If you’re always on the look-out for superfoods, you already know about avocados, honey, turmeric, green tea, eggs, coconut oil, cocoa, açaí, apple cider vinegar, quinoa, garlic, berries, ginger, and kale. Just to name a few.
One you may not have tried or even heard of is spirulina.
Spirulina benefits are well-documented and have been enjoyed for generations.
What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is blue-green algae that grows naturally in warm alkaline bodies of water. Before you say, “yuck!”, spirulina is not the gunk that forms around the sides of a neglected swimming pool. It’s a particular type of algae popular in Africa and Mexico.
In fact, it’s been a diet staple in these countries for centuries. Like some other aquatic plants (e.g., seaweed), algae has no trunk or leaves. This means that there’s no conduit for which nutrients to flow through. Instead, every cell of algae contains and retains the nutrients it generates on its own through the photosynthesis process.
Many forms of algae are not appropriate for human consumption. Spirulina benefits makes up for that.
Modern science has deciphered many of spirulina’s components to understand all this that algae can offer. Modern research found that spirulina is not a true plant in its origins. Instead, it is now classified as a bacterium—the “good” kind. Several pigments exist in spirulina, giving it the blue-green colors as well as other more subtle hues. These plant pigments are powerful antioxidants.
Talking bang for the buck, spirulina has an unusually high protein content of 60-70% by dry weight. By virtue of this and its other remarkable nutrient content, an organization was created in the 1970’s specifically to promote spirulina as a primary survival food. the organization aimed to combat starvation around the world. In addition, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and ESA (European Space Agency) include spirulina in its food supply for astronauts in space. (1)
Spirulina is a vegan source of vitamin B-12. This vitamin contributes to the synthesis of proteins and DNA and is readily found in meat and fish. Non-animal sources of this essential nutrient (the body doesn’t make its own and must derive it from food) are relatively few and most are fortified. This is important for vegetarians and vegans, who may take B-12 supplements to compensate.
However, you shouldn’t rely on spirulina as your only source of vitamin B-12
An examination of plant sources of B-12 published in the journal Nutrients warns:
“High levels of Vitamin B12 are described in the nutritional labels of dietary supplements that contain edible cyanobacteria such as Spirulina, Aphanizomenon, and Nostoc. However, although substantial amounts of Vitamin B12 were detected in these commercially available supplements using a microbiological Vitamin B12 assay method, these supplements often contained large amounts of pseudovitamin B12, which is biologically inactive in humans.” (2)
That being said, genuine spirulina maintains about 36% of its B-12 availability in humans. (3)
In addition, spirulina is a potent anti-inflammatory. The antioxidants in spirulina reduce oxidative stress and reduce internal inflammation, the primary cause of human disease. Spirulina’s antioxidants synthesize into glutathione (the “master antioxidant”) and others. They work to shut down free radicals and reduce the metabolic activity of your body’s inflammatory response.
They’re quite effective too: “Spirulina extract dramatically inhibited the production of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS), such as malondialdehyde (MDA), by almost 95%, indicating the potent antioxidant activity of Spirulina.” (4)
12 Other Benefits of Spirulina
This super bacterium has the ability to:
- Lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and total serum cholesterol.
- Protect from allergic reactions by blocking histamines. (5)
- Support the immune system – a Korean study found that antioxidants in spirulina facilitate a significant increase in blood interleukins, proteins that regulate the immune response. (6)
- Act as a probiotic – in itself a bacterium, spirulina is pro-biotic (meaning “for life”), so important for digestion and overall health.
- Stop the spread of cancer – studies suggest that spirulina can stop the proliferation of leukemia and breast cancer cells and promote cancer cell apoptosis (death). (7, 8) It also has the ability to repair damage caused by radiation and traditional chemotherapy used in the treatment of cancer. (9)
- Support healthy vision – spirulina contains the carotenoid zeaxanthin, a yellow antioxidant pigment. The carotenoid family of antioxidants promotes eye health, reducing the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. (10)
- Stop viruses: spirulina stops viruses from replicating, including influenza, HIV, hepatitis, and herpes simplex 2. (11, 12, 13, 14)
- Supports the liver – protects against liver damage, including that caused by cirrhosis, fatty liver, and chronic liver disease. (15) “The hepatoprotective properties of spirulina are referable to its antiinflammatory, antioxidant, membrane-stabilizing, and immunocorrecting actions.” (16)
- Regulate blood sugar – spirulina significantly reduces blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. (17)
- Treat asthma– spirulina is works as well as medication in treating mild to moderate asthma, with all its other nutritional benefits and no harmful side effects. (18)
- Counteract anemia – with 2mg of iron in just 1 tablespoon of spirulina, the bacterium quickly reverses anemia (iron deficiency). (19)
- Huge nutritional powerhouse – with significant amounts of vitamins A, B-complex, and C; minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; fiber; healthy fat, and lots of protein.
These days, spirulina comes in powder and pill form. Most of the spirulina sold in North America is cultured in laboratories. Because it is a bacterium, this is easy to do and requires no synthetic chemicals for the culture. Easy to grow and harvest, spirulina a sustainable food source. Spirulina benefits can thus be a great way to supplement your diet and enrich the lives of people worldwide. Because not all algae are safe for human consumption, make sure your spirulina is from a reputable source to avoid contaminants.
If you want to try spirulina but you don’t know where to start, one delicious way to incorporate this superfood into your diet is by using spirulina as snack topping.
- Pop some organic popcorn using coconut or olive oil on the stove. Pour quickly into a very large glass, ceramic, or stainless steel bowl.
- While still warm, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of spirulina powder over the popcorn, top the bowl with a large plate to cover and shake to distribute.
- If you’re feeling in the mood for some extra flavor and nutrition, sprinkle some organic garlic powder over the popcorn and shake again.
- Enjoy this healthy and satisfying snack! You can also use spirulina to top off chips, dried fruits, and other snacks.
You can also add spirulina powder to smoothies, juices, water, or simply take spirulina pills. Enjoy these spirulina benefits and you’ll never go back!
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