When I first began studying nutrition in 2003, I learned about a class of “superfoods” called blue-green algae (yep, similar to the algae you see on lakes and other sources of standing water. Sounds incredibly appetizing, doesn’t it??).
In fact, there are thousands of species of blue-green algae (technically a bacterium called cyanobacteria, but sometimes referred to as “pond scum” by those in the agricultural field), and most are beneficial or harmless to humans and animals.
A few, however, do produce toxins that can be very damaging if you’re over-exposed to them, either by ingesting water with them or swimming in it. This also explains why scientists are always looking for ways to clean up the excess algae in various lakes, ponds, or other sources of water.
Then there are the other types, the ones that are beneficial to your health. These include chlorella and spirulina.
The one I picked to try first was spirulina, a powdered algae that you can purchase in capsules or powder form. Because I’m frugal (ahem), I opted for the powder, since it was about 1/10 the price of the capsules. You use one teaspoon of powder in whatever you wish.
For more than 15 years, I started every morning with a mixture of ground flax, chia seeds, spirulina and almond or rice milk, creating what my husband affectionately called “green slime.” I have to admit, it wasn’t the most appetizing picture (you can see Chaser while still a puppy lapping up some of it here).
While I no longer consume it daily, I still love spirulina and appreciate its multitude of health benefits.
What Is Spirulina?
Spirulina, a dark green microalgae that is sold in powder or capsule form, is often referred to as “blue-green algae.” It typically grows in freshwater lakes, natural springs, and saltwater in subtropical and tropical climates. In reality, however, this substance is actually a bacterium known as Cyanobacteria. Or, you could use the common parlance and call it “pond scum” (truly).
So, yeah, I know all that doesn’t make it sound too appetizing.
But spirulina has been consumed for thousands of years for its health benefits, and it’s known to have a mild taste. And I actually really (honestly!!) like the flavor.
Plant-based Protein Punch
Spirulina provides an extra boost of protein in your day–4 grams per tablespoon (15 ml), which can be another daily protein source for anyone following a plant-based diet.
While it’s a myth that vegans have trouble acquiring enough protein, it’s always nice to have more options to add to the daily menu. Considered a “perfect” protein because it contains all 9 essential amino acids (just like animal proteins do), it’s a natural choice to add to your day. And since it’s 60% protein by weight, you’re getting a good percentage of that protein in every serving.
Vitamins and Minerals
You’ll also find up to 15% of your daily Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) needs, as well as 11% of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) in a serving of spirulina.
In addition, spirulina is a good source of calcium (3% of your daily needs), magnesium (14%) and potassium (11%), as well as iron (11% of your daily needs) plus up to 21% of your daily copper (a trace mineral).
In fact, some professionals argue that spirulina is the most nutrient-dense food on the planet.
Impact on Health Conditions
In terms of heart health, spirulina is a triple threat: studies have shown that it lowers blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and also decreases your chances of having a stroke (wowzah!).
It’s possible that spirulina can help control blood sugar levels. In a small study of Type 2 diabetics, it helped to lower the markers for blood sugar levels, which could lower the risk of diabetes-related death.
Apart from its effect on lowering blood sugars, spirulina has also been shown to improve liver health. When you deal with chronic candida, your liver tends to be overloaded to begin with. Spirulina has been shown to prevent the buildup of triglycerides, inhibit lipid peroxidation, reduce liver inflammation and protect it from damage by heavy metals.
Since heavy metal toxicity is often an issue for people with candida, its ability to help detox heavy metals is another key benefit of spirulina.
In addition, it seems to possess direct anti-fungal properties, by helping “good” bacteria to thrive in the gut and crowd out the candida.
Some claims for spirulina suggest it can help alleviate depression, anxiety or ADHD. Again, useful for those of us deaing with chronic candida and all the concomitant emotional aspects that go along with candida overgrowth.
In general, spirulina seems to act as an anti-inflammatory agent in the body, which can benefit you in several ways.
One of the most studied is its effect on allergic rhinitis (ie, chronic sinusitis, inflammation of the nasal passages), alleviating symptoms.
Again, since so many people with candida suffer from sinus issues, spirulina might be a great choice.
Like dark, leafy greens, spirulina contains the antioxidant zeaxanthin, which has been shown to help prevent macular degeneration.
How to Use Spirulina
One of the simplest ways to add spirulina to your diet is to simply add a teaspoon to a daily smoothie or juice. I used to mix spirulina powder with ground flax seeds, some chia seeds, and almond milk, for my “green slime” in the morning.
Creating healthful recipes with spirulina is fun and easy–why not add it to granola bars, or use it to color various foods or treats, as in these cookie dough balls.
Convinced yet? Let me know in the comments if you plan to try this green superfood, or if you’re already a fan. And share how YOU use it!