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Spirulina: Benefits, Nutrition and Side effects

Spirulina

What is Spirulina?

A Biologist would call it an organism that grows in both fresh and salt water, but a health-conscious person would call Spirulina the superfood of the day.

It is a type of bacteria referred to as Cyanobacterium in the scientific language and known as the blue-green microalgae in common parlance.

Spirulina has enjoyed a celebrity status on and off with historians claiming that even the Aztecs consumed it. Its second phase of popularity came when scientists proclaimed that it could be grown in space.

Spirulina is spiral-shaped and grows naturally in the wild, in warm and freshwater lakes. Spirulina is now also being cultivated and harvested in man-made reservoirs due to its growing popularity.

Nutrition Facts

Spirulina falls under the category of those healthy bacteria which are packed with nutrition.

One tablespoon (7 grams) of dried Spirulina powder is packed with the following nutrients:

  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 11{9ee4a1756df1f046433a3b9283aac1f78994392b768234777ec514a8967075fb} of the RDA
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 15{9ee4a1756df1f046433a3b9283aac1f78994392b768234777ec514a8967075fb} of the RDA
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 4{9ee4a1756df1f046433a3b9283aac1f78994392b768234777ec514a8967075fb} of the RDA
  • Copper: 21{9ee4a1756df1f046433a3b9283aac1f78994392b768234777ec514a8967075fb} of the RDA
  • Iron: 11{9ee4a1756df1f046433a3b9283aac1f78994392b768234777ec514a8967075fb} of the RDA
  • Calories: 20
  • Digestible carbohydrate: 1.7 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram

Spirulina Protein: Spirulina has a good content of high-quality protein and is equivalent to eggs when it comes to the per gram protein amount. This protein has a net protein utilization rate of between 50-61{9ee4a1756df1f046433a3b9283aac1f78994392b768234777ec514a8967075fb} which is considered quite well.

( It is the estimated amount of a nutrient (or calories) per day considered necessary for the maintenance of good health by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council/ National Academy of Sciences.)

Also present in it are small amounts of magnesium, potassium, and manganese, along with other nutrients like omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. The list for Spirulina nutrition doesn’t end here as this wonder algae also has gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), beta-carotene, linoleic acid, arachidonic acid, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, phosphorus, nucleic acids RNA & DNA, chlorophyll, and phycocyanin.

Also present in it are small amounts of magnesium, potassium, and manganese, along with other nutrients like omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. The list for Spirulina nutrition doesn’t end here as this wonder algae also has gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), beta-carotene, linoleic acid, arachidonic acid, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, phosphorus, nucleic acids RNA & DNA, chlorophyll, and phycocyanin.

The X Factor Of Spirulina

The scientific community has lauded Spirulina for the presence of phycocyanin in it. It gets its natural bluish-green appearance from the phytopigment in it.

Studies have hypothesized that phycocyanin may have multiple health benefits to offer in terms of brain and heart health, protection against oxidative stress, and providing a healthy immune system. It also helps in stem cell regeneration, especially in bone marrow and blood cells. Phycocyanin is found only in spirulina in a considerable amount, almost as high as 16 percent. Phycocyanin aids in the production of red and white blood cells in the body.

Spirulina Benefits

  • Nutrient-rich– Spirulina is a mine of nutrients, proteins, calcium, and iron which make the list of spirulina health benefits quite exhaustive
  • Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties– One of the components of Spirulina is called phycocyanin which imparts the antioxidant properties to Spirulina along with its unique blue-green colour. Phycocyanin also has the power to fight free radicals and it restricts the production of inflammatory signaling molecules in the body.  Since Spirulina balances the pH levels in the body, inflammation in the body goes down with it.
  • Lowers LDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides– While it lowers the LDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides, Spirulina is said to increase the good cholesterol levels.
  • Energy booster- With its rejuvenating properties, Spirulina reduces fatigue levels and is an instant source of energy.
  • Immunity enhancer– The human immunity system is uplifted with Spirulina and the functioning of heart, liver, and kidneys also improves considerably.
  • Natural detoxifier– By oxygenating the blood, Spirulina flushes out the toxins and impurities from our body. Being a part of the plant kingdom, Spirulina is rich in chlorophyll which has immunity boosting and toxin removal properties. One of the added benefits offered by this property is a healthy and glowing skin.
  • Digestive Aid- Spirulina is used as an active ingredient in weight loss medications for its appetite suppressant properties.
  • Provides protection against cancer– Some scientists are also of the view that Spirulina has anti-cancer properties and provides protection again it. Especially in the case of oral cancer which has precancerous lesions called OSMF. This property of Spirulina though is still under a microscope and is yet to be proven.
  • Reduces blood pressure– Similar to LDL, high blood pressure is also a cause of heart attack in many cases. Regular intake of Spirulina increases the production of nitric oxide in the body and helps the blood vessels in relaxing. This, in turn, reduces the pressure on the heart.
  • Relief from allergies– The most common triggers of allergic rhinitis are environmental allergens, such as pollen, animal hair or even wheat dust. You may experience inflammation of the nasal airways as part of the allergic reaction. Spirulina helps in alleviating these symptoms.
  • Fight against anemia– Anaemia reduces the haemoglobin or red blood cells in the blood and you may experience chronic fatigue or weakness as a result of the same. Spirulina plays an important role in increasing the haemoglobin content of red blood cells which boosts immunity of the body as well.
  • Improves muscle strength– According to several studies, Spirulina has muscle strengthening properties and it is thus an ingredient in some medications for the same
  • Reduces blood sugar levels– Studies are underway to prove the ability of Spirulina in reducing the blood sugar levels in our body.

