Spirulina is a blue-green, one-celled form of algae that thrives in warm, alkaline fresh bodies of water such as lakes and ponds. It has a long history of being used for human consumption for its many health benefits. Over the years, spirulina has nourished the citizens of Africa, Asia, and South America. The Mayas and the Aztecs used the algae as a central part of their diet. Today, the algae is consumed by health-conscious people all over the world.
Spirulina is popular with health buffs because it packs such a potent nutritional punch. This algae weighs in with an impressive 60% all-vegetable protein, and also contains a powerful combination of important vitamins and minerals such as iron, vitamin E, zinc, B-complex, copper, calcium, and magnesium. It is also a rich source of the antioxidant beta-carotene and the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA). In other words, spirulina is one heck of an algae.
This "super" algae is a deep blue-green color because of the chlorophyll and phycocyanin. The green pigment is caused by chlorophyll, which is sometimes called “green blood" because it is so similar to hemoglobin. Chlorophyll is thought to soothe inflammation and normalize the secretion of digestive acids. The pigment that gives the algae its blue cast is phycocyanin, which is related to the human pigment bilirubin. Bilirubin is important to healthy liver function and the digestion of amino acids. These natural pigments are both easy-to-digest, so the human body can absorb the nutrients quickly. It is gaining popularity with environmentalists because this aquatic plant can be grown efficiently without destroying valuable resources.
Spirulina can produce 20 times more protein per area than soybeans, 40 times more than corn, and 200 times more protein per area than beef cattle. It also uses less water per area of protein than other foods. In fact, growers claim the only significant water loss is through evaporation. In addition, since algae production expands using non-fertile land and brackish water, farming the algae does not cause soil erosion. There are many people who think farming spirulina is one of the simple ways we can “regreen” our planet.
It’s hard to believe a concentrated source of nutrients like this one isn’t full of calories, fats, and starches. Amazingly, it is only seven percent fat, and most of that is in the form of essential fatty acids. These essential fatty acids help break up cholesterol in the bloodstream and affect the health of hair, skin, and nails.
Spirulina also contains very few calories and little sugar or starch. The average 500 mg tablet contains only one to two calories. It does offer some carbohydrates in the form of rhamnose and glycogen, both of which are easily absorbed by the human body. Thus, these sugars can provide a quick, healthy energy boost.
Spirulina is easy to find in pill or powder form. Although there are no known toxicities associated with it, it is always best and safest to talk with a health care provider before taking any nutritional supplement.