The Super Food You've Probably Never Heard of: Spirulina

By Julie Sews - 7:27:00 PM

40 vitamins and minerals high in protein GLA calcium Iodine
image from Functional Foods
When I first started this blog 4 years ago, I was starting to learn about nutrition and natural health for the first time.  I read many books on natural health from many different angles (endocrinology, skin care, general, anti ageing, etc.) and often the wonder of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other newly discovered natural substances sounded so good and necessary I found myself slowly taking so many supplements I looked like I was a sick patient taking medication constantly.  My brother in law opened our cabinet to get a glass at Thanksgiving and couldn't help but say "whoa that's a lot of vitamins."  It got to be too much to take and costly since I was only buying high quality non synthetic supplements. 

Once I realized my taking vitamins were getting to be a little much I decided instead to try to eat my vitamins as much as possible. I still believe in getting a good amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but just didn't like taking it so much in pill form.  There were several reasons for this: it's costly and something you have to keep ordering, it's something you have to remember to take, there could be harmfull fillers added, and it could be two high of a dose of vitamins and minerals. 

Eat Your Vitamins!
Instead of taking pills for my vitamins I know try to eat my vitamins. I now know more what I am eating, am getting a larger variety of nutrients that often work synergistically together and are often not found in vitamins, and I don't feel like a crazy person taking a ton of pills every meal anymore! 

So how do I eat my vitamins?  The easiest way I have found is to incorporate as many super foods into your cooking as possible along with of course adding as many veggies as you can into your meals.  I also like to add powdered forms of super foods to my smoothies and pill forms of some super foods in the supplement aisle.  In this new series "Eat Your Vitamins" I will be posting about how I eat my vitamins.  In this first post of the series we will look at spirulina a true super food that's very underrated in my opinion.

What is Spirulina?
image via Energy Bits
Spirulina is a blue green algae that springs from warm, fresh water bodies. It is often confused with chlorella, but the fundamental difference between the two is that spirulina is many thousands of years older and does not possess the hard cell wall that makes chlorella closer to being a plant than algae.

Spirulina is ranked by AARP as the #1 superfood for extending your lifespan, and the UN has identified it as a primary ingredient in the fight against malnutrition worldwide. Organizations like NASA, United Nations and the Carnegie Institute have recognized it as the most nutritionally dense food in the world.

Spirulina can be contaminated with toxic substances called microcystins. It can also absorb heavy metals from the water where it is grown. For these reasons, it is important to buy spirulina from a trusted brand that is organically grown.  I have gotten my spirulina in pill form (compressed) from Energy Bits (samples were supplied to me), Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's brands all organically grown.

Nutritional Benefits of Spirulina

It is largely made up of protein, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids, antioxidants that can help protect cells from damage.  It has an amazing protein level of 60 percent on average—even better than red meat.  And spirulina's protein is biologically complete, containing all of the essential amino acids needed for human health. Spirulina also contains 40 vitamins and minerals.  Check out the chart below for a better break down.

SpirulinadriedNutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy1,213 kJ (290 kcal)
Carbohydrates23.9 g
- Sugars3.1 g
- Dietary fiber3.6 g
Fat7.72 g
- saturated2.65 g
- monounsaturated0.675 g
- polyunsaturated2.08 g
Protein57.47 g
- Tryptophan0.929 g
- Threonine2.97 g
- Isoleucine3.209 g
- Leucine4.947 g
- Lysine3.025 g
- Methionine1.149 g
- Cystine0.662 g
- Phenylalanine2.777 g
- Tyrosine2.584 g
- Valine3.512 g
- Arginine4.147 g
- Histidine1.085 g
- Alanine4.515 g
- Aspartic acid5.793 g
- Glutamic acid8.386 g
- Glycine3.099 g
- Proline2.382 g
- Serine2.998 g
Water4.68 g
Vitamin equiv.29 μg (4%)
- beta-carotene342 μg (3%)
- lutein and zeaxanthin0 μg
Thiamine (vit. B1)2.38 mg (207%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2)3.67 mg (306%)
Niacin (vit. B3)12.82 mg (85%)
Pantothenic acid (B5)3.48 mg (70%)
Vitamin B60.364 mg (28%)
Folate (vit. B9)94 μg (24%)
Vitamin B120 μg (0%)
Choline66 mg (13%)
Vitamin C10.1 mg (12%)
Vitamin D0 IU (0%)
Vitamin E5 mg (33%)
Vitamin K25.5 μg (24%)
Calcium120 mg (12%)
Iron28.5 mg (219%)
Magnesium195 mg (55%)
Manganese1.9 mg (90%)
Phosphorus118 mg (17%)
Potassium1363 mg (29%)
Sodium1048 mg (70%)
Zinc2 mg (21%)
Link to USDA Database entry

Spirulina is 65% protein 

83% to 90% of this protein is digestible because, unlike yeast and chlorella, these algae do not have cellulose walls. It has a high net protein utilization ratio (NPU) of 53% to 61%. The high protein efficiency ratio (PER) of Spirulina indicates that your body is efficiently able to use the amino acids. Protein makes up 15% of the body’s weight and is a vital nutrient for healthy growth.  This makes it great for athletes!

Essential Fatty Acids 
Essential fatty acids are also known as good fats. Since these fats are not produced within the body, they have to be provided from the food sources that contain them. Their main function is to produce prostaglandins that control the body functions like heart rate, blood pressure, fertility and immune system function. Spirulina contains 4% to 7% essential fatty acids such as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), linolenic acid (LA), stearidonic acid (SDA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA).
Spirulina contains Omega 3-,6 and 9s and is especially high in Omega-3s.

