Please note: This article was originally posted on ProHealth on February 20, 2016.
I bet the idea of consuming blue-green algae doesn’t sound too appealing to you, does it? I know what you’re thinking: It looks like pond scum. For a long time, it didn’t tempt my taste buds either. In my defense, however, I have one, tiny, inelegant problem with all foods from the sea. They make me retch.
My reaction is instantaneous. A small piece of fishy, seaweed-infused food enters my mouth, and a full-body, guttural heave follows. I lose all control of my gag reflex; it’s most embarrassing when it happens in public. I had all but sworn off seafood and sea vegetables forever from my life. That is until I started hearing the social media buzz surrounding a certain superfood called spirulina. Always on a mission to support my body with healthy foods as I recover from Lyme Disease and co-infections, my curiosity was piqued.
My friends insisted a smoothie easily concealed the pungent flavor. Skeptical, I took to the kitchen with one of my favorite smoothie recipes–only this time, I added one teaspoon of spirulina powder to the recipe. Right before my eyes, my yummy chocolate, strawberry smoothie turned a funny shade of green-brown.
“It’s ruined!” I thought as I prepared my stomach for the inevitable gag. I placed the glass to my lips and much to my pleasant surprise, the taste was quite enjoyable. Phew! Gag averted. Once I knew the flavor could be sufficiently masked beneath a bounty of other ingredients, I too hopped on the bandwagon of this nutrient-dense food.
What is it?
Technically a one-celled, vegetable bacteria (cyanobacteria), the use of Spirulina can be traced back to ancient times. Historical documents indicate the Aztecs used spirulina as food as early as the 16th century. Additionally, its name is derived from Latin and means, “small spiral,” because it looks like a coil or spring. It most prevalently grows along the shores of South Asia, Mexico, and Africa.
With an abundance of health benefits, spirulina provides some serious nutritional backup for your healing body. Here are 7 reasons to give it a try:
1. It’s high in protein and contains all 8 essential amino acids.
Experts say spirulina is between 60%-75% protein; the protein varies depending on the conditions in which it’s grown. Surprisingly, it contains an average of six times more protein than eggs, and three times more protein than beef.
In addition, spirulina contains all eight essential amino acids and ten non-essential amino acids in an easy to digest form. Spirulina truly is a protein powerhouse to help restore the body from Lyme disease.
2. It contains gamma linolenic acid (GLA).
As you treat your infections, you will probably search for ways to lower chronic inflammation. GLA is an essential fatty acid most known for its inflammation-fighting properties, and a mighty weapon in your quest to protect your body from further harm. Typically, the body must create GLA from another fat called linoleic acid. However, spirulina is one of the few foods where GLA occurs naturally. This extraordinary, anti-inflammatory agent helps lessen PMS, decrease arthritis pain, and reduce skin conditions like eczema.
3. It’s an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.
This impressive, blue-green algae is comprised of a full spectrum of B vitamins including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), nicotinamide (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), inositol (B8), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12).
Spirulina also contains a high concentration of bioavailable iron. Fortunately for our GI tracts, it’s not known to cause constipation. The added iron may be helpful for people who follow a vegetarian diet, or for those who suffer from anemia.
As if those weren’t enough, spirulina consists of vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin E. Likewise, it’s a wellspring of minerals like iodine, potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium, and zinc. Phew! That’s a mouthful of vitamins and minerals to nurture you as you work to improve your health.
4. It’s great for your bones and teeth.
Spirulina leaves milk in the dust! One serving of this green superfood contains up to 26 times more calcium than milk. For those of us following a dairy free diet, this wholesome plant provides an alternative way to get our calcium intake.
5. It’s a potent antioxidant.
Spirulina contains a blend of vitamin E, carotenoids, selenium, and phenolic acids, making it an impressive force to neutralize free radicals and defend your body against cellular damage. With an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) rating that’s four times higher than blueberries, it’s one of the most antioxidant-rich foods on the planet.
6. It supports liver function and detoxification.
Many people with Lyme disease have compromised mechanisms of detoxification. Luckily, spirulina is filled with chlorophyll–the substance that gives it a noticeable green hue. Chlorophyll aids in the removal of toxins from the blood and boosts the immune system. Furthermore, studies have shown spirulina can chelate heavy metals like aluminum, cadmium, arsenic, and lead, and help your body eliminate these harmful substances more effectively.
7. It’s great for your eyes.
We’ve all been told to eat our carrots to improve our eye health. However, spirulina is extremely rich in the eye-protecting antioxidant known as beta carotene. In fact, it has 25 times more of this nutrient than carrots. That’s some serious food for your eyes!
With an excellent mix of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats, spirulina demonstrates substantial healing and rejuvenating properties to nourish your body on the road to recovery. Still think you can’t stomach this plant/bacteria/algae from the waters? Give the following recipe a try. I can almost guarantee you won’t be able to taste it. When purchasing spirulina, make sure it’s organic and from a reputable source to avoid contamination of toxic substances and additives.
Rise And Shine Cacao + Strawberry + Spirulina Smoothie
1 ½ cups dairy-free milk of your choice (I prefer cashew milk)
1 teaspoon spirulina powder
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
1 cup of strawberries washed and with the tops removed
¼ of an avocado
½ teaspoon raw, organic honey
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Toss all ingredients into a blender. Blend and enjoy this nutrient-dense smoothie!
There are a few scenarios where ingesting spirulina is contraindicated:
- Don’t take spirulina if you are allergic to iodine or seafood.
- Some people with autoimmune diseases will not tolerate spirulina. If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc., please ask your doctor before supplementing with this blue-green algae.
- Before adding spirulina to your diet, consult your doctor if you are nursing or pregnant.
- The high iodine levels in spirulina may impact those with hyperthyroidism. Please check with your healthcare provider before taking it.
- Those with PKU should avoid spirulina because it contains that amino acid phenylalanine.
- As is the case with all vitamins and supplements, please discuss with your doctor before taking spirulina if you are on any anticoagulation medication.
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University of Maryland Medical Center. (2013, July 7). Spirulina. Retrieved fromhttp://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/spirulina
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2015, June 22). Gamma-linolenic acid. Retrieved fromhttp://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/gammalinolenic-acid
Landsman, J. (2015, May 18). Spirulina–Superfood nutrition with a lifetime of health benefits. Natural Health 365. Retrieved fromhttp://www.naturalhealth365.com/antioxidants-food-supply-health-benefits-1426.html
WeWoman. (2014, April 3). The Most Nutritious Superfood On Earth? 12 Amazing Health Benefits of Spirulina. Retrieved fromhttp://www.wewomen.com/wellbeing/the-most-nutritious-superfood-on-earth-12-amazing-health-benefits-of-spirulina-s365511.html
IIMSAM Spirulina Pledge. (n.d). Spirulina. Retrieved fromhttp://www.iimsamspirulinapledge.org/isp/spirulina.aspx