Discover spirulina – an algae that’s been consumed since ancient times and which now enjoys star status among nutritionists worldwide.
Studies suggest that spirulina could indeed be a “superfood”, but research is ongoing on the benefits of these blue-green microscopic algae, which grow in naturally alkaline lakes. Not only does spirulina provide protein, it’s also an excellent source of B-vitamins and iron.
The spirulina sold in health shops nowadays comes mostly from commercial spirulina farms.
Spirulina shouldn’t be taken without first consulting your doctor, especially in the case of children and expectant mothers. If you’re allergic to seafood, steer clear of spirulina.
History and discovery
Spirulina grows in both fresh and salt water and has been dried and eaten since ancient times in countries as diverse as Chad and Mexico. It’s said that Hernando Cortez saw in 1519 that the Aztecs were eating these algae. It’s thought that spirulina dried into cakes was the primary source of protein for the Aztecs for hundreds of years.
Explorer Pierre Dangeard published a report in a journal in 1940 on this seemingly nutritious algae eaten by people living around Lake Chad.
Twenty years later, botanist Jean Leonard made the connection between the algae and the green cakes sold in the markets in this area. He remarked that 70% of the food people ate in this area was accompanied by a sauce made from these cakes.
The first spirulina commercial production plant was set up by the French in 1969 close to Lake Texcoco in Mexico. It isn’t easy to grow as the ecology of the pond/lake in which it is growing has to remain stable and uncontaminated by things such as chemical fertilisers.
It grows in warm climates and needs bright sunshine, a pure water source and a pollution-free environment. It yields over 20 times more protein than soybeans, utilising the same space.
Spirulina easily absorbs the nutrients from the water in which it grows, so it should never be harvested from water that is polluted, or contains heavy metals.
There are many different spirulina species, but the two used most frequently used in commercial products are Spirulina maxima and Spirulina Platensis.
Despite many claims that spirulina is an excellent source of protein, studies have found that it’s no better than meat or milk, but its production costs are about 30 times higher.
Its weight-loss properties remain unproven, but it may be effective for the treatment of pre-cancerous mouth lesions.
Despite a range of claims on the health benefits of spirulina, researchers are yet to prove the following benefits conclusively:
• It reduces arsenic levels in the body.
• It can relieve allergy symptoms in adults.
• It may reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics.
• It may lower cholesterol levels.
• It lowers anxiety and depression in menopausal women.
How to include it in your diet
Spirulina is available in either tablets or powder. If taken as a powder, it’s recommended that it be taken with water and not milk or juice or other beverages.
Powdered spirulina is usually less expensive than spirulina in tablet form, as the production process is simpler. Powder is easier to digest than tablets.
If you’re taking spirulina tablets, make sure that you follow the instructions on the packaging carefully.
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