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Do you consume spirulina? If not, you might be missing out! It has an intense flavour, but it’s the nutritional profile that proves to be pretty unbelievable. Spirulina is a vegan source of protein, B12 and iron. All in all, it is one of the most potent nutrient sources available when harvested correctly from non-contaminated ponds and bodies of water. But is spirulina a superfood? Let’s explore this question a little bit…
What is Spirulina?
You might have seen it as a listed ingredient in juices, energy bars or sold as a supplement but did you know spirulina is a blue-green algae that grows in warm freshwater. It contains up to 65% protein of its actual weight and is an excellent source of vitamins A, K, Manganese, chromium and B12 (although not yet fully proved to be bio-available to humans). It is also a rich source of phytonutrients. You can find a full profile here.
Is Spirulina A Superfood?
There is no doubt that spirulina has some super powers – it provides 2800% more beta-carotene than carrots, 3900% more iron than spinach, 600% more protein than tofu, 280% more antioxidants than blueberries! (source).
First to address the term ‘superfood’. The truth is that there is no official definition or criteria for a superfood. The general consensus is that these are primarily plant-based foods that are particularly dense in nutrients and therefore very beneficial to us. The term ‘superfood’ is in many ways marketing armour but there are certain foods that go above and beyond in terms of nutrient value. From our point of view, superfoods are foods with exceptional nutrient value, in their natural form and in their raw state that help to increase the total value of your daily nutrient intake.
As Asa puts it ‘I support the idea of food in general being superfood. Not all food is equal though I teach my classes that food is your superfood….kale celery rocket etc’
If we narrow in and ask is spirulina a superfood? Our answer is a resounding yes. And examine.com also agree, listing spirulina as one of the only four foods they stand over as being a little more ‘super’. They base their reasoning on the amount of research behind the food, and spirulina can certainly boast there. It is incredibly well researched with over 1500 articles on pubmed alone!
Benefits of Spirulina
Working off the nutrient profile alone, consuming spirulina will provide the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support:
- Strengthened immune system
- Boosted energy level thanks to the B vitamins
- Supported cellular health
- Cardiovascular, eye and brain health
But there’s more!
- Help with candida and gut health – leaky gut and gut flora imbalances like candida are connected to the micro flora health (or imbalance) in your digestive tract. Studies with spirulina on animals have shown the Algae to be an effective anti-microbial agent which promotes the growth of healthy bacterial flora in the intestines. As a result this may inhibit imbalances like Candida from thriving (one example)
- Immunity and cancer prevention – spirulina is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and antioxidants. All of these can help support your cells from free radical damage as well as boost your immune system. To date, animal and test tube studies suggest spirulina increases antibody productions. Antibodies fight infection and help protect from infection and chronic disease, like cancer (source) Further to this, pubmed generates 97 peer articles for the search ‘spirulina’ and ‘cancer’
- Allergies – again some studies animal suggest spirulina can help with allergies by inhibiting histamine release. Histamine is responsible for allergy-like symptoms such as hives, swelling and runny nose.
- Lower blood pressure: A compound found in spiruline, called phycocyanin, has shown ability to lower hypertension (lower blood pressure). Study here.
- Detox and liver support: again preliminary research shows Spirulina may help support liver damage. The liver is your main detox organ and so supporting a healthy liver helps keep your body functioning optimally when it comes to filtering toxins and foreign bodies.
Is Spirulina a Superfood – A Protein Source
Spirulina is a great vegan source of protein. With a 65-71 percent complete protein score, spirulina wins out over beef, which is only 22 percent. Even lentils only contain 26 percent. Not only that, but you only need to consume two tablespoons of spirulina as a protein substitute for a meal (source).
Is Spirulina a Superfood and B12
B12 is a vitamin that is essential for the body. This means we cannot make it from scratch and need to consume it in our diet. Bacteria in the gut of animals make B12 which humans then consume. As a result (and quite obviously), vegans and vegetarians need to ensure that they adequately supplement with B12, either by using fortified products, getting B12 injections or taking a supplement.
Since vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria and blue-green algae is technically a type of bacteria, it would make sense to conclude that blue-green algae is a viable vegan source of B12. While spirulina contains B12, studies have repeatedly concluded that this form of B12 is not absorbed by humans. At the same time, other studies have concluded the opposite, that B12 can be absorbed from spirulina (read here).
The first interesting discovery is that spirulina is a ‘Vitamin B12 Claw’. This means it binds to B12 in the ocean and pulls it into the cell and this opens the door for therapeutic application down the line (source).
Second, remember that we are biochemically unique. As Asa, iRaw founder, reflects “I did a personal test with spirulina to see would my B12 go up. I did a blood test before, consumed high doses of pure spirulina for a period of 3 months and then retested my blood. Low and behold, my B12 marker went up. Not only that, but UVB protection also seemed to raise as I got the most beautiful tan that summer while on holiday without any additional use of sun protection.” Of course, this is a n=1 report which was not done under strict lab conditions. But these kind of outlier narratives remind us that humans are unique and it’s important to both appreciate science and try it out for yourself!
A word of Caution!
It’s absolutely critical to make sure that the quality and purity of the spirulina that you consume is of the highest standards. Like with anything that comes from the see, take care to purchase algae free from contamination.
Spirulina – A must have for iRaw
One thing we cannot deny is that spirulina has a very intense flavour. At iRaw, we think we’ve done a pretty creative job to provide your spirulina needs without the intense taste. Check out our creations, both sweet and savory.
First the sweet….Our range of Rawl up was created out of frustration when Asa, iRaw founder and raw foodie for over 13 years, became bored by conventional energy bars on the market ‘mostly due to the high quantity of sugars and lack of creativity in ingredient combination. Green Superfood is the beautifying energy bar which contains spirulina which also is the highest source of protein found in any food.”
And finally savour…..the beauty snack brings a savoury twist. Almonds, coated in spirulina, turmeric, black pepper and Himalayan pink salt provide you with unique taste, protein and nutrient richness. As Asa puts it “We are a huge fan of everything that can contribute to graceful ageing. We also noticed that too many almond snacks on the market are coated in chocolate. There was an obvious gap for savoury version of this delightful gift from mother earth!”
Is spirulina a superfood? We certainly think so…