It’s bright turquoise, it’s an algae, and it might be the healthiest food you can put in your daily diet. That’s right, it’s Spirulina, and it arguably has more nutritional benefits than the superhero superfoods spinach, broccoli and blueberries combined.
But most of us never eat it. Why not?
Why Aren’t We Eating Enough?
In many ways, spirulina’s relative obscurity may ironically be the fault of its incredible nutritional content. Because it boasts a miraculous mix of protein, amino acids, antioxidants, omega-3s and much more, research doctors have jumped on it as a possible “miracle cure.”
Over the last five years, dozens of well-run scientific studies have explored spirulina’s potential benefits for everything from promoting weight-loss to fighting cancer. But, because the net has been cast so wide, and many of the results are inconclusive, there has been a fair amount of column-space dedicated to the thesis that, “Spirulina isn’t actually a panacea after all.”
That fallout has unfortunately obscured the most obvious, and uncontroversial, benefit spirulina offers. Forget spirulina as a costly medicine-style pill you take with a glass of water. Instead, think of it as what it is: a fantastic real food to put in your daily diet. It’s comprised of 50-70 percent pure, plant-based protein. What’s more, it packs a nutrient punch that includes high levels of iron, B complex vitamins, chlorophyll, omega-3s, calcium, antioxidants, amino acids and gamma linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid).
Because of this powerful blend of nutrients, dieticians widely recommend spirulina for numerous clients. The high iron and protein content makes it a good choice for vegetarians and pregnant women. (A half-cup of spirulina provides 89 percent of your daily-recommended intake of iron.) At the same time, spirulina’s anti-inflammatory properties—which hail from its GLA and antioxidants—make it a common dietary prescription for people suffering from arthritis and those wishing to lose weight.
How to Get More in Your Diet
There is, sadly, one downside to spirulina. In its dry powder form, it tastes like what it is: pond algae. But there’s good news. You can get your daily dose hidden in a tasty energy bar or protein shake. Try making one at home using spirulina powder from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Better still, you can design your own spirulina nutrition bar at YouBar. This unique energy bar company allows you to create your own bar online with exactly the ingredients you want, and then they whip it up in their kitchen and send it to your doorstep. For a bar packed with spirulina, make sure to include their ‘Greens Infusion’ in your recipe.
The Science Behind It
If spirulina’s greatness as a real food isn’t enough to convince you to include it in your daily diet between kale and collard greens, then it’s worth glancing at the scientific studies. Although inconclusive, they are certainly encouraging:
- Spirulina may boost your immune system. According to the University of Maryland, “a number of animal and test tube studies” have shown that spirulina may increase “the production of antibodies, infection-fighting proteins, and other cells that improve immunity and help ward off infection and chronic illnesses such as cancer.” However, these benefits have not been duplicated in tests involving human subjects.
- Spirulina helps with allergies. One study found that 2g of the algae taken daily decreased the levels of “pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-4” in people with nasal allergies. The upshot? Taking 2g of spirulina per day reduced nasal allergy symptoms in sufferers, and the longer patients took the spirulina, the more benefits they felt (up to the six month duration of the study).
- Spirulina might ward off oral cancer. One study of tobacco chewers with precancerous oral lesions (“leukoplasia”) found that study participants who were given a daily supplement of spirulina had an almost 50 percent chance of having their lesions clear over the 12 month duration of the study.
- Spirulina may help brain function. According to Livestrong.com, a study published in The Journal of Experimental Neurology found that spirulina reduced brain damage and helped the recovery of neurons after a stroke in rats. However, no similar studies have yet been performed on other animals or humans.
- Spirulina can lower blood-fat levels in people with diabetes. One 2008 study of people suffering from type 2 Diabetes found that subjects who were given 12 weeks worth of spirulina supplementation saw a scientifically significant decrease in their blood-fat levels as compared to a control group receiving a placebo. For some of these patients, there was also a measurable reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol.
The takeaway? Whether or not spirulina can cure cancer, it is certainly a nutrient-packed real food, and it may have some pretty miraculous extra health benefits too. For spirulina it seems, it is easy being green.
*Disclaimer: the reason I know about YouBar makes is that I work for the company… and eat their bars all the time!