Spirulina is one of the most complete foods plant-based foods in the world. Sourced from a type of blue-green algae known as cyanobacteria, Spirulina is believed to have been consumed by the ancient Aztecs, who used it as a main food source up until the 16th century. In modern times, it’s consumed as a food supplement and is prized for its high-protein content, as well as its concentration of vitamins and minerals.
There are numerous health benefits linked to regular Spirulina consumption and it’s also cheap and abundant, making it one of the most popular superfoods. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at Spirulina and focus on the reasons it’s so popular and the ways it can benefit your health.
Before we look at the health benefits of Spirulina, we have to get the negative stuff out of the way. Spirulina is safe and there are no known issues when consuming moderate amounts. However, there have been some concerns with regards to toxins like microcystins.
These toxins can cause gastrointestinal distress and when consumed to excess, or over a prolonged period of time, they can damage the liver and other organs. They may also be carcinogenic and there are concerns they can cause neurological damage.
However, and here’s the kicker, these toxins are not produced by the Spirulina itself, but rather they are the result of contamination resulting from inadequate harvesting and manufacturing standards. This is why it’s important to buy only the very best Spirulina. Contaminants are rare to begin with, but by focusing on the highest quality Spirulina, like the one included in our Organic Daily Greens mix, you can avoid them altogether.
This is truly miraculous superfood, but only if you buy it from a trusted, reputable supplier.
Spirulina has been called a “complete food”. This isn’t entirely true as it doesn’t contain all essential vitamins and minerals and you can’t subsist entirely on it. However, it’s as close to a genuinely complete food as you’re going to find.
Spirulina contains a full spectrum of B vitamins, as well as Iron, Copper, Potassium, Magnesium, and more. It is also one of the best plant sources of protein you’ll find. A single tablespoon contains 4 grams of protein, and a serving of just 300 calories will give you close to 60 grams of protein. It’s a high-quality protein as well, containing all essential amino acids.
Of course, we wouldn’t recommend consuming anywhere near that. It would be difficult to stomach such large quantities of this cyanobacteria and it may have some adverse effects, including abdominal discomfort. But it’s a great way to top-up your protein intake without adding too many additional calories and without overdoing it with carbs and fat.
A spoonful of Spirulina here and there can go a long way.
Spirulina is rich in fiber, nutrients, and nitrates, all of which can reduce the threat of heart disease. Nitrates in particular are thought to be responsible for Spirulina’s positive effects on heart health, with one study conducted on Greek men and women discovering that a dose of 4.5g was enough to significantly lower blood pressure in individuals with otherwise normal levels (source).
Nitrates work by relaxing the blood vessels, making it easier for blood to pass through. Nitrates have a relatively short-term effect, but regular consumption of nitrate-containing foods like Spirulina can prolong these effects and reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks, while also keeping blood pressure levels stable.
This is why patients with heart problems are prescribed a diet rich in greens. Spirulina is not alone in providing these benefits, but it contains a higher concentration of nitrates than many other foods and this, in addition to its antioxidant, fiber, and nutrient content, could make it a useful weapon in the fight against heart disease.
The compounds that give Spirulina its unique and striking color are also responsible for providing many of its most notable health benefits. Phycocyanin is one of the main active components of this algae, providing both its unique color and helping in the fight against free radicals, disease-causing compounds that can increase your chances of developing cancer and heart disease.
Spirulina also has an anti-inflammatory effect.(1) This doesn’t mean that it can replace non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and kill pain just as quickly and effectively. However, it does mean that it can reduce chronic inflammation, which is a known cause of diseases like cancer.
Studies on rats have shown that Spirulina can greatly reduce the size of cancer tumors while a 1990s study on oral cancer found that it could reduce the size of oral cancer lesions by as much as 45% over placebo.(2)(3)
Spirulina has all the hallmarks of a performance enhancing food. We know, for instance, that nitrates have a positive effect on performance, prolonging the time it takes for athletes to become fatigued and allowing them to push harder in the gym. We also know that it is a high-quality protein source, with a high calorie-to-protein ratio and a full spectrum of amino acids.
These things suggest that it could be used by athletes and bodybuilders to improve performance and lean body mass, but we don’t need to rely on assumption to arrive at this conclusion. A study conducted in 2010 noted that spirulina supplementation could improve exercise performance and fat oxidization while a study conducted four years earlier arrived at a similar conclusion, suggesting that “ingestion [of spirulina] showed preventive effects of skeletal muscle damage” and could lead to the “postponement of the time of exhaustion”. (4)(5)
Spirulina doesn’t have the best taste. In an ideal world, you could just mix it with a little water or spoon it directly into your mouth and get a boost of essential nutrients that way. But it tastes about as good as it looks and while a spoonful might keep the doctor away, it’ll taste like you’ve been eating popsicles made of lawnmower trimmings.
There is an easier way though. We included spirulina in our Organic Daily Greens, which tastes considerably better than the raw product and also contains many other superfoods and extracts. It’s a great way to boost your daily intake of greens without needing to blitz pounds of vegetables and it serves as the perfect accompaniment to a healthy, balanced diet.