Spirulina (Spirulina platensis), a type of blue-green algae, is an incredible superfood that provides a concentrated source of protein, vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients. As one of the oldest life forms on Earth, the use of spirulina as a food source dates all the way back to 9th century Chad, and it is believed spirulina was used by the Aztec in 16th century Mexico.
Spirulina, a type of one-celled organism, got its name from the Latin word for “helix” or “spiral” because of its spring-like physical characteristic. In the U.S., spirulina is mostly known as a nutritional supplement or an ingredient to add nutrient power to smoothies and green drinks. However, in other parts of the world, spirulina is regarded as a valuable food source to prevent malnutrition.
Rich in proteins
Although spirulina is often described as “blue-green algae,” it is technically a type of cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are classified as bacteria because their genetic material is not organized in a membrane-bound nucleus. Unlike other bacteria, they have chlorophyll and use the sun as an energy source, in the way plants and algae do.
One of the special traits of spirulina is its rich protein content — it’s 50 to 70 percent protein by weight (which is even better than red meat, which is about 27 percent protein). It also contains all of the essential amino acids, and 10 of the 12 non-essential amino acids, along with a potent array of other beneficial nutrients.
Wild spirulina grows in the alkaline lakes of Mexico and on the African continent, although it is commercially grown and harvested all over the world. It reproduces quickly, and because the individual organisms tend to clump together, it’s easy to harvest.
Commercial production of spirulina is estimated to reach 220,000 tons by the year 2020. Japan is the largest producer of spirulina, as well as the largest consumer, however its use is growing in India, as well.
This food is so nutritionally dense, in fact, that NASA and The European Space Agency are researching the benefits of incorporating spirulina into astronauts’ diets on spaceships and on Mars.
Spirulina is a potent detoxifier. It’s very likely that your body will go through an adjustment period with spirulina, and your best bet to reduce potential reactions is to start out small and increase your dose gradually to see how your body will react. However, there are some people who seem to be sensitive to spirulina and can’t tolerate it.
If you are one of those, it would be wise to avoid spirulina. You might try chlorella, which has similar benefits. Most people can tolerate either chlorella or spirulina.