk.ac.uk/documents/publications/BigIdeasfortheFuturereport.pdf

9.         MacArtain, P., Gill, C., Brooks, M., Campbell, R., Rowland, R.. Nutritional Value of Edible Seaweeds, Nutrition Reviews, Vol. 65, No. 12:535-543, 2007 and McCance & Widdowson, 1993

10.       O’Sullivan, L., Murphy, B., McLoughlin, P., Duggan, P., Lawlor, P.G., Hughes, H. & Gardiner, G.E. Prebiotics from Marine Macroalgae for Human and Animal Health Applications. Marine Drugs, v8, p2038-2064, 2010.

11.       Everard, A., Belzer, C., Geurts, L., Ouwerkerk, J.P., Druart, C., Bindels, L.B., Guiot, Y., Derrien, M., Mucciolo, G.G., Delzenne, N.M, de Vos, W.M. & Cani, P.D. Cross-talk between Akkermansia muciniphila and intestinal epithelium controls diet-induced obesity. PNAS Journal v110, iss22, p9066-9071. 2013.

12.       Karatzia, M., Christaki, E., Bonos, E., Karatzias, C. & Paneri, P.F. The influence of dietary Ascophyllum nodosum on haematological parameters of dairy cows. Italian Journal of Animal Science, v11, pp169-173, 2012.

13.       World Health Organization Micronutrient deficiencies: Iodine Deficiency Disorder.  Available to download: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2004/9241592001.pdf

14.       Bath, S. C., et al., Effect of inadequate iodine status in UK pregnant women on cognitive outcomes in their children: results from the Avon Longitudiunal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). The Lancet (early online publication) May 22, 2013.

15.       Caldwell, K. L., et al, Urinary iodine concentration: United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2002. Thyroid. Jul;15(7):692-9, 2005.

16.       Gutekunst, R., Iodine deficiency costs Germany over one billion dollars per year. IDD Newsletter 9:29-31, 1993.

17.       World Health Organisation Diabetes Programme: http://www.who.int/diabetes/en/

18.       Nwosu, F., Morris J., Lund V.A., Stewart, D. Ross, H.A. & McDougall, G.J. Anti-proliferative and potential anti-diabetic effects of phenolic-rich extracts from edible marine algae.  Food Chemistry, v126, p1006-1012. 2011.

19.       Thiel, R. Natural Vitamins may be superior to synthetic ones. Medical Hypothesis 55(6):461-469. 2000.

20.       Nielsen, F. H.. Evolutionary events culminating in specific minerals becoming essential to life. European Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 39, Number 2, 2000.

21.       Dr David Thomas, 1940-91 research data compiled for ‘Overfed and Undernourished’, London Conference on Obesity, April 2005; The mineral deplection of foods available to us as a nation (1940 - 2002): A Review of the 6th Edition of McCance and Widdowson, 2007.

22.       Changing Diets, Changing Minds: how food affects mental health and behaviour, a joint report of Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming; and Feeding Minds: The Impact of Food on Mental Health, a report of the Mental Health Foundation. 2006.

Further Information

Seagreens Information Service is there to help with any queries you may have and to send you any further information you require. Please contact us on +44-1444-400403 cheaply from a landline in the UK at 0845-0640040 or at info@seagreens.co.uk . The Seaweed Health Foundation is at www.seaweedhealthfoundation.org.uk .

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About Simon Ranger

Simon Ranger Founder of Seagreens®, has a passion for business and human culture. In 1983 formed the award-winning brand consultancy International Partnership® which distinguished itself for Export Achievement with offices in London, Boston and Stockholm. He began Seagreens in 1997, an Anglo-Scandinavian venture producing wild seaweed ingredients for human and animal nutrition, healthcare and the food industry - now a harvesting consortium in Norway, Scotland, Iceland and Ireland. Through 'brand partnerships' with its manufacturing customers, Seagreens® ingredients are to be found in countries worldwide, getting seaweed nutrition to millions of people. Seagreens award-winning research since 2008 has produced papers in 4 international scientific journals. An American partnership with International Nutrition near Washington DC began in 2010 - Caroline Jackson ask@nutrivene.com. Set up the Seaweed Health Foundation in 2011 for research, standards and education. Contributed know-how to introduce a new international production standard to certify Nutritious Food Seaweed with the Biodynamic Association in 2016. Alongside these activities, in 1990 Simon set up Probono, an international organisation to balance business and human development in and between corporate cultures. The values we demonstrate in our daily transactions, he believes, can change the world more surely and permanently for the good than any ideology. Simon lives in West Sussex, England where he is creating a woodland estate with horticulture, a Japanese garden, natural bee-keeping, and silence at its heart. Simon can be contacted at post@seagreens.co.uk Website www.seagreens.co.uk

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