There are a large number of reported spirulina health benefits, and it is increasing in popularity as a supplement and food source, even being branded one of the 'super-foods' and 'future-foods' by many companies. NASA, the World Health Organization, and several governments of developing nations have shown an interest in it. But as with many supplements and less well known food sources, it is not always easy to distinguish scientifically proven fact from optimism and clever marketing.
This article discusses some of the possible health benefits, current scientific evidence, nutrition facts, and possible side effects of using spirulina as a supplement. Spirulina is expensive, so if you are going to invest your hard-earned cash in it, make sure you read this article to see if it is really worth it.
Spirulina is an edible blue-green micro-alga which grows wild in Africa, Asia, Central and south America. It is made into supplements also, as seen in the picture here. There are technically two different kinds: Arthrospira Platensis and Athrospira Maxima. These two species were re-classified as arthrospira. However, the general word spirulina has stuck as it has been used for so long.
It has been used as a food for centruries by South Americans and North Africans. It grows wild in fresh water lakes, though has also been grown in processing plants in some countries since the late 1960s. It has an adaptable nature and is known for its survival ability—perhaps another reason for its reputation.
To understand the reason why there are so many reported Spirulina health benefits, it is worth looking at its nutritional content, as this is where the claims to it being a super-food are based: the rich and varied nutritional content.
According to the US National Agricultural Library's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, the nutritional content of 100g of dried Spirulina is listed in the table below.
Please bear in mind when looking at the table that the nutritional values are listed per 100 grams. In reality, you would be eating no more than 6-10 grams of Spirulina per day if taking it daily, with the occasional possible therapeutic booster dose of around 16 grams.
|NUTRIENT||UNIT||VALUE PER 100G|
TOTAL LIPID (FAT)
VITAMIN A, RAE
VITAMIN A, IU
VITAMIN E (alpha-tocopherol)
VITAMIN D (D2 + D3)
VITAMIN K (phylloquinone)
FATTY ACIDS, TOTAL SATURATED
FATTY ACIDS, TOTAL MONOUNSATURATED
FATTY ACIDS, TOTAL POLYUNSATURATED
One of the most frequently advertised health benefits of spirulina is the protein content. While it does contain a lot of protein, and is also a complete protein containing all essential amino acids, a normal amount of spirulina one takes is only around 6-10 grams a day. So even though the protein content of 100 grams in this table (57.47g) looks like a good amount, you would actually struggle to get more than 5 grams of protein a day from spirulina. Every little bit helps, of course, especially if you have a special diet like being vegetarian or vegan. But solely used as a protein source it would be very expensive. If you eat a normal diet you can obtain more protein per serving and per gram from some foods such as chicken, eggs, tuna or soy beans at a much lower price. But for some people, it may well be a valid and useful extra source of protein, as long as they do not rely on it.
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