Sounds a little weird, a superfood from a pond, right? Fact is, spirulina is a natural, blue-green algae found in warm, fresh water. When harvested properly from non-contaminated ponds, it’s one of today’s hottest superfoods. Why? The algae is so nutrient-rich, it’s considered a sustainable food source with the potential to end world hunger. And it’s used globally to treat a wide variety of ailments. The algae is feisty too – unlike most plants, spirulina can withstand extreme temperature variations and neglect and still thrive. Here’s what spirulina has to offer:
Protein: Spirulina is 65-71% complete protein. To give you some perspective – beef is 22% protein. And the essential amino acids found in spirulina are easily absorbed by the body. Imagine a plant that actually provides most of the protein you need to live. Sorry cows, it’s a fact.
Omega-3’s: Spirulina is especially high in heart-protective Omega-3 fatty acids and contains Omega-6’s (crucial for brain function as well as growth and development) and Omega-9’s (helps lower cholesterol and controls blood sugar). Spirulina also contains the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA) which is hailed for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Chlorophyll: Loaded with chlorophyll (the green pigment in algae and plants), spirulina helps remove toxins from the blood and boosts the immune system.
Iron: Not only does spirulina contain iron, it’s bio-available, meaning the mineral is easily absorbed by the body (important for non meat-eaters and folks with anemia). Even better news? Unlike iron supplements, spirulina doesn’t cause constipation.
Nutrients: Look at this bounty: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, folic acid, vitamins C, D, A, and E, potassium, chromium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium and zinc. Phew, gotta catch your breath after that.
Calcium: Spirulina contains over 26 times the calcium of milk, making it an excellent option for folks that don’t eat dairy. Calcium helps maintain strong bones and teeth, is used to help control muscle and nerve function, and helps manage the acid/base balance in our bloodstream.
Thanks in part to the nutrients above, spirulina has additional benefits:
Detoxifies: Spirulina can bind with heavy metals in the body and help remove them.
Burns Fat: This powerful algae actually increases fat burning during exercise.
Boosts Immune System: Spirulina has been shown to encourage and support the growth of healthy bacterial flora in your gut, which helps control candida overgrowth and alleviate the symptoms of autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, Lupus, and fibromyalgia (chronic candida can both cause and worsen symptoms when left uncontrolled).
Relieves Allergies: Millions of people suffer from allergic reactions to pollen, ragweed, dust, mold, pet dander, and environmental contaminants. Spirulina helps prevent these reactions by stopping the release of histamines, substances that contribute to allergy symptoms, such as a runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, hives, and swelling.
Lowers Cholesterol: A recent study revealed that when elderly men and women (ages 60-87) were given 8 grams of spirulina per day for 16 consecutive weeks, their cholesterol levels were significantly lower than those given a placebo.
Reduces High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects millions of Americans and increases the risk for heart attack and stroke. A recent study revealed that when men and women, ages 18-65, were given 4.5 grams of spirulina every day for 6 weeks, their blood pressure was regulated and controlled. Even more interesting, no other dietary changes were made during the experiment.
Reduces Stroke Risk: In a study done on rats, scientists found that spirulina had a protective effect on the brain and nervous system of rats exposed to high amounts of free radicals (compared to rats not given spirulina before the experiment).
A Few Tips:
- Always choose organic spirulina from a reputable source. Non-organic brands can have added nitrate compounds or be contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins from the water.
- Spirulina comes in capsules, tablets, powders, and flakes. The recommended daily dose is typically 3 to 5 grams.
- When taking spirulina in any form, increase your intake of water to improve absorption.
- Since spirulina is a potent detoxifier, start with smaller doses and work your way up.
A Word of Caution:
Even though spirulina is natural and generally considered a healthy food, there are some contraindications you need to be aware of.
- Do not take spirulina if you have a severe seafood or iodine allergy.
- If you are pregnant or nursing, consult your doctor before taking spirulina.
- If you have hyperthyroidism, consult your healthcare provider before taking spirulina.
- Those with PKU should consult with a doctor before taking spirulina because it contains that amino acid phenylalanine.
- Those on any type of anti-coagulation medicine should consult with a doctor before taking spirulina.
- If you have an auto-immune disease, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or pemphigus vulgaris (a skin condition), spirulina may increase symptoms. Speak to your doctor before taking any blue-green algae.
Robin Miller has been a TV personality, food writer and nutritionist since 1990 and she is the author of ten books, including Robin Takes 5 for Busy Families, Robin Takes 5, and the bestselling cookbook Quick Fix Meals. Her popular show, “Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller” aired on Food Network for 5 years and she has multiple weekly blogs, Robin’s Healthy Take, on www.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats. “Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller” is currently airing on Great American Country Channel. You can view her website at: www.robinmillercooks.com.