Spirulina: The billion-year-old superfood

Spirulina health benefits

For most of us, it takes a valiant effort to eat enough vegetables. So if you’ve just recently defrosted your relationship with broccoli, we regret to inform you that your cruciferous friend might not be as stellar as you thought. Some sources claim that modern agricultural practices, such as the industrialized production of monocrops, have left us with sad plots of nutrient-poor dirt. And because produce gets most of its nutrients from the soil in which it grows, lackluster land yields lackluster crops. 

A critical review from the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis dismantles the claims that today’s produce is significantly less nutritious, but the concern still influences consumers. Health-conscious buyers are looking for creative, bioavailable ways to supplement vitamins and minerals. 

One such solution involves the consumption of algae – a “modern” superfood that debuted on earth billions of years ago. This OG lifeform recently gained traction in the Western world thanks to the 2018 farm bill, which granted more federal support for algae agriculture. Tablet and liquid forms of algae, such as chlorella and spirulina, line the shelves of health food stores, and household wellness influencers laud their benefits. Even for those who call “bologna” on the barren-soil, barren-crop theory, algae may offer an easier way to get nutrients. This article will specifically cover the nutritional profile of spirulina, a popular algae with superfood status. 

Spirulina is technically a cyanobacteria, but conventional discourse classifies it as a blue-green algae. It’s also known as one of the most “nutrient-dense foods on earth.” Long before spirulina entered the wellness repertoire of health enthusiasts, global leaders endorsed it for political and practical reasons. In 1974, algae was dubbed “the best food for the future” at the United Nations World Food Conference due to its nutritional density and sustainability. The United Nations World Health Organization recognizes algae as a near-magic bullet for fighting malnutrition, as the superfood contains ample protein and can be safely distributed to children. On the flip side, spirulina contains very small amounts of glucose, fructose and sucrose, making it an ideal nutritional supplement for people seeking weight loss. 

Spirulina’s nutritional highlights:

Protein: With four grams per tablespoon, spirulina contains much higher levels of protein (670% more than tofu) and essential amino acids than other plant-based foods.

Vitamins: Spirulina is rich in B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, E and K.

Minerals: Spirulina contains a number of essential minerals including calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. It also has a significant amount of iron, making it a potentially effective way to treat anemia.  

Fatty acids:  Among the seven fatty acids in spirulina is gamma-linolenic acid, which may help treat serious issues like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), heart disease, depression and more. Spirulina is one of the best-known sources of gamma-linolenic acid after human milk.

Antioxidants: A number of chemicals in spirulina make it a powerful antioxidant. These include high densities of polyphenols, beta-carotene and chlorophyll

Among experts, there’s no question that spirulina and other algaes classify as a superfood from a nutritional standpoint. However, this study calls out the need for more sophisticated research methods for quantifying the benefits of algae to humans – especially as it concerns bioavailability. (Bioavailability refers to the ease with which your body can process, absorb and make use of the nutrients from food). 

Due to variable factors, such as the differing gut microbiomes across humans, modern research methods still struggle to conclusively demonstrate algae’s bioavailability. To gain further insight on this topic, algae research will warrant an interdisciplinary approach, calling upon the efforts of “phycological, nutritional, medical, analytical and industrial groups.”

However, the existing body of spirulina research offers a compelling argument for many consumers to try the superfood. The fact that NASA gave spirulina to astronauts on space missions, for instance, may make up for any scientific ambiguity in your book. If you’re interested in learning more, we recommend checking out this blog

Oh, and a word of caution for you newfound algae enthusiasts: Chlorella and spirulina can turn your teeth bright green, so you might want to eat them with a toothbrush on hand.

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