Spirulina is a kind of blue-green algae. It grows in both fresh and salt water. Just like plants, spirulina can produce energy out of sunlight through photosynthesis.
Historically, spirulina was used as one of the main sources of protein by the Aztecs in the 16th century. It became popular again more recently when NASA conducted studies on spirulina as a potential food for space travel. The goal was to provide astronauts with foods that are rich in nutrients but compact in size. NASA found that 1 kg of spirulina had the same nutrients found in about 1,000 kg of assorted vegetables.
It is amazing how nutritious spirulina is. This nutritional powerhouse is rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, essential fatty acids, and more:
- Protein: Spirulina is 65-70% protein (more than meat!) of which 95% is digestible. The quality of the protein in spirulina is considered excellent, comparable to eggs. It contains all the essential amino acids that we need, making it a complete protein.
- Carotene: 25 times more than carrots; 50 times more than spinach.
- Vitamin E: 3 times more than wheat germ.
- Vitamins B: Highest whole food source of Vitamin B12 and B Complex; one heaped dessertspoon (approximately 12 g) of spirulina powder provides over 500% of the US RDA of Vitamin B12, 21% of Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), 21% of Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) and 7% of Vitamin B3 (Niacin).
- Iron: 2-6 times higher in iron than beef liver; 300% more iron than steak.
- Loaded with more than 14 organic minerals which are highly bioavailable, like calcium, magnesium, potassium, chromium and other trace minerals.
- Contains more antioxidants than any other whole food.
- Richer in chlorophyll than alfalfa or wheat grass, making spirulina an incredible alkalizer and blood purifier.
- Rich in Glycogen. When energy is needed, glycogen is quickly mobilized to deliver the body with fuel that it needs. Spirulina is the only known vegetable that contains glycogen.
- Healthy Fat: Today, the typical modern diet consists of 14 to 25 times more Omega 6 than Omega 3. Researchers believe that this imbalance of Omega 3:6 is causing an inflammatory response in the body, and inflammation is a root cause of numerous diseases and disorders. Spirulina contains both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio of about 1.5:1. Besides, it gives 3 times more Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) than Evening Primrose Oil (EPO). GLA has reportedly shown to be effective in strengthening the body’s immune system.
- Good source of natural enzymes.
Gram for gram, spirulina may literally be the single most nutrient-dense food on earth. It is low in calories however, with 1 tablespoon of spirulina containing only 20 calories and 1.7 grams of digestible carbohydrate.
Besides being considered as the richest, most nutrient-dense food sources known to man, spirulina has been well-researched for its many tremendous health benefits. These include:
- Antioxidant powerhouse. Spirulina contains a rare antioxidant compound known as phycocyanin which helps protect cells from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage can drive chronic inflammation, which contributes to cancer and other diseases.
- Lowers blood pressure. Spirulina can increase the production of nitric oxide, a signalling molecule that helps the blood vessels relax and dilate, which may help to lower blood pressure levels. High blood pressure is a serious cause of many killer diseases. These include heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease.
- Reduces cholesterol. Studies have shown that spirulina can lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, and may raise HDL, “good”, cholesterol levels.
- Protects LDL cholesterol from oxidative damage. Fatty structures in the body can become oxidized, known as lipid peroxidation, which promotes the progression of many serious diseases. The antioxidants in spirulina appear to be particularly effective at reducing lipid peroxidation.
- Increases oxygen in the blood. Cells that have optimum oxygen levels will give us more energy, enhance brain function, and lower stress. Oxygenated cells help the body overcome fatigue and maintain a youthful appearance. Poor blood oxygenation deprives the cells of energy to clean and rebuild. As a result, our immune system weakens, which can lead to viral infections, DNA mutations, pathogenic bacteria, inflammation, heart disease, toxic build-up in blood, and premature aging. Poor blood oxygenation is the number one cause of declining health and disease! Spirulina stimulates the production of various stem cells including red blood cells which help to supply oxygen while keeping the blood clean.
- Improves sinus issues. Studies have shown that spirulina benefits the body by reducing the inflammation that causes people to experience sinus problems. It is very effective at reducing various symptoms like nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching.
- Increases haemoglobin. The most common form of anaemia is characterized by a reduction in haemoglobin or red blood cells in the blood. It is fairly common in the elderly, and may lead to prolonged feelings of weakness and fatigue. One study showed that spirulina supplementation increased haemoglobin in the body. Immune function also improved.
- Promotes healthy gut. Spirulina promotes the growth of healthy bacterial flora in the intestines, which can help the body eliminate candida cells as well as support the immune system.
- Helps control blood sugar.
- Detoxifies heavy metals (especially arsenic) from the body.
- Boosts energy and improves endurance.
- Offers neuroprotection for brain disorders and memory failure.
With its array of research-backed health benefits, Spirulina is a true “superfood”, and one of the few that actually lives up to the term.
Who will benefit from Spirulina?
- People with poor digestion and assimilation (spirulina is easy to digest and absorb)
- People with poor vitality and anaemia
- People who eat refined or processed foods regularly
- People who take prescription drugs (spirulina protects the kidneys and liver)
- People who are overweight or obese
- People who engage in physical exercise / strength training
- People with low energy levels
- Vegetarians, as it contains a wholesome source of essential nutrients like protein and B12 which are normally found in meat
- Children, women, pregnant and nursing mothers and the elderly
Spirulina vs Chlorella.
They are often lumped together as if they were one and the same. Although they are both microalgae, there are a few key differences you need to know before choosing to add either to your dietary supplement routine.
- How they are grown
Spirulina thrives in clean high-alkaline water. The water must be clean and sourced from natural rivers and lakes. It also needs an abundance of sunshine and moderate temperatures. It grows best by itself in water uncontaminated by other kinds of living organisms. Thus, harvesting is straightforward.
Chlorella also grows in fresh water, but it likes to have neighbours (other organisms) in the water. Due to its microscopic size, it is difficult to cultivate and harvest for mass production.
Because of its hard, indigestible cell wall, chlorella needs mechanical processing to prepare it for human consumption. Otherwise, the body would not be able to digest and absorb its nutrients. The process can be costly, which would explain why chlorella is usually more expensive than spirulina.
On the other hand, spirulina has a completely digestible cell wall and can be immediately consumed and digested easily.
- Nutritional value
Although both are considered superfoods, spirulina and chlorella differ in their nutritional content. Spirulina contains more essential amino acids, iron, protein, B vitamins, and vitamins C, D and E. Spirulina is also a better source of GLA, a good fat that is essential for healthy brain and heart function.