When I first saw spirulina on a smoothie recipe, I was confused – it sounded like some type of pasta to me. A quick search revealed articles on spirulina benefits and what the stuff really was. It was quickly evident why people had started to eat it or drink it in smoothies, as was the most common option. So why would you want to include it in your diet?
What is spirulina?
Spirulina can impressively boast to being one of the oldest forms of life on earth – a microalga that helps to produce oxygen in the atmosphere some billions of years ago that allows other forms of life to develop. It is also said to be one of the most nutrient-rich foods available.
In the wild, spirulina grows in warm, fresh water lakes and the green-blue shade of it gives the water that greenish shade we have all seen. Since spirulina benefits were uncovered, there are also places around the world where it is cultivated and harvested in special man-made reservoirs, such as on the Kona coast of Hawaii.
Personally, I’ll admit I haven’t tried spirulina myself (I will, I promise) but reading expert summaries on the stuff, it seems best to go for organic spirulina to be certain of the quality of the product. These are usually produced in places like Hawaii in ideal growing conditions to get the best quality product with no unpleasant chemicals involved.
So, what are those spirulina benefits that make nutritionists so impressed with this stuff? It has a reputation of being the most nutrient rich food on the planet and when you see the figures, it is easy to see where these claims come from.
Protein is top of the list – spirulina contains all the amino acids and is the best protein source known. This means that it contains more protein than beef or chicken so is an ideal source of this essential element. It also contains 11% of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin B1 or Thiamine, crucial for digesting fats and all that protein. People take it as a supplement to help improve nerve function, eye health and brain function.
Spirulina is also a source of iron and is one of the best plant sources of the element so is crucial for vegetarians and vegans who don’t receive the iron that meat eaters do through their diet. The calcium levels in the algae are around 26 times that of milk as well.
Other nutrients include (figures from Wikipedia):
- 55% RDA magnesium
- 29% RDA potassium
- 24% RDA Vitamin K
- 21% RDA copper
- 21% RDA zinc
- 15% RDA Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
- 12% RDA Vitamin C
- 12% RDA calcium
- 4% RDA Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
How can spirulina help you?
So away from the facts, how does including spirulina in your smoothies or other dishes help you? For starters, spirulina contains gamma linolenic acid and Omega-3 fatty acids. The first of these has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, especially when accompanied by Omega-3.
These algae are also a great source of powerful antioxidants. Now in case you have missed these, antioxidants combat something called free radicals that are responsible for much of the bad stuff in our bodies including the ageing process and even being associated with cancer cells. So, anything that contains lots of antioxidants can help battle the free radicals and reduce the damage done.
One interesting benefit of spirulina is that it is connected with easing allergies. One study looked at the possible effects of spirulina alongside other herbal supplements and found that its anti-inflammatory properties could help ease the symptoms of an allergy, such as inflamed nasal passages.
Eating or drinking spirulina
Now let’s face it, this is algae we are talking about and therefore it isn’t something you eat or drink because it tastes great. In fact, one report I read said it tasted like pond water – or rather, you could say pond water tastes like it. That’s why one way it is popular to consume is in a smoothie with other strong tasting ingredients. But it is something that you should ease into – adding just a teaspoon into your blender with the rest of the ingredients is enough to start with as the health benefits work over time. Eventually, nutritionists say around a tablespoon a day is a great way to get the best spirulina benefits.
Potential problems with spirulina
Because spirulina is a form of bacteria, there are some words of caution in the general enthusiasm for the stuff. Some of the reports of issues, such as those studied by the Oregon Health Department in the US, seem to relate mainly to the production of the spirulina. So the best option seems to be to use guaranteed quality, organic spirulina bought from a reputable source.
People with allergies relating to iodine should consult a doctor before touching spirulina as it can aggravate the allergy. And avoid it if you are pregnant or any blood thinners as it contains a lot of Vitamin K that can have a negative effect on you. Like anything, if you are any medication, always check with a medical professional before taking anything new in case it has a negative effect. Best to be safe!
Have you tried spirulina? How did you eat or drink it and have you noticed any benefits from it?