How To Eat Spirulina

Spirulina is the golden boy of health chefs across the world. From eating in tablet form to adding it as a powder to smoothies; Spirulina is everywhere and is here to stay.

Given below are two Spirulina recipes that enhance the health properties of your food.

  1. Smoothies– Pulse together ¼ cup of cashews and ¼ cup of rolled oats to get coarse flour. Now add 2 chopped dates, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon shredded coconut and ¼ teaspoon of spirulina powder. Blend the mix till it starts to resemble a sticky dough. Roll it into balls and coat them with toasted white sesame seeds if desired. These balls can be stored in the fridge and can be had as mid-meal snacks. You can also add Spirulina to various dishes to get a beautiful green colour along with the goodness of nutrients. You can add it to your pasta dough, hummus, omelettes, sauces, salad dressings, soups, and even in ice creams for that matter.
  1. Spirulina Energy Balls– Pulse together ¼ cup of cashews and ¼ cup of rolled oats to get coarse flour. Now add 2 chopped dates, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon shredded coconut and ¼ teaspoon of spirulina powder. Blend the mix till it starts to resemble a sticky dough. Roll it into balls and coat them with toasted white sesame seeds if desired. These balls can be stored in the fridge and can be had as mid-meal snacks.

You can also add Spirulina to various dishes to get a beautiful green colour along with the goodness of nutrients. You can add it to your pasta dough, hummus, omelettes, sauces, salad dressings, soups, and even in ice creams for that matter.With a rise in innovative gourmet food, Spirulina flavoured popcorn too is available in the market.

Spirulina Side Effects

  • People suffering from Phenylketonuria (commonly known as PKU) must consult a doctor before taking Spirulina. It is a genetic medical disorder that increases the levels of a substance called phenylalanine in the blood. Phenylalanine is a building block of proteins (an amino acid) obtained through the diet and Spirulina is a rich source of amino acids.
  • One of the side effects of Spirulina is that it slows blood clotting. If you are on anti-coagulation medicines then you must consult with a doctor before either starting or stopping your intake of Spirulina.
  • People with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), pemphigus vulgaris (a skin condition), and others should exercise caution in taking Spirulina. Because of its immunity boosting properties, Spirulina might aggravate the symptoms of these diseases.
  • Pregnant or  nursing women are advised not to use Spirulina
  • Children should not be given Spirulina as it is still in the testing phase for several of its uses and properties

You should make sure to use only high-quality organic Spirulina. Spirulina is an alga that comes from the sea and hence it is of utmost importance to ensure its purity levels before consuming it.  Spirulina should be grown in clean and well-maintained ponds.

Also, the processing and extraction equipment used should be hygienic.

Contaminated Spirulina side effects include:

  • Liver damage
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Thirst
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shock and even death

Chlorella vs Spirulina

Both Spirulina and chlorella share certain common characteristics as both belong to the algae world but there are some marked areas of difference between them.

Size: Chlorella is single-celled small algae with a nucleus, while Spirulina is multi-celled without a nucleus.

Colour: Spirulina is blue-green in colour while Chlorella is green algae.

Nucleic Acid component: Chlorella consists of almost twice as much of nucleic acid per gram as compared to Spirulina.

Price- Chlorella is more expensive than Spirulina as chlorella passes through mechanical processing to make it fit for human consumption.

Digestibility: Chlorella is a little difficult to digest by the human body as against Spirulina. Due to its thicker cell walls, chlorella takes some time before it can become digestible for the body. On the other hand, the digestive system breaks down Spirulina almost instantaneously.

Chlorophyll Content: Chlorella has double the amount of Chlorophyll than Spirulina

Iron, Protein, and GLA: Spirulina is a great source of Iron, protein and Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) unlike chlorella

Spirulina For Weight Loss

One of the ways of losing weight involves having a diet rich in nutrients and proteins. Spirulina has these in a considerable amount and is a good inclusion in any weight loss diet. The body uses a lot of its energy to metabolize protein present in Spirulina which in turn helps in weight loss.

Spirulina is also considered a hunger suppressant but this quality should not be abused and should be used only for weight loss by people having excessive weight. To get the maximum benefit out of Spirulina, you should have it in the morning or during midday. Avoid having it at night as at that time the metabolism rate of the body is down.

Get That Glow With Spirulina

Spirulina contains tyrosine, vitamin E or tocopherol, and selenium. These ingredients are widely popular for their anti-aging effects. When you take Spirulina on a regular basis, the tyrosine slows down the aging of the skin cells and the antioxidants eliminate the free radicals. The result is a healthy and glowing skin.

Spirulina beauty mask: Mix some spirulina with water and apply it on your face. Keep it on for 20 minutes and wash off with cold water. This will give your skin a glow and make it soft and smooth. This mask can also be used for skin lightening and for treating skin pigmentation. Spirulina can also accelerate hair growth and reduce hair fall. A lot of hair growth shampoos today contain Spirulina.

Spirulina Dosage

Spirulina can be taken either in a powder form, as flakes or in the form of Spirulina capsules. Spirulina powder is less expensive than its capsule form but its flavour is quite intense. The capsules, on the other hand, are costlier but they are easier to have. The standard dosage of Spirulina followed for adults, is four to six 500-milligram tablets per day. However, this dosage may differ depending on your age and health requirements.

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization have included Spirulina in their list of foods that can serve as a potential tool fighting against malnutrition. Its rich nutrient content, easy availability, high protein levels have made Spirulina a coveted superfood.

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Written by AyurvedanYoga

Hardip Koradia is a man inspired by the Ayurvedic way of life. He strongly believes that Ayurveda is the only science with cures for almost all types of disabilities and discomforts our body experience. This is what inspired him to start AyurvedanYoga where he shares home remedies, yoga tips and food guides.

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