Spirulina is extremely high in Chlorophyll
 Chlorophyll helps remove toxins from the blood and boost the immune system. It also helps protect against radiation.  Emerging evidence suggests that it binds with radioactive isotopes and may be useful for radioactivity exposure or radiation therapy. 

Naturally Rich in Iodine.
Having iodine is important because it is an element that is needed for the production of thyroid hormone. The body does not make iodine, so it is an essential part of your diet. Iodine is found in various foods.  If you do not have enough iodine in your body, you cannot make enough thyroid hormone.  Your thyroid helps regulate your weight, effects your energy, and so much more.  Not only does it help protect your thyroid but also all glandular tissues in your body.

Some of the vitamins in spirulina are: B-1(thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3(nicotinamide), B-6 (pyridoxine), B-9 (folic acid), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin E.

Beta-carotene is a pigment belonging to the carotenoid family and is widely known for its antioxidant properties.  A half cup of dried Spirulina provides about 342 mg of beta carotene.

Spirulina is rich in minerals required for the body’s daily activities. These minerals are calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, manganese, selenium, iron and phosphorus. They aid in metabolism, maintain water balance and improve bone health. Its calcium, phosphorus and magnesium content are similar to that of milk, but it has 26 times more calcium than milk.

Health Benefits
Research shows that spirulina can help prevent or treat numerous health conditions such as Balancing gut flora and fighting Candida, Killing viruses,
Normalizing cholesterol, lowering stroke risk, Reducing allergic reactions, Fighting cancer, Boosting your immune system, Preventing/treating thyroid disorders, ARMD, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disorders, among many other diseases and issues.  But since I don't know much about that I'm going to cover a few other super cool things about Spirulina that would make me want to take it despite it being one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. 

Detox's Heavy Metals 
Clorophyll (the green pigment found in plants) is found in remarkably high concentrations in spirulina, making this superfood one of the most potent cleansing foods found in nature.  Spirulina can bind with heavy metals in the body and help remove them.  While some detoxifying supplements simply release toxins from cells and tissues, chlorella is particularly adept at binding to toxic metals and ushering them out of the entire system. Chlorella contains proteins and peptides which are designed to bind to these substances and carry them out of the body. The chlorophyll in chlorella also aids heavy metal detoxification.  I would take this for this reason even if it had no nutritional value, because I have lots of mercury fillings in my teeth.

Protection/ Treatment of Radiation Exposure
I actually first heard of spirulina when I heard that it was actually used to treat children exposed to chronic low-levels of radiation after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  Then I learned about the nutritional benefits, and it's ability to detox heavy metals, and of course immediately started to take it.

 Dr. Gabriel Cousins, in his book Conscious Eating, says, “Foods containing chlorophyll have long been known to protect against radiation. Generally speaking, any green foods have chlorophyll. From 1959 to 1961, the Chief of the U.S. Army Nutrition Branch in Chicago found that high-chlorophyll foods reduced the effects of radiation on guinea pigs by 50 percent. This includes all chlorophyll foods: cabbage, leafy green vegetables, spirulina, chlorella, wheatgrass, any sprouts, and the blue-green algae from Klamath Lake called Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA). This variety of blue-green algae is an excellent anti-radiation food because of its high cellular immutability and high regenerative energy, as well as its high chlorophyll content. It should be taken in a dose of four capsules (one gram) four times per day for one week before, and several weeks after, radiation exposure.”

ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) of over 24,000 which is 4x the ORAC score of blueberries. The ORAC score is generally used to measure antioxidant ability and concentration in different foods.

Fight inflammation:
Spirulina is very rich in gamma linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that helps your body fight inflammation.
Spirulina can increase fat burning during exercise.

How I Have My Spirulina
Spirulina is just one of the ways I try to eat my vitamins from natural food sources.  I personally am not fond of the taste of spirulina so I like to take it in pill form (compressed so there is no need for any other ingredients) , but it's on of the few pills I take now and it's actually food.  I love that.    

As stated before you need to be careful about where you get your Spirulina from because it can have toxic substances, heavy metals, and pesticides.  Make sure it's organically grown in clean water.  I use Energy Bits (samples were supplied to me), Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's brands all organically grown.

You can also get spirulina in a powdered form and add it to smoothies. While I haven't tried any of these recipes from Healthy Pursuit they look like good options to eat spirulina: Healthy Pursuit's Super Women Smoothie and spirulina energy crunch bars for more ideals check out The Big Carrot has a great post  How to eat more Spirulina- Why You Gotta Taste so Weird? on other ways to eat it like in chocolate, salt seasoning mix, and a salad dressing.  

In future posts in this series Eat Your Vitamins, I will share other tips tricks and recipes I use to eat as many super foods as possible.  I've discovered so many easy ways I can't wait to share with y'all.  Have you tried Spirulina?  If so how do you have yours? 

Possible Drug Interactions
Always talk to your doctor before taking spirulina, as it has been shown to interact with certain medications and medical conditions. For example, because it may boost the strength of your immune system, it may not be a good choice for people with autoimmune disease. 

I am not a doctor. I have ZERO medical training and NO formal nutritional training.  The information provided on this site, such as text, graphics, images, is for informational purposes only. It is not to be construed as medical care or medical advice and is not a replacement for medical care given by physicians or trained medical personnel.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider(s) when experiencing symptoms or health problems, or before starting any new treatment.

Energy Bits supplied me with samples but in no other way compensated me. I personally have been taking spirulina as supplements for years.

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